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July-August 2002

It All Comes Down to Workmanship

Window manufacturers hear about it almost every day—Argon filling. Industry associations and certification councils spend countless hours talking about how to measure fill levels, how to fill a unit properly, etc. There is even a new product on the market that can accurately predict how much Argon is going into a unit: In fact this was the focus of an in-depth article in DWM/BCM in our last issue (see April-May-June DWM/BCM, page 36). 

But what if a unit is filled properly? What if it is filled to a high percentage—say 90 percent? Does this mean that the majority of Argon will stay in the unit for the life of that unit? Industry experts say no. In fact, it is possible for an IG unit, such as the one described above, to still have problems with Argon retention. Why? The experts agree that it all comes down to workmanship. So, even if the Argon is put into a unit, the IG manufacturer must produce a quality product to make sure the Argon stays inside.

According to Jim Plavecsky, vice president of sales and marketing for Edgetech IG, window manufacturers who offer Argon filling need to be willing to turn up their quality-control procedures up ten notches. 

“On a scale of one to ten, with ten being the most important, with a regular IG unit, workmanship would probably be rated a five,” said Plavecsky. “When it comes to Argon filling, it has to be a ten … You can’t have any errors.”

Plavecsky believes in the importance of proper workmanship so much that he speaks at various industry meetings to talk about this important issue. He says that for optimum gas retention proper design of the IG unit is crucial. This includes:

    • Sealant selection;

    • Corner construction—continuous corners;

    • Longest gas transmission path;

    • IG unit capable of withstanding repeated expansion and contraction; and

    • Proper dessicant selection.

Is one of the above more to blame than the others? “Corner construction is crucial,” said Plavecsky. “Continuous framing is the best.”

He adds that in addition to proper IG unit design the unit must also be constructed properly. This includes:

    • Clean glass for best sealant adhesion—proper washing/drying and no contamination;

    • Corner keys crimped solidly—use butyl injected keys or continuous frame construction;

    • No cold joints at corners;

    • No PIB skips or narrow application caused by starved extruder;

    • No voids in sealant (properly bleed pump); and

    • Correct seal of the fourth corner (in the case of Swiggle Seal).

Others in the industry, such as Mike Burk, productivity solutions manager for GED, also said the quality of an IG unit all comes down to workmanship. “It’s [IG unit] only as good as the seal,” he said. 

So what happens if a unit is not constructed properly and the Argon leaks out of the unit? According to Plavecsky, this results in problems such as stress cracks and visible distortion. “Proper workmanship is crucial,” said Plavecsky, “because once the Argon leaks out through the flaw there is no mechanism to put the Argon back in.”

Although proper workmanship is crucial to the long-term durability of an IG unit, many in the industry believe some window manufacturers are not producing quality units—however, the window manufacturers themselves may disagree with this statement. 

While insulating glass managers would insist they produce a quality unit, Randi Ernst, president of FDR Design Inc., does not believe this is always the case. “A manager who is told by a floor supervisor that there are some defects shouts, ‘Ship it!’” said Ernst. “He has to keep the lines running and product flowing out the door. Now the customer becomes responsible for finding the defects. If he does not find them, or at least does not complain, no problem. If the customer does find them it becomes the service department’s problem. This is no way to run a company.”

Burk, who travels to manufacturing plants to assess the quality of a company’s manufacturing operations, puts it in simple terms: “There are a lot of people [window manufacturers] making a lot of garbage.”

So what can be done to improve the quality of units being produced? Many in the industry say training of window manufacturers is crucial as some plant managers simply may not know they are utilizing errant procedures. “When I talk to manufacturers and tell them all the problems that can occur if units aren’t filled properly or designed properly, they have no idea,” said Plavecsky. 

However, once manufacturers learn of their deficient processes, most are willing to change. “Once they learn, they change the way they are doing things,” said Burk. 

work1 Manufacturers must work to not overheat hot melt.

This is all the more reason, said Ernst, to make training a high priority. Ernst said he would like to see an organization step up to the plate. “Someone needs to give manufacturers a hands-on sourcebook,” he said. “Some industries have sourcebooks. Why don’t we?”

Other training ideas Ernst has include an insulating glass vocational/technical type of school or virtual training on the Internet, though he admits that he doesn’t see any of these coming to fruition. “I’ve been pitching it for several years,” he said. “But these are tough to do because frankly none of the industry organizations will pay for it. As a result I am kind of forced to do them only at larger manufacturers that are close to here in the Midwest. I am thinking I will have to abandon them altogether due to the expense.”

Many organizations who do offer training are the equipment and component suppliers, and most of these companies pay for this training.

Edgetech provides no charge training to manufacturers as does Truseal Technologies. But GED differs in that manufacturers pay for training that is part of the company’s Quality, Capacity and Cost (QCC) program. Burk does admit that some manufacturers do not feel they should have to pay for this service. “People don’t want to pay for training,” he said. “They say to me, ‘the glass people do it for free, the sealant people do it for free, why don’t you?’”

work2 work3 It is important to watch out for cold joints (left) and to ensure a good seal (right).

Burk counters that the benefits are well-worth the cost. “Some manufacturers say to me, ‘What if I train them [my employees] and they leave?’” said Burk. “I reply, ‘But what if you train them and they stay?’”

Whether the training is free or for a fee, the suppliers agree that training is necessary, therefore the companies we spoke to have programs in place for the window manufacturers they work with.
At Edgetech, manufacturers are audited a few times per year. The company has a quality audit form which addresses various issues such as how the glass is washed, how clean is the glass, as well as issues affecting the sealants such as gunning. 

At Truseal, quality audits are performed at a facility on a routine basis. “If they fail, we pull the plug on their warranty,” said Joe Almasy, senior technical service representative. “We’re the window police.”

Burk travels to manufacturing facilities and spends two days in the insulating glass department looking at a variety of manufacturing operations. At the end of his visit, Burk sits down with as many people as possible at the plant going over what he learned about their manufacturing operations and how these can be improved upon. At the end of the meeting, he assigns a list of action items. Burk says he doesn’t just go over what’s wrong with the processes, he explains why they are insufficient. 

Manufacturer Response
Burk admits that sometimes the manufacturers do not want to hear about their “insufficient” processes. He admits that if the training directive comes from the corporate level his efforts are not as well-received as when the plant manager makes the request. But, he adds that sometimes even the plant managers are wary. “After one particular meeting, the plant manager literally escorted me out the door by the arm,” Burk said. “But, if the plant manager seriously wants to improve, the response is great.”

Almasy and Plavecsky say that generally the training they perform is well-received, but this is not always true. “You sometimes have to tell people that their product isn’t good,” said Almasy. “Sometimes they are unhappy.”

With GED’s QCC program, the trainer answers two questions about the plant he is visiting: “Would I buy one of your IG units?” and “What would I do differently at your plant?” Burk said the answer to the first question is often “no” which gets people upset. But he adds that this type of honesty is crucial to the program. “You can’t just fill out a happy sheet at the end,” he said. “You have to be able to measure it. You have to prove its worth.”

As part of the QCC program, Burk goes back to the plant six months later for a follow-up visit. “We see a big improvement when we go back,” said Burk. 

“If they’re smart [and most are] they will make changes,” adds Almasy. 

Ernst sums it up this way, “It costs the same amount of money to produce a good unit as a defective one. The simple answer is to only produce good units. Simple to say but not simple to do.” 


Tara Taffera serves as publisher of DWM/BCM magazine.

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