A Win in Vegas

By Drew Vass

We caught exhibitors making a sigh of relief in the first hours of GlassBuild this year—many of whom were vocal about reflecting on 2017, when hurricane Irma washed out attendance. If the show had found itself on the East Coast again, this year it may have suffered a similar fate; instead, “The show was a winner,” says Verne Welch, regional sales manager, south, for Veka. “Big time.”

Clear-cut themes emerged among products, many of which centered on labor shortages. Among machinery manufacturers, the word was “automation,” but in many ways it seems the industry is a beat behind and looking forward, with numerous prototypes on exhibit. Equipment manufacturers AquaSurTech, CSE Automation, Erdman and Fux all displayed technologies designed to take anywhere from one to four employees off of manufacturing lines, while companies such as Joseph Machinery and Sturtz dis-played prototypes that representatives say they intend to bring to next year’s show as finished offerings.

One of the more expansive, fully-finished machines includes Erdman’s new Unmanned Robotic IG Work Cell, which combines robotic handlers with a series of automated work stations to accommodate the functions of around four employees. Erdman’s unmanned line retrieves glass automatically and identifies low-E coatings, before loading and advancing through washing, quality scanning and spacer application. The system then passes glass through the full assembly process, including gas fill, roll press, laser etching and cork application, before secondary sealing and automatic palletizing. It’s a full front-to-end process without humans. The system is designed primarily for large, commercial units, but it can also handle glass sizes suited to residential windows—down to 27 by 30 inches.

A Piece at a Time

Other automated solutions aimed to take one or two employees out of specific phases, such as CSE Automation’s Precision Sealant Application Table. The unit applies hot or cold sealant automatically to both sides of glass up to 72 by 118 inches in size, while utilizing an automatic height adjustment to preclude the need for human intervention. The machine also utilizes some intelligence to detect corners and edges automatically, while compensating for bowed or skewed units. But CCE’s system can also be paired together with other units for more complete automation, in order to replace additional workers. Powered in and out conveyor systems, for instance, can be added to reduce labor.

But when it comes to full, robotics-fueled, end-to-end manufacturing, some experts suggest that the door and window industry is behind these days—to the tune of, “maybe 20 years,” suggests Sanjay Parikh, vice president of operations for Joseph Machine Company. And that may be the reason some companies—rather than be caught flat-footed—decided to display prototypical equipment at this year’s show.

Parikh’s company, for instance, had plenty of working equipment on hand, but also chose to promote a new concept, dubbed Autonomous Cell Evolution (ACE), which is designed to utilize robotic handlers to cut and sort window components automatically. When completed, Parikh says ACE will be capable of turning out 480 units every eight hours—a task that typically involves at least four individuals.

Sturtz is another company that chose to display a prototype at this year’s show, for its SRSHA1M machine—an automated sash hardware assembly station that’s designed to utilize multiple magazines to apply hardware components, including multiple colors. The system also is designed to feed and apply color-matching screws automatically—all to the tune of 400 double-hung units per shift, eliminating one to two workers.

“No one’s using automation to apply hung sash hardware, or not so far as I’ve seen,” says the company’s eastern regional sales manager Mike Biffl. “It’s not an easy application, due to the differences in hardware types and sash sizes.” And to his point, the company’s prototype has yet to do so successfully itself. “Ideally, we’ll be able to get this into someone’s plant for a beta trial within the next six months,” he says.

Going Wireless

We found two companies adding wireless components and product identification systems to doors and windows that allow for automated tracking, including GED and Veka.

GED’s new system, WinTrax Intelligent Logistics, utilizes a network of sensors and radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags to allow door and window companies to track both window components and completed systems. After tags are applied and entered into the WinTrax software, the system tracks units through production via sensors located throughout manufacturing. At this year’s show, the company displayed phase one of its system, which keys in on the window frame production process, but officials tell DWM that it will return to the 2019 show with additional phases.

Meanwhile, Veka gave us a sneak peek at its own electronic ID system, which incorporates near-field communication (NFC) into doors and windows, to allow for cloud-based storage and update of identification data. By placing a small, NFC chip inside door and window frames, and utilizing associated smartphone apps, dealers and even end users (home-owners) can scan those IDs using a smartphone in order to definitively identify products—including all of their manufacturing attributes, such as types of glass, hardware, etc.

“The idea is to digitize the window and thereby give it an individual identity,” says the company’s corporate marketing director, Steve Dillon.

For consumers, that info not only includes product identifiers, but also things like operating instructions and warranty information.

“When they scan the chip, the app pops up, asking them a series of questions,” Dillon says. “That claim can then be transmitted directly to the manufacturer,” he says. And that, he points out, will replace the need for dealers or contractors to go out to identify and take photos, before ordering parts or replacement product.

GED’s system is currently available. Veka’s will be introduced, starting in Europe, sometime in October, but, “We hope to do full commercialization of this by next year’s GlassBuild,” Dillon says.

Drew Vass is the editor of DWM magazine.

To view the laid-in version of this article in our digital edition, CLICK HERE.

DWM Magazine

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