To a window manufacturer that’s struggling to keep employees on the shop floor, the benefits of automation have been clear for a while. And as our collective labor struggles continue, my sense is that continued investment in automation will be occurring for the foreseeable future, even as lead times for equipment continue to stretch across many months.

The ability of automation make positive impacts on quality and production is perhaps nowhere clearer than in insulating glass (IG) fabrication, where an automated line can substantially increase your output with a third of the people required of a manual line.

To get the most from automation, whether you’ve recently begun production on a new IG line, or you’re awaiting the arrival of your equipment in the coming months, make sure you maximize your investment. That brings us to today’s tip:

Keep an eye on the details.

Manufacturing a high-quality IG unit with warm-edge spacer technology is an exacting process. In an ideal scenario, automated equipment takes care of the details, helping to eliminate the potential for human error and deviations that can occur during manual fabrication. But production may not be perfect on your first automated run—adjustments may be required to ensure your new line is doing what it needs to be doing.

For these reasons, it’s important to implement some form of regular quality control, particularly when your new line is just beginning production. For example, industry standards dictate that an IG unit should maintain argon levels at or above 90%. Manufacturers can use handheld devices to test a unit’s argon levels after it comes off the line, which can be an effective form of quality control. If you find that a unit has come off your line with less argon than the 90% threshold, then it’s time to troubleshoot. The problem may be as simple as discovering it’s time to change your argon tanks.

Another example: Units sealed with single-seal spacers must be pressed at the appropriate temperature to achieve a reliable seal. If the temperature is not at the right levels, the spacer will not bond to the glass effectively, which can lead to issues around argon retention and overall unit quality. Quality can also be compromised if the press is not operating in the correct range. You can spot check for this issue by measuring a completed unit when it comes off the line.

Once everything on your line is properly calibrated and you’re operating without the assistance of your equipment supplier, assigning a dedicated maintenance technician for your line is a best practice. This person can take ownership of everyday maintenance tasks, regularly checking some of these important criteria to ensure quality doesn’t falter.

For manufacturers struggling with recruiting and retaining labor, even once an automated line is installed, implementing some of these measures might be easier said than done. The industry’s labor challenges predate the pandemic, but the past year has brought even more dramatic changes to plant floors. Turnover has included experienced line supervisors and plant managers in addition to the employees operating the lines.

If you find that you’re still lacking a certain level of expertise to ensure you’re getting the most from your automated line, your suppliers may be able to help. Training, quality audits and other services may be available, helping your investment in automation to have maximum impact.

John DeVecka is Technical Services Representative for Quanex.

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