Earlier this month, I wrote about The Three “M”s that Will Define Your Company’s Future, with the first M being Marketing. The second M is Machinery. Never before has machinery been so important to the window and door industry. Machinery does three things.

Number One: Machinery improves efficiency if used correctly. The operative words here are “if used correctly.” Last week, I was visiting a customer who recently installed an automated insulating glass line. I asked him about the impact this machine was having on his efficiency, and he said, “this machine is fantastic as long as you feed it and keep up with offloading. Failure to do either and it comes to a grinding halt. No matter how fast and consistent this machine may be, if you don’t keep up with loading glass at the front end and offloading finished IG units at the other end, then the machine will not have the desired impact on productivity. But this also means that you must also look into updating and possibly automating operations that are both upstream and downstream from the insulating glass operation. Looking upstream, if the glass cutting and edge deleting department are not keeping up with the flow rate dictated by the IG line, then the front end of the IG line will starve. Also, looking downstream, if window production and loading do not keep up with the pace of the IG line, then one will run out of IG carts and/or staging space to store finished IG units that are ready for installation into sashes. The result will be that the offloading end of the IG line will stall, causing your highly efficient IG line to stop. So when it comes to investing in new machinery, the most efficient solution is to look at production flow and automate the sections which represent bottlenecks. These are the areas that need to be addressed first. Eventually, all areas of the fabrication process can benefit from automation, especially if each area is linked together using production software available. This enables machines to “talk” to each other, thereby controlling and maintaining a smooth flow through each aspect of the fabrication process.

Number Two: Machinery improves the quality of your finished product. Individuals make mistakes. This is due to boredom, fatigue and poor attitude. Machines make mistakes too. However, if machines are monitored and corrective adjustments are made, then machines can produce incredible levels of consistency. Machines do not get bored. They do not do drugs. They do not look at their cellphones when they are supposed to be working. They just run. This means one thing – quality can be more easily controlled. Quality Assurance engineers have discovered that for every additional person involved on a manufacturing line, the probability of unit callbacks will rise by 1/10th of 1 percent. In other words, if you have 10 extra people involved doing various aspects of assembly and fabrication, then the failure rate will be at least 1 percent higher. This is because every time a human hand touches or manipulates some component or variable involved in the manufacturing process, some additional chance of error is introduced. So, if you are producing 100,000 windows per year, this represents an extra 1,000 faulty windows and 1,000 additional service calls. If the average cost of a service call is $175, then we have an additional $175,000 that will be spent to keep customers satisfied. This means two things. You have 1,000 additional customers who were not totally delighted because they had some problem with your product, even though you eventually took care of them. It also means an additional $175,000 of potential profit that escaped your company’s bottom line!

Number Three: Machinery reduces dependency on manpower. The third factor that is affected by machinery is a reduced dependency on manpower. When I first started in this industry, manpower was plentiful. Window and door companies could hire all the employees they could use during the spring, summer and fall. For the most part, these people were hardworking, reliable workers who showed up for work on time every day, put in an honest day’s work and perhaps even some overtime if required. When things slowed down in the winter months, many would voluntarily take a layoff to spend more time with their families, but they usually were eager to return in the spring when called back to work. Times have changed. It is increasingly difficult to find people willing to endure hot, noisy, and dusty manufacturing environments doing repetitive and often boring jobs in a window and door factory. Today’s available workers gravitate toward higher-paying jobs in the service industry. Why work in a hot, dusty window plant when you can work in an air-conditioned McDonalds paying $10 to $13 per hour or go to Amazon and get paid $18 per hour? By investing in machinery, your window and door company can eliminate the most boring jobs in the factory, leaving more challenging jobs, such as positions dealing with the maintenance, programming, and operations of more sophisticated machines. These positions also require a higher skill level and will typically represent higher-paying jobs. Therefore, it will be somewhat easier to find, hire, and keep people engaged in these positions created by the use of new, more sophisticated machinery.

This trend towards the acquisition of more sophisticated, automated machinery is already underway in North America. Just ask your machinery suppliers what their backlog looks like and the lead times for new machines. I have also noticed that the market for used machinery is robust, due to several factors. New, more sophisticated machines are replacing machines that are still highly valuable as backups or for ancillary use. Machines being replaced may not yet have reached the end of their service life and can be put back into operation, supplying many more useful hours of service. Also, since higher demand has extended the lead times for new machinery, used machines can represent a much-needed stop-gap until the new machinery arrives.

So, there you have it – the second “M” that will play a huge part in your company’s success in the years ahead. A future blog will deal with the third “M” which is Manpower. Although we can reduce the dependency upon manpower, we will never escape it entirely. Therefore, the next blog will deal with the topic of how to attract and maintain a more stable workforce.

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