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Volume 6   Issue 5                June 2005


Hurd Continuously Improves Sound Decision Making
by Alan Goldberg

Change is not new to Hurd Windows and Doors Inc. Throughout its 86-year history, the Medford, Wis.-based company has had to adjust to market conditions, the economy, new technology and competitive pressures. Even in its early years when founding brothers Harry and W.A. Hurd recognized that manufacturing veneer cheese boxes for the state’s dairy industry had its limitations, they changed direction and chose another path. But what did not change was their passion for woodworking and their skills as craftspeople. 

Converting the operation from making boxes to making window frames was a natural move. Time proved it to be a very successful one. Building on this prosperity, the entrepreneurs expanded the business to include the manufacture of sash, doors and related millwork products. Their quality products made an impact in the market and the company enjoyed steady growth. 

Growth came in another way. The purchase of the Wisconsin Window Unit Company in Merrill in 1981 gave Hurd the added capacity of another manufacturing facility, which became known as the Prospect Street location. It continues to produce windows and patio doors today. Another acquisition followed in 1991 with the purchase of the Northern Door, also based in Merrill, which expanded the company’s products and manufacturing capability. 

Referred to as the Water Street location, it still converts raw glass into several window glass options. In 1995, Hurd added a third production facility in Merrill, the 40,000 square foot Thomas Street location, which produces high-performing, low maintenance vinyl windows and patio doors. Another milestone took place in December 2004 when the company was acquired by Monarch Holding Company and its name changed from Hurd Millwork 

Company to Hurd Windows and Doors Inc. Today, there are four plants—the fourth located adjacent to the corporate office in Medford—totaling approximately 900,000 square feet of manufacturing space. More than 650 employees work a single eight-hour shift, five days a week. 

While the company has enjoyed success, it has recognized the need to adjust to a changing and highly competitive window and door market. 

“We cannot afford to be content with the status quo,” said Dave Kochendorfer, vice president of operations. “We must invest in our greatest asset, our people, in order to offer high value, high quality and remain focused on our customers.” 

Investment Through Training 
Kochendorfer explained the heavy emphasis on training so employees have the skills to be more productive, the knowledge to operate more efficiently, the people skills to work as a team and treat others with respect and the self confidence to take full responsibility for their part in producing the product.

“Our overall objective is to create a safe, healthy working environment and reduce waste and lead time while improving the quality of our product. We do this through close communications (including daily employee meetings with immediate supervisors) and extensive training,” he said. 

A plant-wide continuous improvement program encompasses many proven techniques. The company is implementing the Theory of Constraints (TOC) as a means of identifying and eliminating bottlenecks and constraints, lean manufacturing to eliminate waste and unnecessary steps, a safety program that creates an awareness of preventative measures to reduce accidents and a quality control program to define and follow specifications. 

“What we are doing is taking a complete assembly line and starting from scratch,” he said. “We analyze every step of every task to see how we can remove waste, eliminate unnecessary motions and make each operation ergonomically correct. It’s a very detailed and formalized process and we have a specific plan as we proceed into each cell. The outcome is to become more competitive.”

Kochendorfer pointed out that every employee is involved in improving each cell, working with engineers, supervisors, managers of inventory, quality control, safety, human resources, maintenance and the plant manager.

One of the results of the program, he said, has been a substantial reduction in accidents. He said when people are made more aware of their jobs and they understand risk and unsafe methods, the accident rate will drop.

“People want to improve themselves. They want to be successful. They want to be part of making a quality product and reducing cost,” said Kochendorfer.

He added that day-to-day communications with immediate supervisors is as important as the formalized training. Small groups meeting on a daily basis generate ideas and suggestions and help create a rapport that affects morale and performance.

Special Shapes for Special Needs
The company anticipates additional growth in special shapes.

“We are experiencing higher volumes in special shapes. Every product is made to order with many options,” added Kochendorfer.

With increased volume, the company replaced its radius former recently. Greg Heier, manufacturing engineer, said the new Protech PT-6 unit simplifies this operation. Once a specific radius is entered into the system, glue is applied to wood veneer and placed in the PT6. The aluminum arms on the PT6 then form the proper radius. Radio frequency is activated, causing the glue to be heated and to bond the veneers together. The thickness of the radius profile is based on the specification for the finished product and the species of wood requested. 

A CNC router is used to machine the end work, or profiles on the radius shapes, so jambs will fit together. The same equipment also machines the head and seat boards on bay and bow windows. Trim for the top of the arched window units is done with a profiler.

“We have the latest technology in software (for this router) so we can take a designer’s prints and download that information directly into the unit. Tools are automatically changed to meet the program’s specifications,” said Heier.

The final step, after the wood is bent and the profiles and trim are machined, is building the frame.

In another part of the plant, aluminum is bent into required shapes. 

Heier explained the capability of this bending machine.

“With our aluminum bender, we are able to bend the specific radius required,” he said.

 “Using an advanced software package, the unit can compile information, decipher production codes and enter data such as parameters, shape and elastic 

It makes all the necessary adjustments and bends the aluminum with precision, to exact specifications.

The clad area where casement windows are made is a continuous flow assembly line.

Although this plant does not make its own insulating glass, IG is supplied by one of the plants in nearby Merrill so availability is never an issue. Once glass is placed into the aluminum casement sash, the wood sash is added and vinyl is applied. The unit is glazed and hardware is added. 

Continually Improving
“This line is an excellent example of continuous process improvement,” said Kochendorfer.

“It is the culmination of every aspect of continuous improvement, including lean manufacturing, TOC and employee involvement. It involved every employee who worked in each operation, where we painstakingly broke down each step and reconstructed a very efficient operation. It is truly re-engineering.”

“We combined two assembly lines into one and significantly improved our throughput,” added Heier.

The success of the company’s first attempt at re-engineering an assembly line sets the tone for the overall continuous process improvement program. According to Kochendorfer, it reinforces the need for employee involvement in every aspect of the business, and it provides solid justification for new equipment in the future.

Today, Hurd is an Energy Star® partner and its windows are NFRC certified. The company tests units in-house for air, water and structural integrity. 

Described as the beginning of a long process, the new casement assembly line is a clear sign that Hurd Windows is shaping the future by investing where it counts. 

Alan Goldberg is a contributing writer for DWM. He has more than 30 years of experience in the insulating glass industry. 

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