Volume 6 Issue 11 December 2005
TRUE TO ITS CUSTOMERS
TruSeal Technologies Puts Manufacturing First to Ensure Top-Quality Products
by Alan B. Goldberg
"Innovation is what drives us ... Improving profitability for the customer ... Customer training ... Improving efficiency."
These are just some of the phrases you hear when you talk to representatives of TruSeal Technologies or when you visit any of its facilities-which is what DWM did recently. DWM editors toured TruSeal’s manufacturing plant as well as its research and development (R&D) facility to find out what makes this company a success. Alan Goldberg visited the company’s Barbourville, Ky., manufacturing facility (story follows) while Tara Taffera toured the company’s headquarters, and R&D facility (see article page 37).
Focus on Manufacturing
Serving insulating glass manufacturers for more than four decades, TruSeal Technologies has made more than its fair share of changes to maintain its position as a leading supplier. In 1979, the company offered the industry a better way to manufacture insulating glass windows with the first all-in-one warm-edge spacer—a patented technology. Twenty-five years later, it provides many spacer technologies and accessories to help IG fabricators compete in a market that is technology-driven and changing constantly.
But change has not been limited to product development. TruSeal’s ownership has changed hands in moves designed to differentiate the company in the industry. Originally part of the window division of Tremco Industries, TruSeal became its own company in 1997 and is now part of the Quanex Corp. Building Products Group.
However, some of the most significant transitions have taken place in manufacturing, particularly at the Barbourville plant.
Built in 1973, this former Tremco facility was used to manufacture construction sealants and caulks as well as the Swiggle® IG spacer system. One of the many challenges was to convert the 206,000 square foot facility into an efficient operation for making TruSeal’s DuraSeal™ and Insuledge® warm-edge spacer systems.
“We have evolved from the old Swiggle to a multi-stream, multi-component process,” says Lee Burroughs, vice president of manufacturing.
Today, there are two manufacturing areas within the facility. One is compounding butyl rubber-based adhesives and the other extruding those adhesives and other components into IG spacer systems.
The Pilot Plant
Before a new process or product can go on-line, it must begin in the pilot plant. Moved to this location in 1997, the pilot plant is the initial step in manufacturing.
“It all starts here,” says Bill Eberhardt, production manager. “This is where we test prototypes and develop new or improved production processes.”
He pointed out that it is a mini version of the actual manufacturing operation. For maximum flexibility, all equipment is movable.
“Almost everything is on casters so equipment changes or process changes can be made very easily,” added Eberhardt.
Small ovens are used to pre-heat the plastics. In the process, liners are wound in spools, followed by tape splicing and ultrasonic welding. Eberhardt describes it as a multi-stream extrusion process where adhesives are added and several different components come together.
In an operation that runs five days a week, 24 hours a day, more than eight million feet of spacer is produced per week. Increased efficiency has been achieved with the company’s unique multi-stream extrusion process and 19 custom-made extruders. In order to achieve line speeds of 160 feet per minute, significant improvements have been made.
“We have been able to develop shorter lines which translates to lower temperatures, shorter pipes, increased throughput and ultimately higher productivity at lower costs-our ultimate goal,” says Ron Buchanan, research manager.
He explains that this is a continuous process and the goal is to keep it moving 24 hours.
“From the standpoint of R&D, our role is much like the process we are improving. It is continuous. Half of our time is on process development and the other half is on process improvement,” adds Buchanan.
Like the pilot plant, the multi-stream process involves the same components that come together, as adhesive and desiccant are added further down the line. Materials come in from different sides.
“Every stream is computer-controlled for temperature, flow rate and speed,” says Burroughs.
A coating is applied to the spacer as a final step. The finished spool is covered with an aluminum bag that is heat-sealed to protect the desiccant material from moisture.
Before the adhesives can be extruded, they must be compounded, which is the other major operation that takes place in another part of the plant.
Twelve Sigma blade mixers are used to blend raw rubber, powders, filler, resins and plasticizer. According to Burroughs, 18 compounds are mixed. Approximately 120,000 pounds of bulk butyl rubber adhesive (or 60-65 batches) is mixed every day. In 2004, six of the batch mixers were replaced with twin-screw continuous mixers, a substantial investment, says Burroughs. One of the most significant improvements was the purchase of a continuous processor in early 2005 to automate the process.
“This was a major change for us. To go from batch to a continuous process represented a huge productivity improvement,” says Burroughs. “It gave us additional capability as well because we are able to use other types of butyl compounds that did not lend themselves to batch processing.”
He pointed out that the new processor not only improved mixing but also made it possible to have more predictable mixing at higher speeds, with less labor required.
There is no end to improvement.
“Our next step is another automated operation. The purchase of automated door stream equipment will eliminate a manual step and add even more efficiency,” says Burroughs.
The function and role of quality control at this operation is critical.
“No product is released until testing is final,” says Joe Clerger, quality manager who refers to the lab as the testing ground.
Testing begins at the raw material stage, although, as Clerger pointed out, most raw materials are accepted from suppliers on the basis of a certificate of analysis. He explains that testing must be done in process before the product goes into production. Every batch of adhesive is measured for rigidity, elasticity, dew point, bonding ability and color and must meet company standards before moving to production.
Once approved, hot-butyl slugs are assigned a Kan-ban tag (a newly added lean tool), which is color-coded and numbered to identify the type of adhesive. They are carted to the extruders for the second and final step.
