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Volume 6   Issue 8               September  2005

Plant Tour

Making a Clear Distinction
Sunrise Windows Tells How

by Alan B. Goldberg

The history or Sunrise Windows is as much about the events that led to its formation as it is about its 11 years of growth and success. It is a story that company president Gary Delman likes to tell because it is about family, vision and an entrepreneurial spirit from generation to generation. 

For many years, Delman’s father worked for a door manufacturer. When he recognized that the material of the future for frames was vinyl, he tried to convince shareholders that the company should change direction. They weren’t interested and in 1981, he resigned and formed Great Lakes Windows in Toledo, Ohio.

Seeing the Future
Delman talks about the perfect timing for the switch to vinyl. The new material became very popular and the business grew substantially. Five years later, it was sold to Ply-Gem Industries, a holding company.

“Three of us (Delman, his uncle, Elliott Delman and Larry VanDeVelde) were given the responsibility to grow this business. We became involved with every aspect of it. What we concluded was that there had to be a better way to make a better product,” says Gary Delman.

In 1994, Sunrise Windows Ltd. was formed by the two Delmans and VanDeVelde. Their goal was to offer windows that were not only superior, but clearly different, from anything on the market. Based on their combined experience, the founders designed a line of patented products. 

“We invested in machinery, equipment and a fleet of trucks. We rented a 35,000 square foot building on the other side of this field (adjacent to the current facility), in what is now an industrial park,” says Gary Delman.

Learning from the past, where suppliers’ only interest was in their component and not the total product, the owners decided that their operation would be run differently than a traditional approach. 

“We met with all the equipment and material suppliers in one room, reviewed our goal—to develop and manufacture a perfectly designed window—and told them they would be held responsible, as a team, for its success,” says Gary Delman.

He set the tone for problem-solving and timing of the introduction. 

“I made it very clear that we would work out our problems as a group. As a start-up company, we could not afford anything less than an outstanding product,” he says. “I pointed out that we didn’t have six months to test our product because we would be out of business by then. So there was a sense of urgency in order to survive.”

Like any young company, Sunrise started very slowly. Samples were shown to specialty window dealers and installers so they could see what made the product different, how well it was engineered, how airtight it was constructed and how easy it would be to install. But there was something else Sunrise did that Gary Delman felt set it apart from competitors.

“We listened carefully to what the customer needed,” he says. “What we learned was that many manufacturers don’t respond to installer issues. That (gap) was going to be a niche for us. Time would prove that our customers had some very practical suggestions. After all, they were involved with our product on a day-to-day basis.”

He explains that one of the strategies was to work very closely with customers, not only with problem-solving, but with promotional support. Options were made available and additional models were developed so customers had more to offer.

“We did everything to make it easier for our customer to sell the product,” says Gary Delman.
The strategies paid off and the business began to grow. From the initial territory in the Toledo area, the company expanded to neighboring cities including Detroit. The customer base was expanded from dealer and installers to contractors.

“If you listen to people, solve their problems and support them with the right products and tools, the process of developing and selling a product is simple,” says Gary Delman. 

Today Sunrise does approximately $40 million in sales and produces, on the average, approximately 1,000 units a day in a two-shift operation. Two hundred twenty five people work in manufacturing at the facility, located in Temperance, Mich.

What’s Different Here
At a certain point, the company recognized that it needed to change employee policies and establish new guidelines in order to bring people closer together.

“We decided to take a very simplified and radical approach. We replaced pages of rules and policies with simple statements about expectations,” says Cliff Langdon, vice president of operations.

A peer review committee was created to make decisions on sensitive employee issues. 
According to Langdon, the results have been astonishing and in a relatively short period of time. Sick days, for example, dropped by 50 percent. 

Langdon says the equipment and methods used are based on what works best for the operation, not on what is necessarily considered the norm. 

“Our equipment may not be the most sophisticated or the most automated but we get the efficiency we need,” he says.

Langdon pointed out that two years ago, a simple but effective concept called kanban, the Japanese word for signal, was introduced. It was developed for parts inventory and based on its simplicity and effectiveness was chosen over an integrated computer system. Langdon compares it to a reorder card a consumer would see in a retail store when the last item on a shelf has been sold.

Sweating the Small Stuff
“We’re always looking for ways to add value,” says Langdon.

