Window and glass fabricators increasingly turn to automated insulating glass (IG) production to bolster yields, efficiency, product quality and employee safety. But as those processes are established, several considerations come into play—each of which could affect the productivity and success of trending technologies.

Uwe Risle, head of product management for Glaston insulating glass, says his company’s customers are all looking into automating IG production processes. Most aren’t put off guard by the technical jargon that comes in the early phases, but there can be a learning curve for those new to the process, Risle says.

For example, a company must undergo some degree of reorganization when incorporating Glaston’s Thermo Plastic Spacer (TPS) IG line. Old processes may have allowed for IGUs to be placed on trucks and sent to customers upon completion of sealing, but the TPS line works a little differently.

“This is not possible with TPS; they have to wait a bit,” he says. “So the organization is a bit more challenging.”

Once processes are in place, however, Risle says companies fall in love with automated production.

“There’s a direct application, no displacement and with TPS, every time it’s the same quality,” Risle says.

Morgan Donohue, president of Erdman Automation in Princeton, Minn., says a customer must know what they want, and why, before technical discussions can begin.

“Is their goal increased production, a lower head count or higher quality? Those are three main reasons people look to automate,” Donohue says. “The other one might be are they changing spacer types, and, if they are, what are their goals with that?”

Bruce Wesner is the senior director of automation and reliability at PGT Innovations in Nokomis Beach, Fla. He points to volume goals as a paramount factor in pursuing automation.

“High levels of investment need to have high levels of utilization to get the return on that investment,” he says. “That has to be part of the decision-making process, but I think long-term impacts on quality and warranty are significant.”

Companies must then be mindful of the infrastructure, space and labor with which they have to work.

“Do they have the right people in place from a maintenance perspective? What is actual interface between machinery and the data coming from their network?” he asks. “Once the groundwork is laid we can start offering solutions.”

Donohue agrees with Risle that most companies know what’s in store when they automate IG production. Companies putting in second or third automated lines will likely move through the process faster, as first-timers will have a bit more to figure out. “If they’re presently buying all of their insulating glass and starting from scratch, there’s a lot more to learn,” he says.

While companies adding second or third lines may produce and meet goals in as little as a week, those just getting started may need as much as two months. Donohue says that’s because companies familiar with the process already have employees cross-trained on other lines.

“We have many customers who bought one machine not thinking they’d buy another but shortly thereafter decide to, then sometimes another and another,” Donohue says. “It’s really a testament to what automation can do for reliability, sustainability and efficiency.”

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