Volume 8, Issue 1 - January 2007

A Bright Future
Industry Leaders Give Their Outlook for Vinyl Extrusions
by Alan B. Goldberg 

Will vinyl be a material of choice for extrusions in the future? How will imports affect domestic extruders? What are some of the other challenges they face?

These are questions that DWM posed to industry leaders. The majority agree that the demand for vinyl extrusions will continue to increase. However, with pressure from Chinese importers, company leaders talk about what they must do to remain competitive.
Extruders say the future looks pretty bright for vinyl.
“The vinyl extrusion is growing, and for the foreseeable future, we will continue to take business away from steel, aluminum and wood,” says Hans Spijkerman, president and chief executive officer of Chelsea Building Products.
Richard Anton, director of marketing for Mikron, sees an increased demand for vinyl extrusions based on local and regional energy codes.
“Vinyl will replace aluminum extrusions as energy codes tighten, aimed at greater expense and energy conservation,” says Anton.

He says there are other factors at work as well. For example, vinyl door systems and windows can now incorporate internal reinforcement to meet commercial structural codes. Mikron’s vinyl extrusions offer manufacturers cost savings opportunities because, based on a per pound basis, vinyl costs less than aluminum.

“I am confident that the demand for high quality vinyl windows will continue to increase,” says Mark Harger, operations manager for Kolbe Vinyl Division.
The same optimism is shared by Mark Davis, director of marketing for North America Deceuninck.

“Hollow vinyl extrusions will continue to add to their already dominant market shares in both the new construction and repair/remodeling sectors for years to come,” says Davis.

According to Dean Lewis, manager of product certification for the American Architectural Manufacturers Association (AAMA), vinyl fenestration products are showing every sign of continued growth, though to what extent is difficult to say.
One of the reasons AAMA predicts a bright future for vinyl (in extrusions and other components of windows) is that vinyl windows are good for the environment because they help conserve energy, they are durable and require little maintenance, says Joe Hums, regional sales manager for Mikron and a member of AAMA’s Vinyl Material Council (VMC). 

“Vinyl is a very efficient material that can be easily recycled. Ninety-nine percent of vinyl used by processors goes into the finished product,” says Hums.
Hums also refers to the recylability of vinyl as another attractive characteristic. He points out that while the vast majority of vinyl windows have not completed their useful life cycle, the market is beginning to see vinyl window replacement. He says VMC has formed a task group to develop programs for recycling vinyl windows that have been replaced.
“We plan to a launch a pilot program later this year that would recycle the individual components from the whole vinyl windows into other usable products,” adds Hums.
Impact of Imports
Although he could not provide specific information regarding imports of extrusions, Spijkerman says “there is a push coming from Chinese companies.” 

He points out that these companies haven’t figured out how to look at the traditional door and window fabricator. He says that doing business with traditional fabricators goes beyond selling lineals.
“We take the fabricator by the hand, teach him how to run a lean operation, how to be efficient. This way of doing business, compared to selling a product that is priced to be very attractive is not comparing apples to apples,” adds Spijkerman.

Deceuninck offers similar services. Davis describes it as a full complement of engineering services, technical services and marketing support that allows its customers to operate more efficiently, and produce and sell more windows with a higher level of quality and fewer call-backs.
“Our strategic alliance programs have been extremely successful in helping our small-to-medium size customers organize, cooperate and compete successfully against the industry giants. This, as much as anything, is what separates the value-added extruders from the small lineal-only suppliers,” he says.

According to Davis, certain overseas companies have failed to provide this type of technical and marketing support that most North American window manufacturers have come to expect.
“What is a window manufacturer to do if a main frame or sash profile is unusable and the
arrival date for the replacement material is 16 weeks away?,” he asks. “There is no good answer to that question.” 

Beyond customer service, formulation content also affects the performance of vinyl extrusions.
There is another issue which Spijkerman says will play out as imported extrusions find their way into the market.
“Chinese companies are underestimating the impact of claims (for replacement or damage) due to fading. I don’t believe they realize the liability they could incur when homeowners demand some type of compensation for unacceptable performance,” he adds.

Innovation is another factor that is easy to overlook, adds Spijkerman.
“Chelsea and other extruders are not just manufacturers. We are innovators. Product improvement is a continuous process. We are always raising the bar to take quality to another level, and we are continually creating new window platforms with improved rating performance and ease of manufacturing,” he says.
Davis agrees. He points out that not all PVC extrusions are the same. He says that extrusion, tool making and compounding technologies have advanced to the point where only the largest and most resourceful extruders are able to take full advantage of the latest advances and innovations.

“It is getting more and more difficult for small extruders to compete. Extruders with global reach also enjoy the additional advantage of sharing technological advances and product innovations that are being developed around the world,” says Davis.
If there is concern about the effect of imports, Lewis doesn’t really see it. He says imported profile producer sales agents are active in the United States and are offering competitive pricing, but questions their impact.
“To date, many imported profiles have been evaluated, but very few have been secured mainframe and sash business with major U.S. manufacturers,” says Lewis.

