Volume 7 Issue 2 February 2006
Vertical Integration’s Silver Lining
by Alan Goldberg
Silver Line Windows
Adds Value in a Unique Way
Nearly 60 years ago, a small company was founded by a man named Arthur Silverman to produce quality aluminum windows. Located in Kenilworth, N.J., Silver Line Windows continued to grow and started manufacturing jalousie windows and sliding glass doors.
According to its history, homebuilders consumed the high-quality products eagerly. The company’s success, and strong growth throughout the 1960s and 1970s, led to the acquisition of two more manufacturing plants in Kenilworth, N.J. By 1984, having outgrown its three plants, Silver Line expanded and consolidated operations with the purchase of a 250,000-square-foot facility in Middlesex, N.J. That same year, the company entered the emerging vinyl window market. The combination of increasing technology, new techniques and expertise in manufacturing windows contributed to what it describes as “instant success” with the new line.
To meet these growing requirements, the company opened a plant in South Plainfield, N.J., primarily for extruding vinyl lineals and fabricating vinyl windows. In order to better serve the building industry, a vinyl new construction window series was added to the product line in 1985.
The company’s reputation spread beyond its immediate market area to other parts of the country, mostly the South and Midwest. The result was the opening of two production facilities in the mid 1990s: one in Lansing, Ill., and the other in Lithia Springs, Ga. Several window styles, designed specifically for the southern market and its unique block-type construction, were produced at the Georgia plant. The success of this operation made it necessary to double its size in order to keep up with demand.
Silver Line’s flagship plant, an 880,000-square-foot facility in North Brunswick, N.J., opened in the fall of 1995 and utilizes the latest technologies
“It takes a one-and-a-half hour walk through the plant just to absorb the enormity of [this] window factory. But [it] allows us to purchase the best components at the best price and to make a quality vinyl window with surprising speed, precision and efficiency,” says Frank Penna, vice president of manufacturing.
A 300,000-square-foot production facility located in Marion, Ohio, opened in March 2002, employing 500 people. Two years later, the company opened two more facilities: the Fall River, Mass., plant to serve the New England area with stock and custom-made windows and the Dallas, Texas, plant. A new 300,000-square-foot facility is scheduled to open in 2006 to replace the existing 180,000-square-foot building in Dallas. The newest facility, located in Durham, N.C., opened in May 2005.
Combining innovative engineering and design, the company continues to thrive in a competitive market. Today, with more than 7,000 employees, Silver Line operates nine manufacturing facilities totaling 3.6 million square feet in seven states. In 2005, the company produced six million units.
Performance and Durability
Built for a lifetime of performance, Silver Line windows and patio doors feature a limited lifetime warranty. Its products are described as fusion-welded vinyl construction for strength and durability. Multiple chambers in the window frames and sashes create insulating air pockets for thermal efficiency. Insulating glass and double weatherstripping help save energy and reduce heating and cooling costs. But what is most visible to homeowners are the indications that Silver Line products are of high quality. They are Energy-Star® approved and are tested and certified to the specifications of the National Fenestration Rating Council for thermal performance and the American Architectural Manufacturers Association for structural performance.
Innovation–Centerpiece for Success
The company considers itself unique in many ways, from the level of quality built into its products to the extensive customer service support that it provides. But what truly characterizes Silver Line is its innovation in manufacturing, particularly the vertical integration of components which has proven to be a silver lining, in cost savings and adding value.
“Being vertically integrated with our manufacturing process–internally extruding our own window profiles and injection molding window hardware–enables Silver Line to better control quality, supply and price, ensuring our customers the best window value,” says Kenneth Silverman, president and chief executive officer.
According to Ed Murcia, senior vice president of marketing, the success behind this “finely-tuned, high speed operation” is vertical integration.
“By extruding our own vinyl and making our own components and sub-assemblies, we control cost, quality and the flow of materials from start to finish,” adds Murcia.
“We are very vertical,” says Andy Karr, vice president of marketing and advertising.
“We started a line of injection molded windows which are unique to the industry. We extrude 150 million pounds of vinyl a year and we run 80 extrusion presses.”
He points out that the company is one of the largest window extruders in the country.
Vertical integration coupled with high volume has created substantial savings in raw material costs and helped in controlling the rising cost of manufacturing.
Technology and Equipment—Crucial Elements
In May 2004, the company announced the start-up of its newly developed line of injection-molded windows, featuring patented molding technology. The first injection-molded window was the company’s utility/hopper window, which is used in basements, attics and areas where ventilation is required but space is limited. Through this process, a seamless window and sash are created. A sliding window using the same process is now offered.
“This exciting technology will enable us to continue to differentiate ourselves by bringing superior products to market,” says Silverman.
Throughout its operations, Silver Line employs the latest in technology. Its Sampson welders—one-, two- and four-point—are semi- and fully-automated for vertical and horizontal welding.
“Sampson has been a strong partner of ours. We have been very pleased with the equipment and their service,” says Karr.
