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June-July  2004


Finding the Right Equipment Supplier
by Mike Biffl

You spent months looking at different window systems from various suppliers. You looked at hundreds of hardware options. You analyzed every option that different types of glass offer and whether to make or buy your insulating glass units. Now you need to figure out how to make your new window efficiently, economically, consistently and with the level of quality demanded by the target market. Whatís the next step?

You need to find the right equipment supplier/partner to work with to meet your manufacturing needs. There are a number of established vinyl window manufacturing equipment suppliers in North America. Each has its own personality and its own strengths. If you are already fabricating windows you have experience with at least one of these companies. If you are starting up a new operation, it can all seem pretty overwhelming. Each supplier will say why it is the best choice for you. Sorting it all out is no easy task.

Researching Equipment Suppliers
The first order of business is to find out who the players are. This can be accomplished through review of trade journal articles, advertisements and press releases. Internet searches are helpful in identifying prospective suppliers. Talk to your vinyl supplier about who has a good reputation for providing good equipment and standing behind it. Keep in mind, all of these tools will provide somewhat subjective and biased results. This is only the beginning.

Once you have identified potential suppliers for your window fabrication equipment, the real work starts. Put together an information package with the required drawings to allow the equipment suppliers to determine your needs. Prepare a three-year projection for product growth. This will help the equipment suppliers narrow down the type of equipment package you need. If floor space is an issue, make sure you can provide that information to the equipment companies. Make sure you know what you want to accomplish. The more educated you are the less likely you are to be steered in the wrong direction by an overzealous equipment salesperson.

Contact the Equipment Suppliers
Now that you have your basic information together, itís time to start contacting your list of prospective suppliers. Plan to spend a significant amount of time on the phone with your initial contacts defining your goals. If the supplier is not asking questions, that is a good indication of how your relationship will go. First impressions mean a lot. If you are not happy with initial contact, ask for a package of literature and give it some more thought before involving this company in the quoting stage. 

If things go well, offer to send your drawing package so they can prepare a preliminary quote and layout based on your production requirements. Request a customer reference list to be sent with the quotation, and get ready to do some reading.

Reviewing Quotations
You will likely be inundated with information, some useful and some not as valuable. Review the information from each supplier independently at first. Go through each machine and look at the specifics of what is included. Make notes on the quote with questions regarding any optional items that you are not sure about.

After you have reviewed each quote separately, start comparing. Make a spreadsheet or a chart showing each supplier and each machine. The lists of equipment should be fairly similar if everyone was listening. Start listing the accessories included by each supplier. Once you have it all on paper start comparing prices. 

Certain things should always be included, such as tooling for all your profiles. Confirm that prices cover necessary programming for your specific requirements. Look to see if set up and training are included. When that is complete, you are ready to start meeting with the suppliers you deem most able to meet your requirements.
Bring each supplier into your facility. Allow ample time in the schedule to discuss everything you feel is important. Have your questions written down so you are sure to cover everything. Keep your notes available so you can answer any questions they have. Go through each machine to be sure you understand exactly what they are offering. Have the supplier explain any optional items you noted in your first review of the quote. Be open-minded to possible changes to the equipment list based on your discussions.

Final Review
After you have met with all viable suppliers you should have a pretty good idea of what working with each would be like. Narrow the field down to two or three serious contenders for your business. Have these suppliers resubmit firm quotations with any changes based on your meeting. Review the final quotes and go through the spreadsheet exercise a second time.

Now you should start calling references. If possible, arrange a site inspection to see the equipment in operation. Get a full picture of what it will be like to work with each company. If your decision is still not clear, now is the time to visit the suppliers.

Go to each of your finalistís facilities. Meet the managers of the production and engineering service groups. Pay attention to the details. Look for spare parts inventory. Ask how a project goes through the organization and to see a copy of a machine manual. Find out who you can call for answers during each phase of the project. Make sure these are people with whom you can work. 

Decision Time
You now have all the information. You have given the suppliers an opportunity to show that they can work with you and help make your business successful. Make your decision and award the order to the supplier you can best work with now and as you grow.

Remember, you are not only buying machinery, you are investing in your future. 

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