This is confirmed by Davis who views the impact of Chinese extrusions as minimal so far.

“In general, most U.S. door and window manufacturers cannot afford the risks of questionable quality and very long lead times associated with buying large quantities of material from overseas,” says Davis.

Industry Testing
Are imported extrusions subjected to the same stringent tests as domestic vinyl extrusions?

According to Lewis, AAMA is getting more offshore licenses although not a large number of different profiles are being submitted for certification. Responding to concerns about whether they are being tested to the same extent as U.S. extrusions or not, he gives a one- word response: “Absolutely.”
“All testing, validation, inspection and quality assurance program requirements are the same for all licensees, regardless of geographic location,” adds Lewis.

Spijkerman says AAMA testing comes down to weatherability, impact, heat resistance and shrink testing. He points out that while the basic tests may not show the true effects of weathering and performance during accelerated testing, actual exposure to the elements certainly will. 

“The real test is exposure in states like Arizona and Florida. I cannot imagine that a profile low in titanium dioxide and high in calcium carbonate will test over a period of time,” he says.

Davis says a small number of Chinese extruders have passed the minimum standards set forth in the AAMA lineal certification program, which, he points out, simply spells out minimum material standards. It does not guarantee anything as far as dimensional quality, lead times or service levels are concerned.
“We test ourselves against in-house quality and performance standards that are much more demanding,” he says.
According to Anton, Mikron’s coatings have been field- and lab-tested to perform in high heat build-up conditions and meet AMMA’s specification for color weatherability.
Les Lundeen, director of marketing for Chelsea Building Products points out that there are also logistical issues regarding evaluation and certification.
“How do you conduct unannounced visits to a plant that is in the Far East? To announce the intention of a visit is somewhat self-defeating,” he says.

Looking Ahead
According to Davis, Chinese companies will make some inroads with low-cost, non-critical accessory profiles (sash stops, sill angles, etc). He explains that due to the low cost of these small parts, a window manufacturer may be able to afford several months’ worth of “safety stock” in the event of a serious quality issue.

“We believe that the quality, reliability, safety and support offered by domestic extruders will, once again, be seen as the best value proposition by most North American window manufacturers,” says Davis.

Expertise is what helps the fabricator because it is invaluable, says Spijkerman. Recognizing the challenges from a changing and competitive market, he says there are a number of “musts” his company has to follow.

“We must work harder to keep costs down; we must extrude faster; we must control our prices and we must seek better tooling. But most of all, we must protect the quality level the industry has established over the years,” says Spijkerman.

Davis sees the rapidly escalating cost of raw materials as another factor. PVC resin prices increased dramatically in the wake of the devastating hurricanes last year, and they have not come back down.

“We maintain hope that the new resin capacity that is scheduled to come on line in 2007 will help to drive raw materials prices down,” he says.

There is another side to capacity.

According to Lewis, there has been more consolidation recently and rumors abound about more large window manufacturers acquiring captive vinyl extrusion capacity.

Simonton Windows is a good example.

“Simonton Windows started SimEx almost seven years ago as a way to assure the company of quality extruded vinyl for the creation of their windows and patio doors,” says Steve Wrubleski, vice president and general manager of the SimEx operation.
He explains that having a vertical alignment of supply increases the company’s ability to create custom products, maintain costs and get product to the marketplace faster.
Wrubleski points out that Chinese manufacturers will increase their market share in the coming years because they are intent on exporting to the United States and pricing on commodity items will be more competitive. He says product lines and extruders of non-custom items will be most affected.

“As for SimEx, because we are aligned so closely with the vertical operation at Simonton, we believe the import sales of extruded vinyl will have very little impact on us.”

Wrubleski sees a bright and growing future for extruded vinyl and PVC. Both products are growing in acceptably in the marketplace continually and we project the need for these products will steadily increase.
What about options to vinyl?

“While Deceuninck will always maintain its focus on new developments in materials, science and related technologies, it is the company’s belief that there have been many attempts by lineal producers over the past several years to displace hollow vinyl with other materials, such as cellular PVC, fiberglass and pultrusions,” adds Davis.

But, he points out no material has been able to match the performance and value proposition offered by hollow vinyl extrusions.

Anton says PVC-based composite materials are increasing rapidly as homeowner demand for no/low maintenance building materials grows.

“These materials offer a more fabrication-friendly solution than fiberglass, significantly better material insulating values and real wood veneers,” he says.

“People like vinyl,” says Allen Blakey, director of public affairs for the Vinyl Institute

“They recognize its benefits—no maintenance, thermal efficiency. We think it has proven to be of great value, and we’re excited about the future as we see manufacturers improve their formulations and products,” he says.

The Author
Alan Goldberg is a contributing writer for DWM magazine. He has 31 years of experience in the insulating glass industry.


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