Volume 2   Issue 3               Fall 2001

Special Delivery

Reducing Lead Time for Special-Sized Products
by Felix Winston

It is important for all window manufacturers to be familiar with special-shape window manufacturing, which was the focus of my last article (see Door & Window Maker, Summer 2001, page 38). In the following article, we’ll learn how to complement this product line with special sizing of standard rectangular double hungs, casements, doors, etc.

What’s so Special?

Special-sized units require a little more planning and a mixture of in-house technique and outside influence. The best way to implement a special-sized window program is to start with the drawings of the product line that are sent to the production floor. These drawings should be developed for each component and should consist not only of a table of standard sizes but of two formulas, a “unit +/-” and a “glass +/-” formula. The first is the size of the component relative to the overall frame width or height of the unit. For instance, the head of a double-hung unit might have a formula of “width – 1,” the head brickmold a formula of “width + 2½.” Some components require a glass-related formula. A bottom rail might have a formula of “glass + 2¼” while a bottom stile, a formula of “glass + 35/8.” By incorporating these into the drawings you lay the groundwork for applying the formulas in a spreadsheet or custom-written program to reference the lengths of each component. Your computer guru may not be familiar with engineering drawings, but he can surely interpret the formulas. 

When the spreadsheet or computer program is completed, it only needs to reference the page of the production manual, the quantity, description and custom part length. Spreadsheets are beneficial, but again, much is lost without the drawing. Visual Basic™ offers a much more palatable approach in that it can develop a scaled drawing of the product complete with grilles. This provides a basis for interpreting the order before it becomes an expensive mistake. How many times have you found yourself saying, “If only we’d have seen that grille pattern before we built the unit?” With a Visual Basic program, it’s possible to catch that type of mistake when paper is the only investment. 

The problem is many smaller companies do not have the in-house expertise to develop such sophisticated programs. Luckily, there are outside programmers who specialize in these approaches. There are also generic programs available that can be customized inexpensively to the manufacturer’s cut logic. Such a program can be converted for a few hundred dollars in many cases. There are even more sophisticated methods of marrying Visual Basic and an Excel™ spreadsheet utilizing VBA™. But, again, your programming staff would have to be pretty high-powered to develop this application.

Using the Software

Let’s assume the software is developed and in place in the sales department. Remember that qualified in-house sales representatives are capable of running special-shaped software. Well, who is more qualified to run a special-sized window unit? Use the exact same procedure as outlined in part one of this series.

1. Choose your qualified sales representative;

2. Select a common ground. This can be a rough opening, frame size, modular opening, glass size, etc., but it is, nevertheless, the basis for the program or spreadsheet input. Make sure the user is familiar enough with the unit construction to get to the common ground from any of these other locations. In essence, the user must have the capability of developing the frame size, if that is what the program or spreadsheet requires, when given the brick opening by the customer;

3. Have your technical employee review each of these sheets for proper input. Once the program or spreadsheet is debugged (ensuring that all calculations are correct), there is no need to verify the component lengths or quantities required to build the unit—they will always be correct. The only verification required is that the sales representative has interpreted the order correctly and made the correct entries into the program. Again, someone familiar with the manufacturing process must approve the order before it is released to production;

4. Fax the order, if necessary, to the customer for his approval before releasing it to production;

5. Tie the specification sheet to the shop ticket by referencing an order number, purchase-order number or some other identifying mechanism in case the two get separated on the production floor.

Added Benefits

Just as mentioned in my first article, the hidden benefit is that there is a record of every component for that order. If a sash gets damaged later on, or an insulating glass unit fails prematurely, the sales record can be retrieved and, with a little field verification, a correct replacement built the first time. The second benefit is that you don’t have 15 people in production trying to figure out what the glass size, screen size, stile length, etc., is for every special order. 

Finally, make sure the production tooling is in place to manufacture the special-sized units. Set up a department capable of cutting back the special-sized components from the longer standard lengths so your machining department is not bombarded with one-of-a-kind set-ups. If at all possible, and if the volume justifies it, maintain a set-up for every critical piece so fabrication is quick and simple. Special-sized windows and doors command a better sales dollar. A custom-sized window can command a price close to one-and-a-half to two times that of a standard-sized unit. This is because not every company can manufacture this window, and even fewer can do it quickly and efficiently.

With the correct software, manufacturers can tap into the specialty-window market. Most companies have the ability and the personnel to control the systems outlined above, but the software, whether purchased on the outside or developed within the company, is the key to unlocking the specialty window business.

Felix Winston is vice president of operations for Monarch Windows in Anniston, Ala. You can e-mail him at wwpent@nti.net.

© Copyright 2001 Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved. No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.