Volume 2   Issue 2               Summer 2001

Special Consideration
Reducing Lead Time for Special-Shaped Products
by Felix Winston

In the fast-paced building industry, many times the manufacturer that gets the business is not always the one that is the cheapest. Frequently, it’s the one that can get it there correctly, promptly and consistently. Reliable service has an associated price tag. In essence, the most competitive price does the customer no good if he cannot get all the products on time. In many cases the manufacturer cannot collect his money until the last window or door is delivered. An untimely late unit can delay his receivables significantly.

With this in mind, we’ll take a look at the many mechanisms available to the manufacturer which will enable his company to be efficient in delivery of the finished product. These mechanisms fall into three categories: a reliable technical sales staff (or perhaps just a few technical members of that staff); a customizable software base to handle the unique products that the window and door market demands today; and a manufacturing method to implement and utilize both these skills effectively.

First let’s categorize what is “special.” Special shapes include triangles, trapezoids, segments, circle-top picture windows, etc. Special sizes include a double-hung, casement or door designed to fit a particular rough opening instead of the manufacturer’s standard 2-foot-8-inch by 4-foot-6-inch unit. In the following section we’ll cover the special-shape process. In a later article, we’ll discuss the special size aspect of this business.

Special-shaped units require efficient software that enables the user to develop a manufacturing specification that gives the production floor enough information to build the unit, order the glass and tie that unit back to a standard order entry system easily. Most large manufacturers accomplish this with a Computer Aided Drawing (CAD) system that can tie up several minutes to several hours for a given specification. 

In a few cases, there is no alternative for this method so a viable manufacturer should have personnel capable of developing the required drawings when absolutely necessary. But the majority of the time, an easy-to-use software program carefully targeting a good technical sales associate can accomplish in a few seconds what would require several minutes, to an hour, for a proficient CAD operator. That software should develop everything that the production floor requires to build the unit, plus it should develop a scaled representative drawing of that unit without the aid of CAD. 

There is no substitution for the old saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” (See Figure 1 for an example of a special-shape order entry screen. Figure 2 depicts a typical printout from such a program). There are many high-end integrated software systems that flaunt these capabilities but most are in the $50,000 to $100,000-plus price range because they integrate more into the accounting, payroll and remaining business functions of a company. 

Many companies al-ready have these basic accounting functions and do not require a fully-integrated, expensive package to fulfill the specials requirements. Others have extensive packages but do not find them sufficient to develop the specifications required. There are two alternatives to this dilemma: develop your own custom software or spreadsheets to manage these applications; or purchase a competitively-priced specialized program that will enable a user to develop the specifications necessary. There are programs of this nature available for only a few hundred dollars that will fill this niche.

Implementing a Software Program
Let’s assume the software end has been fulfilled. Now let’s look at how to implement the program. 

  1. Pick a qualified in-house sales representative capable of running the software;
  2. Develop a database of glass cutback information. Know how far the glass is in from the edge of the frame for different frame and product line configurations. This will be necessary for the available software to develop the proper glass size off the frame input information;
  3. Educate the associate on the effective use of the company’s catalog so special-shaped units can be sized properly to match the standard manufacturer’s product offerings. In essence, the employee must know the size of a twin casement to be able to develop a segment unit to line up with that product;
  4. Have a highly technical employee review each specification before it goes to the production floor. 

This should be a production manager or engineer thoroughly familiar with the manufacturing techniques, processes and sizing of the entire product line. The odds of a mistake getting past both the sales representative and the engineer is pretty slim provided the engineer can review the specification against the customer’s original order. This individual initials the order as verified and approved;5. Next, fax the specification back to the customer for final approval before production proceeds;6. 

Finally, tie the order to the standard order ticket sent to the shop floor and distribute the specification sheet with the order ticket. This can be done with the verbiage “see drawing” or “see specification sheet” entered as a comment behind the unit order. Referencing a purchase order number or order number on the specification sheet can help bind the two together in production. The specification sheet is all that is needed on the floor.

This sounds like a fairly arduous procedure but a good sales technician, with the proper software, can develop ten to 15 specifications in an hour, while the technical review can be completed within 15 to 20 minutes. The order can be faxed back to the customer within a few minutes of order entry, approved and return faxed back to the manufacturer. 

The whole process can take place within a few hours of the original order placement. Because proper software will develop a glass specification at the same time, there is no need to wait until the frame is completed to order or build the glass. This alone can shave one to two days off the production cycle if the glass is built in-house, and a week if it is ordered on the outside. There is a hidden benefit to this approach. A hard copy record of the original glass exists in the filing system. 

Thus, if a year after the unit is delivered, a baseball finds its way into the window, the record can be retrieved and a replacement glass ordered off the original specification sheet. Your field salespeople will love this option instead of manhandling a 6-foot piece of kraft paper 8 feet off the floor on a stepladder making a template.

While this article focused on special-shape window manufacturing, look to the next issue of Door & Window Maker to find out about special sizing of standard regular double-hung windows, casements, etc., and how to reduce lead times. 

Felix Winston is vice president of operations for Monarch Windows in Anniston, Ala., which specializes in custom windows in a short lead time. He is also owner and manager of WWP Enterprises, a company that has serviced the software needs of the window and door market for more than 15 years. He can be reached at wwwpent@nti.net.

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