Between labor shortages, tightening performance requirements and a trend toward larger (and larger) products—to suggest that the climate has changed for door and window manufacturers is an understatement. Meanwhile, with advancements in automation, machinery companies have looked to help out with those and other issues (or to capitalize on them, depending on how you choose to look at it), but those measures have come up short, manufacturers tell [DWM]’s editors. In many ways, automation is a one-step-forward-two-steps-back process, they say, as new equipment is phased in. As a result, “We’re looking for the quantum leap type of equipment,” says Steve Chen, president of Crystal Windows. “Not incremental improvements,” he adds.

When [DWM]’s editors reached out to manufacturers for their “wish lists” for new machinery, it came as no surprise that they began with efficiency. “But efficiency isn’t always the driving factor,” says Dave Doerger, vice president of manufacturing for Vinylmax Windows. What came next was a little surprising, as manufacturers explained how today’s automated machinery helps to alleviate labor shortages, but leaves them hanging in areas like design flexibility, quality control and material handling.

Design Limitations

With machines taking over fabrication and assembly, it’s become increasingly necessary for manufacturers to design around what their automated equipment can accommodate.

“Gone are the days when you set out to create a new window, dropped four screws in and added glass,” says Bill Sifflard, marketing and business development manager for Quaker Windows and Doors. “That’s where strategic partnering comes into play with equipment manufacturers.”

But some manufacturers report that they haven’t found enough flexibility in today’s automated equipment to accommodate the number of SKUs they need to offer, in order to satisfy the need for customization.

“In our business, there are literally thousands of permutations to building doors,” says Sam Steves, president of Steves and Sons. “There’s no standard anything.” Steves’ company produces upwards of 35,000 doors per day, he says—all of which need to be customized at least to some degree. Meanwhile, automated assembly lines have a way to go before they catch up to the customization process, he and other representatives suggest. “I’m aware of some,” Steves says, “but none, to my knowledge, have been totally successful.”

Scott Doeden, operations manager for St. Cloud Window, says his company would like to see more customization among clamping systems. “Our profiles vary and no matter how ‘customizable’ the clamping system is, they rarely work for all our profiles without some sort of modification.”

Until automation catches up to customization, chances are manufacturers will need to add additional equipment to accommodate a range of products. And therein lies a problem: some are running out of floor space.

“In the past, window assembly lines that were manual were pretty compact. These new automated lines use fewer people, but stretch hundreds of feet,” Sifflard says. “That requires much bigger buildings.”

Manufacturers include smaller and more vertically oriented equipment and storage systems on their wish lists as a result.

“More compact equipment can be such a benefit, as it allows new products and other equipment you might not [otherwise] have been able to have,” says Doerger.

For the full article on this topic click here to read it in the October issue of DWM.


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