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Volume 6   Issue 2                March 2005


Producing 6,000 IG Units Per Shift 
With Less Than 23 People
by Al Schadenfroh

Window industry leaders constantly strive to improve productivity in their operations. But complacency often occurs due to fear of change. In today’s economy can we really afford to not be proactive in achieving effectiveness with various insulating glass (IG) systems?

Today’s typical IG manufacturer’s product mix contains a variety of standard and non-standard windows. The percentage of non-standard units (specials) is growing, bringing with it increased manufacturing challenges. These challenges, combined with the plethora of IG systems on the market, can cause businesses to wrestle with innovation, performance and economical building of windows to be sold at a competitive cost.

Manufacturers should consider all systems when making long-term production decisions. While reviewing various IG system productivities, a useful comparison tool is the Units Per Man Hour (UPMH) figure achieved on a system. This number provides a benchmark for efficiency and is calculated by using the formula shown below.

Maximizing Throughput
Various IG systems will yield different productivities and potential UPMH figures, especially depending on the size and shape of units produced on the system and the type of spacers used. For reference, some popular IG systems that utilize flexible spacers include automated horizontal, 4-table (new construction), 2-sided manual airfloat and 2-sided manual airfloat with a split deck. 

Often, a mix of these or other IG systems will maximize throughput. But keeping the fabrication floor at peak productivity levels for the spectrum of product offerings can keep plant managers on edge.

As even specialty products become commodity-driven, efficiencies in the production environment take on a more important role. One’s ability to match the variety of manufacturing and spacer systems with the product mix of each individual business unit allows him to maintain high efficiencies in various processes.

The theoretical example in Table 1 shows a potential manufacturing scenario utilizing several methods to achieve an efficient equipment/system layout involving four IG lines. A detailed analysis of specific production needs, required efficiency needs and throughput levels helps determine the right mix of IG systems for a company.

Company A’s production requirement is 6,000 IG units per 8-hour shift with 70 percent standard windows, 10 percent specials (units not having four 90 degree corners), 5 percent picture windows and 15 percent patio doors.

As we know, there are a variety of methods to automation, which is the key for increased productivity and profitability for many IG manufacturers. Company A’s scenario can offer streamlined production, reduced dependence on labor and minimized costs, achieving a great level of flexibility at a lower than anticipated capital cost.

In addition, Company A’s average UPMH is very favorable with 85 percent of production produced at 37 UPMH or higher and 15 percent at 16 UPMH. Depending on the automated IG system utilized, some systems may actually offer benefits in producing the difficult units (patio doors and/or large picture windows). This example only builds patio doors on the highly efficient system utilizing three operators, but varying production needs may allow for both large units to be run on this system, thereby allowing even higher efficiencies.

Criteria for Selecting IG Systems
IG manufacturers should consider the following:
• Check system(s) for performance rankings to determine anticipated overall cost, performance and efficiency.
• Look at various scenarios by product line and/or window types – balance capacities with efficiencies.
• Consider “just-in-time” production possibilities offered by many of today’s flexible spacer systems – many leading manufacturers have embraced these methods for more than ten years.
• Select spacers that offer consistent aesthetics across all shapes and sizes.
• Is the cheapest spacer on a per-foot basis really cheaper? All variables need to be considered.
• Plug your manufacturing/production numbers into the UPMH formula to help determine your productivity.
The bar on window performance is continually being raised. Can your spacer system keep up? Or is an antiquated IG spacer system pulling you down? 

Al Schadenfroh is productivity specialist for TruSeal Technologies Inc., based in Beachwood, Ohio.

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