There’s No Place like MI Home Products
Tradition Coupled with a Hands-on Approach Equals Success
by Alan B. Goldberg
Today, more than a half century after its beginning, MI Home Products maintains the traditional values instilled by its founder, James “Tokey” Walker. Walker lived to be 90 and remained active in the business until his death in May of last year. In a tribute, he is described as “a leading-edge guy who started flying airplanes as a young man when ordinary people just did not fool around with them.”
A production test pilot for the B-29 bomber, he spent a few years as a partner in the Clearwater Flying Company, in Clearwater, Fla., renting and selling airplanes and giving flying lessons. In 1947, Walker and friend Robert Word started a small business in the back of a hangar in the airpark there, making window screens with aluminum frames. The small business prospered and Metal Industries was born.
“The company was one of the first to mass produce aluminum grilles and registers for central heating and air conditioning systems,” said Sally Walker Guthrie, Walker’s daughter. Today these are sold under their Metalaire and USAire divisions of MI Home Products.
Seeing potential growth in the California housing market following the war, the partners opened a facility in El Monte, Calif., in 1954. Two years later, they built a plant in Clearwater. As the business grew, those traditional values and entrepreneurial spirit helped to transition the company into the business of manufacturing windows and doors for a variety of markets and customers.
Through continued growth, the company expanded into the metals and plastics businesses, as MI Home Products became a vertically integrated manufacturer of products for the building industry. Acquisitions in the 1980s and 1990s were focused on the manufacture of windows and doors and included Capitol Windows and Doors in Pennsylvania; Better-Bilt Doors and Windows with plants in Tennessee and Arizona; General Aluminum, located in Texas; and Remington, located in Millen, Ga.
The Millen location is an excellent example of how MI Home Products incorporates vertical integration into its manufacturing process successfully. This facility is comprised of three different operations: plastic extrusions (MI Plastics Inc.), metal extrusions (MI Metals Inc.) and window and patio door production (MI Home Products Inc.).
“By making our own extrusions, we have better control of quality, can save a step and reduce outside cost,” said general manager Lynn Harner.
He emphasized the many options in windows that are produced in the Millen plant: standard single pane or insulating glass, thermal or non-thermally broken frames and sashes, architectural or custom shapes along with standard units. Patio doors are made for residential new construction and manufactured housing markets.
“What we used to classify as our ‘specialties’ has evolved because of changing customer demands,” said Harner. “Homebuilders have added new specifications that are based on changing consumer tastes, and we must accommodate those needs.”
The majority of windows produced in Georgia are made for new construction and most of those are aluminum. An innovative new product manufactured at the facility combines an aluminum frame and vinyl sash. Called the “Peach project” and designed for the Georgia and Southeast market, according to Harner “it’s the best of both worlds because it provides the structural strength of aluminum and the thermal performance associated with vinyl.”
Harner added that growth in the commercial window industry led to the formation of Capitol Architectural Products. The Millen plant also manufactures a number of windows targeted to a variety of commercial market segments such as multi-family, assisted living, historic renovations, as well as schools and universities.
According to Harner, the aluminum window operation combines automation with good old-fashioned hands-on attention to detail.
“For our aluminum windows, many of our operations are done manually and the units are fastened mechanically. That’s the way we’ve always made our quality windows,” he said.
Even sealing of units is done manually. The company uses Truseal’s Duraseal flexible spacer system, which is constructed using composite laminating technology.
Millen’s vinyl window operation features a relatively new piece of equipment. The Sampson automated sash cleaner performs all the tooling functions—locates locks, drills the weep holes and cleans the weld.
“We purchased this unit last year and we’ve been very pleased with it. It has proven to be low-maintenance and it has really done the job for us, saving time on multiple steps,” said Harner. “We’re also very happy with our four-point welder. It too functions well, providing us with consistently strong welds for dependable product quality.”
Regarding the 210,000-square-foot facility, Harner said, “We have seven production lines. For the most part, we operate a single shift, five days a week. Of course, that can change based on demand or during peak periods.”
He added that prompt deliveries are assured because the company has its own fleet of trucks.
One year ago, MI Home Products started a training and recruitment program with Swainboro Technical College. An eight-hour, pre-employment class is given to those who are interested in future employment at the company. The class covers safety, a description of the products manufactured and a basic summary of how they are made, what is expected of trainees and general information about the operation including some overall company policies. Those who complete the class join a pool of candidates for consideration as openings occur.
“We’re very happy with this program. On one hand, we are providing opportunities to the young people in our community and, on the other, we have a built-in screening process,” said Harner.
“Quality control is a key part of our program here, ” he added.
For the past two years all employees have participated in the company’s 5 Star Plant Program that includes routine quality audits.
“Individual performance and quality just go hand in hand,” said Harner. “It is a value that is instilled from the time someone joins this family. Our success as a manufacturer is based on providing a quality product, and every person assumes a responsibility for his/her role in the manufacturing process.”
He also pointed out that while there is a safety committee, safety is no different from quality control. Each person takes on a responsibility to be productive, quality-conscious and work safely at all times. A safety and environmental coordinator oversees the three operations and is involved in a program with Georgia Tech University where staff safety professionals audit the company’s safety practices on a quarterly basis.
“It gives us another set of eyes,” said Harner.
Recycling and Maintenance
Harner points out that the company continually sets a high goal when it comes to recycling scrap material.
“We recycle as much aluminum, cardboard and vinyl as possible. It’s one of the key criteria we measure to optimize our plant’s efficient operation and is another integral part of our 5 Star Program.”
Harner also added that the company does a good job of controlling maintenance costs.
Besides a maintenance crew that handles machinery, there is a well-equipped tool and die shop on-site that makes most of the tools and can handle other tooling issues on an immediate basis.
Harner sees the biggest challenge in the future as keeping up with an ever-changing market.
“We invest heavily in our people, and through their skills and our flexibility, we expect to remain a significant manufacturer of quality windows and doors.”
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