Communication is Key
Burroughs pointed out that the successful transformation to a more streamlined manufacturing facility was due to having people involved in every aspect of the operation, especially process and product improvement.
Even day-to-day communications were improved. For example, customer service and production scheduling are now located in the same room to facilitate communications between the two departments. Additionally, vital information from customers is passed along from the customer service department so employees can be kept up to date.
Training has taken many forms.
“We have been focusing on lean manufacturing and process improvement for a long time,” says Burroughs.
Through its ISO registration, there are formal training programs.
“The new ISO standard places much more emphasis on quality. For us, ISO serves a dual purpose. It is an excellent improvement tool,” adds Burroughs.
Looking ahead, he sees the biggest challenge as getting better, making products faster and introducing new products. Like the evolution of the plant, that challenge has become a continuous process.
Alan Goldberg is a contributing writer for DWM. He has 31 years of experience in the insulating glass industry.
It’s all in the Mix
TruSeal’s R&D Facility Adds Just the Right Elements to Make the Products,
And the Company, a Success
by Tara Taffera
While researchers at TruSeal’s Beachwood, Ohio, R&D facility work hard to find the right mix of chemicals to use for its products, the company also works, at all levels, to find the right mix for its customers.
While TruSeal’s manufacturing facility in Kentucky is where its products are produced, the company’s R&D facilities, located at the company’s headquarters in Beachwood, are equally important to the company’s livelihood.
TruSeal president Gus Coppola says the company works from a “customer intimate” business model in which it encourages and solicits input from customers, who number 1,000 in North America. Coppola reports that another 10 percent of sales come from outside North America as TruSeal sells into 55 countries.
And as far as international expansion goes, Coppola says, “I continue to be fascinated by opportunities in China. We are not currently producing in China but this could be a possibility.” In fact, the company opened a representative office in Beijing in September 2005.
Inside the Lab
But wherever the company’s products are shipped, the vision starts in the R&D offices, a three-acre facility located on 18,000 square feet of space. Here, TruSeal’s product engineers perform detailed analyses of raw materials and test the durability and predicted longevity of IG windows built with TruSeal spacers. The company also hosts lab-scale mixers, extruders and full-scale spacer application equipment. Machines in the lab simulate the environmental elements IG units are exposed to, including water, atmospheric pressure, temperature extremes and ultraviolet (UV) light.
TruSeal’s testing equipment includes three P-1 boxes, custom-designed high-humidity cabinets, asymmetrical testing equipment, stress-induction equipment and an Ecosphere that subjects IG units to the extreme temperature variations found in the field.
How well TruSeal’s products stand up to each of these tests help engineers to determine an IG unit’s predicted lifespan and then improve upon it, says Jim Baratuci, vice president of research and development. He adds that this equipment helps the company analyze and improve upon product designs and can be used to test to 14 different worldwide standards and certifications, including ASTM E773 and 774, ASTM 2188-2190, CSGB 12.8, EN1279 (Sections 1-6) and JIS 320.
Baratuci sums up the goal of R&D simply. “What we do at this facility is helping our customers make better windows. Our manufacturing facility needs to make our products quickly so we need to make sure they perform properly.”
Toward that end, the company has a small-scale pilot manufacturing plant in Beachwood where it mixes materials. “We then extrude materials into the spacer to make sure we can make products correctly. Then we move the process to our manufacturing facility,” he says.
Baratuci says the company monitors such things as how the product extrudes and how it will behave in the field. He does point out, however, that TruSeal’s products will perform in all temperatures. TruSeal has two weatherometers used to run ASTM tests but Baratuci, who serves on the Harmonization for Insulating Glass Standards (HIGS) committee, says the company’s tests goes beyond what is required.
“Our testing is a little more severe than HIGS,” he says. “We put the whole unit inside the chamber. Since the whole unit is in there it is more severe than ASTM.”
Baratuci sums up the company’s commitment to technology and researching by simply looking at the TruSeal Technologies name.
“Technology is part of our name,” he says. “We try to elevate the amount of research and development to which we are committed.”
TruSeal president Gus Coppola agrees, stressing that innovation for the sake of innovation is not enough.
“Our R&D efforts are specifically focused on improving profitability for our customer,” he says. “A good example is our full-scale IG production line, which enables us to simulate the processes that customers face on a daily basis and analyze the problems and concerns that arise. With this knowledge, we can anticipate customer challenges and engineer solutions that will help them to increase their production efficiency, improve the quality of their products and save money.”
TruSeal does such extensive testing for one reason: to aid its customers in producing a superior product.
In fact, new customers visit company headquarters, which includes actual simulations of the IG manufacturing process. (If a customer is adding an IG line a Truseal representative goes to that facility.) TruSeal works with all of its customers on everything from line layout, to helping with financial justification, assistance in buying equipment to help defray capital costs, etc. Coppola says, no matter what the size of a company, all have capital constraints so TruSeal works with customers in this area if needed.
“We work hard to understand their long-term requirements. We work with customers so they can make the right choice concerning their spacer systems,” says Coppola.
But the training and assistance from TruSeal doesn’t end there.
“It is so important to have products applied correctly,” says Baratuci. “We make sure that they can make windows.”
Coppola concurs by saying, “We firmly believe in helping customers make better windows. If a customer is successful we are successful.”
Tara Taffera is the editor/publisher of DWM magazine.
© Copyright 2005 Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved. No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.