Also, working closely with GED for service and support, Silver Line uses PPG’s Intercept system in the fabrication of its insulating glass units in all five glass lines. GED’s involvement goes beyond spacer systems. Partnering with 3M, GED manufactured a CNC unit for applying a film which the company considers another unique feature.
Karr points out that in 1998, “Mr. Silverman saw a 3M product [Accentrim™] at an industry show which looked very appealing to us.” He describes it as a unique film made with a texture so that it looks like cut glass.
“We worked with our own design engineer to develop a technique for utilizing it and with the help of GED, we were able to incorporate it into our operation,” says Karr.
GED’s software package is also used in manufacturing. According to Karr, it has made a significant difference in production efficiency and cost reduction.
In addition, the company developed its own patented scanning and tracking system so products can be tracked at any point in the manufacturing process.
“As a window’s code is entered into the system, its progress can be checked quickly. An e-mail is generated if there is a problem or any kind of delay so we can notify our customer immediately,” says Karr.
He explains that a window can be located easily through infrared sensors.
Another feature that differentiates Silver Line is the mulling system which is designed to meet the requirements of each window.
Karr points out that the continuous frame from mulling two windows—instead of using mullions—results in a clean, consistent look. He says it saves time on installation and makes the entire installation process easier and the windows are more durable.
“Very few companies are using this technique. It is one of our many strengths,” he adds.
Another is the ability to offer custom products. The company is expanding its product offering to meet changing needs.
“Building owners and homeowners are constantly asking us to refine and develop additional product features,” says Karr. “What was custom yesterday is standard today.”
Many styles are available and include: single- and double-hung units, sliders, casements, awnings, picture windows, geometric shapes and patio doors.
As far as efficiencies, there is no limit to streamlining. Even something like storage bins can be improved. The machine shop has made bins to fit specific production needs.
One area where automation has made a difference is in screen-making. Recently, a long-time-manual operation was replaced with an automated unit and the savings in time has been substantial.
“We roll form our own aluminum screening frames. Now we can design a better screen frame and enhance value without getting into high cost,” adds Karr.
QC Testing/Impact Resistance
Approximately 140 quality control inspections take place throughout the process, from the time raw materials enter a plant. Karr points out that raw materials are inspected to standards. He says all rail cars are sampled.
“We have a train that pulls into the building. PVC, which we use in volume, is pumped from the cars into silos.”
In the company’s test lab, materials are checked for color, thermal properties, stability and other characteristics. PVC compounds are tested to failure to determine a level of quality. Samples of profiles will be scanned to be sure standards are being met.
Quality remains the company’s number one goal, says Robert Amariti, corporate director of quality assurance.
“People ask if the factory is too big to control quality issues. Actually it’s the tremendous size of the operation that allows us to maintain a modern test lab with the latest QC equipment and operate it around the clock,” adds Amariti.
Nearby, in an impact test lab, a cannon is used for checking impact resistance.
In August 2005, the company introduced a line of impact-resistant windows and patio doors. Designed to endure impact from wind-blown debris and keep a home sealed from wind pressure, the impact-resistant units make use of specially-designed inter-related components.
“Our impact-resistant windows and patio doors are tough enough to meet the ASTM and Miami-Dade County testing standards for impact resistance,” says Peter Thornton, director of engineering.
A full-time safety coordinator monitors safety practices and conformance with OSHA regulations. The decision to purchase automatic external defibrillators (AED) for each manufacturing facility has proven to be a life saver, according to a company announcement. Two years ago, it was used on an employee who had stopped breathing and had no pulse. His recovery from a cardiac arrest was attributed to the AED’s ability to register a pulse.
Proper installation of windows is another company priority.
“We are working with the Department of Energy (DOE) to provide training sessions on the installation of windows. We also offer our own training sessions on product knowledge and installation,” adds Karr.
A full-time trainer on staff conducts regional training seminars which are part of an overall program that was started about two years ago.
“We believe that 85 percent of window problems are related to installation,” says Karr. Bilingual training is included based on a growing Hispanic population.
Challenges and Opportunities
Looking ahead, Karr sees 2006 as a year of challenges and opportunities. He views globalization as a double-edged sword. There are threats from imports but there are also opportunities to grow. Domestically, he says the slow-down in new construction will create stiffer competition “and make things tougher.” But he points out that in the hurricane-affected areas, there will be a need for the company’s impact-resistant products which meet the toughest standards. However, the diminishing capacity for petrochemicals and raw material price increases for its vinyl production from hurricane damage will continue to be a challenge.
For more than five decades Silver Line Windows has met competition and market conditions by being innovative in its products and fabrication methods. It has added value in many ways, one of the most significant being through vertical integration, a silver lining, as growth will continue at a pace of about 20 percent, according to Karr.
Alan Goldberg is a contributing writer for DWM. He has 31 years of experience in the insulating glass industry.
© Copyright 2006 Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved. No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.