One example is injecting polyurethane foam into most of the sash extrusions and framing extrusions, something that is not very common. He explained that polyurethane enhances insulation properties.

“It’s a messy operation, but it works.”

After the channels are filled, two vertical jambs are cut at the same time—a technique that ensures precision. The head and sill, as well as sash widths and heights, are also cut in one step. With an integrated, computerized system that drives the Stürtz automated saw, material is moved to a position where cutting is done with precision. The saw sequences and optimizes each piece based on the specifications that have been programmed. 

“We use the FeneVision system for all of our equipment and throughout the operation,” says Langdon. “It works very well for us and the service has been excellent.”

Holding a sample of a window unit, Langdon said the one thing he is most proud of is the zero play in the sashes of every Sunrise window. He attributes this to “the way we saw and weld.”

“Unlike other fabricators, we double-stack our welder, making it more like an eight-point welder.

The reason for this is so we can weld both sashes at the same time which gives us a perfect fit. Most companies weld twice,” he says.

Langdon also pointed out the steps that have been eliminated and hours saved by using Stürtz saws and welders.

According to Elliot Delman, executive vice president, what works best isn’t always done in-house.

“We determined that the most efficient way to produce insulating glass is to have it made by a reputable supplier,” he says. “Edge Seal Technologies supplies all of our IG.”

“I can place an order today and have units delivered the following afternoon. That’s exceptional service,” added Langdon.

Some of the production changes are the result of innovation.

Langdon explained that even a small but practical improvement can make a difference.

One example is the recessed Encore lock, supplied by Truth Hardware, on double-hung and sliders. The locks are actually flush-mounted with a simple machine called a customized lock router. 

Another custom piece of equipment, a glazing bead saw, is used so that mitres and the glazing bead fit perfectly. Finally, each window unit is wet-glazed with a laser-guided glazing machine that applies a bead of silicone around the perimeter for structural integrity. 

Elliott Delman refers to a myth in the industry about allowing up to 1/2-inch on the height of double-hung windows for expansion and contraction without any allowance for movement in the width.

“That is bunk,” he says. 

The myth is that the product expands vertically, not horizontally.

“Some of our competitors are following this practice. I am amazed,” he says.

Langdon describes one of the last stages as another Sunrise difference.

“We want our windows going out of here with glass that is sparkling clean,” he says. “It is a good practice because it frees the installer of an unnecessary step and it eliminates the possibility of discovering scratches when glass has to be cleaned.”

There are many challenges that Sunrise Windows faces as it pursues opportunities in new and existing geographical markets.

Elliott Delman points out the need to remain innovative in manufacturing and in its products. 

“We have one of the best product lines after 11 years in business. But we cannot afford to become complacent. When we started putting blinds in double-hung and slider windows, one other company was offering this feature. How quickly that changed,” he says.

Elliott Delman explained that Sunrise offers two product lines made from the same platform. They look identical, but one has additional enhancements such as reinforced fiberglass pultrusions. He said other manufacturers use aluminum and those that use fiberglass cut to specified lengths.

“We do not. The fiberglass is custom-cut to give it maximum structural integrity,” he says.

The company is developing another product line—a high-end, new construction unit—which is being tested with customers on a limited basis. It will be introduced to the market in 2006.

Referring to the technical support for installers, Elliott Delman wonders how many other companies offer a technical support center and provide the same level of response in problem-solving.

“When we get feedback on a problem, we try to fix it immediately,” he says. “For instance, we had one installer here who was concerned about the position of the balance cover. We made a change before he left.”

In addition to its technical service, the company started a service called Sunrise Windows Automated Technologies (SWAT), so customers can go on-line and check the status of their orders. 

One of the biggest challenges the company faces is internal.

“We see tremendous growth opportunities in the next 5-10 years. But there are things we must change in order to grow. One of these is in training our people and educating them beyond job skills. We have to make them more knowledgeable in the role they play and where and how we fit into this expanding market,” says Gary Delman.

He described a more formal training program including the development of modules on basic business knowledge.

Acknowledging that competitors are also innovative and are also focusing on customer support, Delman says the company must maintain “a closeness to this market and its high level of responsiveness to its customers.”

All of this comes down to making a clear distinction which has been the goal for the past 11 years. 

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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