by Ralph J. Vasami
The world of window manufacturing is opening up with opportunities and applications suitable for both new construction and remodeling. Vinyl windows have enjoyed a steady rise in demand in nearly all parts of the country. This demand is expected to continue into the next decade, so it is an exciting time for the industryespecially for fabricators.
Armed with at least some knowledge of the window marketplace, you may be considering the addition of a new vinyl window line to your existing product offerings. You and your lineal supplier surely want your startup to be smooth, so you can get right to the tasks of manufacturing, selling and growing your business.
Advance preparation in certain key areas can ease your startup process and help ensure a good return on your investment. The following suggestions are offered based on my own industry experience and relationships with many fabricators over the years.
A keen sense of your marketplace is critical when starting out. Chances are, you already have this. In fact, you may be adding a new material or a new window style to your business based on market demand. Market knowledge is important because it will help you determine which products you should offer.
Start out by looking at the demographics of your area or target population. Who are your potential customers and do you know how to reach them? Are they buying new homes or remodeling existing ones?
Dont forget to identify your competition and know what they are offering, too. You might discover theres a window of opportunity just waiting to be opened.
With a firm understanding of your marketplace, you can best determine which products to offer and the niches you want to fill. Will you manufacture windows for replacement or new construction applications, or both?
Other factors that may affect which products you offer include the construction types that are prevalent in your area (e.g., stucco or cement), as well as what window features may be important to your potential customers. These can include color, corner construction (welded vs. mechanically fastened), sill options and a variety of installation alternatives.
Another initial consideration is production volume. As a manufacturer, you probably already know how many windows you plan to produce. Your volume will determine the size of your operation and the type of equipment you required.
Based on the products you wish to manufacture and the anticipated volume, your extruder will be able to help you determine what types of equipment you need. This can include everything from saws and glass cutting equipment to welders and storage racks. Naturally, different window types may require specific machinery, so you may need dedicated equipment based on your product selection. Further, if youre producing hundreds of windows per day, it may be a good idea to have optimizers that automate the glass- or lineal-cutting processes to minimize waste and maximize efficiency. If youre producing hundreds of windows per week, then this totally automated equipment might not be necessary.
In addition to the equipment, youll also require stock of certain materials, such as lineals, glass and screening. Other necessary materials include hardware, such as locks, balances, and tilt latches. You will also need to determine how much inventory you want or need to carry. This may depend on the nature of your businesswhether you build to stock or build to orderas well as what type of turnaround time you want to offer.
Naturally, most people cant manufacture windows in the basement of their homes. Youll need spaceand a good amount of it. A general rule of thumb is to calculate about 450 square feet for each person in the shop.
In addition to manufacturing space, youll need room for material inventory, finished products and, if necessary, glass fabrication. Will you purchase truckloads of material to be eligible for volume discounts or will you depend on just-in-time delivery? Needless to say, the types of windows being manufactured and the volume, equipment and inventory to be carried will all affect layout. You should be able to consult your lineal supplier for help in this area. We have given many fabricators suggestions on layouts that have helped them design and maximize use of their space.
Once you have done your market research, selected the products you want to offer and determined the anticipated volume, space, and equipment requirements for your shop, then you can start the actual planning process. Plan to develop a time line so that you can see how long it will take to set up and get your operation off the ground. Based on my experience, this is time well spent. A few hours now can save weeks or even months later on.
Training should be made available for those in manufacturing to ensure the proper use of all equipment, as well as instruction on how to make the window(s). Before training can begin, it is essential that all fabrication equipment and materials are on hand. The product trainer is then in the best position to help implement a smooth startup. It might also be a good idea to provide training for your sales force to reinforce all of the unique selling points of the new product line. Your extruder should be able to assist you.
Lets face it, anyone who has ever manufactured a product or integrated a product line would probably agree that "easy" is not the term he or she would use to describe the process. However, there are things you can do to minimize the difficulties and ensure a smooth startup. These eight points should provide you with some insight into what to consider. Certainly, the more you have prepared for in advance, the fewer surprises you can expect and the smoother your startup will be. USG
Ralph J. Vasami is president of Fiberlux, Inc., Purchase, NY. He joined the manufacturer of vinyl extrusions used in the construction of vinyl windows and doors in 1977, and has more than 20 years of experience in the window industry. He is a past chairman of the Vinyl Window & Door Institute.
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