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September - October 2002

     Lincoln Windows Strives to Become a Fully-Automated Manufacturing Facility
    by Samantha Carpenter

A Lincoln employee works on a wood window. The company has been manufacturing windows since 1967.

Located in the small Wisconsin town of Merrill is a window and patio door company that is quickly becoming well-known in the custom home building industry.

In 1947, Carl and Jane Bierman founded Lincoln Wood Products as chief executive officer and president, respectively. The first product the company manufactured was brush backs for vacuum cleaners.

“Two months after we started that, plastics came into usage, so all of our orders for Hoover and everyone were canceled. We had to find other ways to use our equipment, so we started making [soda] boxes for Coca-Cola,” said Jane.

Besides making soda boxes, the company also spent about ten years making mouldings. It wasn’t until the late 1950s that Lincoln began making windows, and in 1967, added patio doors to its product line. 

The company has definitely come a long way. Lincoln produces 1,500 to 2,000 window units per day and has annual sales of $80 million.

Manufacturing Facilities
Today, the company employs nearly 500 people and encompasses more than 500,000 square feet in four separate manufacturing facilities. The men-to-women ratio in the plant is nearly 50/50, and the plant workers are unionized.

“Plant one is our Timeline facility where we make vinyl windows. [Timeline Windows is Lincoln Windows’ sister company.] Plant two is our sub-assembly and machine-cutting plant and also houses our specialty department for Lincoln. Plant three is mostly storage and some light sub-assembly and is where we build a lot of our equipment. Plant four is our newest facility and it has all of our final production and all of our glass manufacturing or insulating glass equipment, as well as shipping and final assembly,” said Steve Kahle, sales manager for the company.

Product Offering and Distribution
Lincoln Windows offers a full line of wood windows and patio doors with primed or aluminum-clad interiors, and does not have any stocking dealers. The company manufactures windows and doors made-to-order; Lincoln basically builds house job after house job, said Kahle. The products are sold nationally through independent distributors, and those dealers deal directly with contractors, architects or homeowners. Lincoln has even done a little exporting to Japan and Israel, according to Kahle.

Manufacturing Process
When touring Lincoln’s plant four, you quickly realize that this is a company not afraid of equipment. In fact, Lincoln uses machines from recognized companies such as GED, BILLCO, Urban Automation, Protech, Tauring, Wegoma, Edin-berg, Fux and Weinig to do everything from glass cutting to bending jambs for its window and door lines.

“We just spent a million dollars on a new casement line, which is a completely automated system,” said Kahle. “We just keep adding because Jane wants to stay ahead in the industry and wants the company’s reputation to keep growing.”

The company’s manufacturing goal is to be paperless within a year or two. But increasing the amount of automated equipment does not mean that employees will be laid off. The Lincoln Windows philosophy is to move these employees somewhere else in the facility. 

Asked if the company ever has problems with its machinery, Jane said, “Yes, but we do have quite a large maintenance department, so hopefully we can fix it ourselves.”

“In fact, with the new line we are putting in now, the manufacturer has sent its employees to install it. If there are any problems, they will come back and take care of it or they will train our employees,” said Jane.

Lincoln Windows has even invited other companies—even competitors—to its plants for training on equipment. For instance, Lincoln hosted training classes on GED’s equipment for Hurd and Weathershield.

Lincoln's four manufacturing facilities encompass 500,000 square feet of space (plant four is 
pictured above).

Testing Facility
Asked how Lincoln tests its products for different codes and standards, Kahle said, “We have our own testing facility, but we also have independent monitors who actually do the testing.

“Everything is ENERGY-STAR® labeled for whatever [the product] conforms to. Some of the products only conform to the Southern requirements; it just depends on the configurations of the product,” said Kahle.

Does Lincoln use any kind of quality-control procedures? “We have a quality-control manager and three quality-control technicians. They do various things from progress sheets to off-line testing,” said Jeff Roberts, plant manager.

Software Technology
Not only is the company up-with-the-times in its manufacturing facility, but it also offers its distributors a new support and quoting software. This allows Lincoln to provide its customers with an accurate price quote as well as a clear picture of their window project.

“This program [designed by one of Lincoln’s programmers] allows customers to confidently tackle even the most complicated quote,” said Kahle.

Asked what advice the company could give other companies wanting to use a similar software program, Kahle said, “Be prepared for many challenges. Window and door products have become very complex with a multitude of options. A programmer or company without product knowledge will make this a very tough project.” Lincoln is also encouraging customers to e-mail their orders. “It’s not a complete order-entry system yet, but it’s close,” said Kahle.

Lincoln Windows is doing some revolutionary things when it comes to using technology both in manufacturing and with customers. But when you call to speak with someone at the company, you won’t reach an answering machine. “Our customers can call and talk to anyone at Lincoln that they want. Here if you want to talk to Jane, you can talk to Jane. You won’t get stonewalled at the receptionist,” said Kahle.

Carl and Jane Bierman have been in charge of Lincoln Windows for 55 years. What is in store for the company in the future? Jane said that she would like to see Lincoln Windows become an employee-owned company one day. She also said that the company owns 13 acres of land if the facility should need to expand more. 

“I would hope that the company would always stay in Merrill,” said Jane. After all, that’s where it all started. 

Samantha Carpenter is an editor of DWM/BCM magazine.

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