Volume 8, Issue 3 - March 2007

Screen Making is Everyone’s Business

by Alan B. Goldberg

Do you or don’t you? Do you make screens for patio doors, standard windows or custom doors and windows? Some door and window manufacturers will tell you they do and for good reasons. They can control the process better while reducing costs. Some suppliers will say they do and for good reasons. They help manufacturers make better use of space and labor while reducing inventory. Who is right? They both are, and that’s because making screens is everyone’s business. 

What Manufacturers Say
“We’ve always made our own screens,” says Jeff Witkin, executive vice president of Northeast Building Products in Philadelphia, Pa. “It has always been part of our fabrication and we want to control it. For us, it’s pretty basic. We cut the extrusions, process them into the right sizes, roll the mesh and we’re done,” he says.

Canadian window manufacturer Loewen switched to an internal process some time ago and the reasons had to do more with quality than anything else.

“We wanted a change in the quality of our screen frames so we moved from roll-formed frames to extruded aluminum frames. The quality and color options from our previous supplier were limited and we wanted to provide higher quality products with more color/finish options,” says Jon Sawatzky, architectural consultant to the company.

Aside from maintaining a consistent level of quality, moving this operation inside also provided Loewen with opportunities to control costs.

The same is true with Duxton Window, based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, Gorell Windows and Doors in Indiana, Pa. and Northern Building Products in Ridgefield, N.J.

“We’ve always made our own fiberglass mesh and roll-formed aluminum screens because we can control it better and there is a cost savings as well, says Dave Bakker, sales consultant for Duxton. 

“We are very particular about the quality and fit of our screens and with the need to produce them in any size—to the eighth-inch in width or height—we feel it necessary to control this process in-house,” says Michael Rempel, president and chief operating officer for Gorrell.

“We have always made our own screens. Mostly, this is in order to have control over availability since there is no stock item in our niche and to have color match the project,” says Bob Pecorella, president of Northern Building Products.

At Simonton, it depends. According to Bill Lazor, senior product manager, rolling screens for patio doors come from Aluminite from Preferred Engineering for hidden screens. Windows are done inside.

“We make our own screens for windows, both roll-formed and extruded. Since we roll form ourselves, we are able to control the tolerances from plant to plant, therefore the process is automated,” says Lazor.

He points out that extruded material has more variance and those are done manually.

But not everyone agrees that screen-making for windows has to be an internal operation. 

How Suppliers See It
“Most of the screens we provide to manufacturers are for standard windows,” says Chad Kegans, vice president of Aluminite, based in Chehalis, Wash. 

RiteScreen, based in Elizabethville, Pa., produces 40,000 screens and 6,000 patio door screens a day for manufacturers, according to Kelly King, vice president.

“Manufacturers are turning to companies like Phantom Screens of Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada, to provide their customers with insect barriers, solar shading and enhanced privacy when they need it, and to retract the screens out-of-sight when they don’t,” says C. Esther DeWolde, chief executive officer of Phantom Screens.

Randy Deering, senior vice president for Genius Retractable Screen Systems in Northport, Ala., says the company’s calling is retractable screens and “we are seeing a demand both from consumers and manufacturers for this attractive product.” 

Suppliers’ Services
Kegans explains Aluminite’s role with manufacturers in terms of space and labor savings.

“We free up labor so it can be devoted to the manufacture of windows. We free up floor space so it can be better utilized. In other words, we take the process of screen manufacturing off their floor.”

Referring to the Aluminite Advantage, Kegans points out that the company’s services are geared to helping its customer to be more efficient. The way screens are transported is a prime example of that efficiency. Just-in-time delivery of screens for patio and standard windows means manufacturers do not have to stack raw materials. Four years ago, the company began ordering electronically. Using an EDI format, orders are processed for next-day delivery and in a sequence to match the customer’s production schedule. 

RiteScreen offers similar services. King explains that screens for the residential market are made for virtually every type of vinyl and wood window. There are 81 colors available, 13 types of profiles and eight different patio screens.

“We probably offer the largest selection of window and patio door screens,” she says. The product is packaged by customer job lots and any type of special packaging or labeling is also provided. 

“We’ve tried to eliminate as much space (for the manufacturer) as possible so they can focus on window manufacturing,” says King.

King says the biggest change in the past five years has been the need for just-in-time delivery, which eliminates the need to inventory. Although screens haven’t changed much, they are still fiberglass mesh with roll-formed aluminum, changes in hardware, such as the introduction of plunger and swivel latches from traditional hardware and specialty corner keys, continue. 

Genius sees a niche in a market that is shifting. 

“Manufacturers are looking for products that will add value and help differentiate their windows and doors. One of these is retractable screens,” says Deering.

The ability to conceal a screen system within a frame is very attractive to consumers. The ability to customize and control the assembly is very attractive to manufacturers. 

“Our screen offers gives the manufacturer quick and easy control because it is designed for simplicity. Manufacturers can purchase components and tailor them to their customers’ specifications without having to come back to us,” says Deering. 

Describing her company as a leading provider of retractable screening solutions in North America, DeWolde sees a major shift as manufacturers are recognizing the value of this product. 

“Although the concept has been around a long time, the market is still relatively new to the technology. [Not too long ago] it was difficult to have a door and window manufacturer take notice of retractable screening as a viable offering with existing product lines,” she says.

Now that is changing. She points out that manufacturers are offering larger openings such as folding wall systems (telescoping doors) and oversized picture windows. They face a challenge in screening these openings to protect them from insects and preventing interior furnishings from fading.

Winpro-Formtek of Cleveland, Ohio, serves manufacturers in another way, by selling equipment for producing the screens, including roll-forming machines for making the screen frames and automated screen assembly machines for attaching the mesh to the frame.

“Our equipment is custom-made to meet each manufacturer’s requirements, whether it’s for screen frame profiles or other shapes they would like to manufacture in another area of their operation,” says Rick Wilson, product line manager. 

Serving Home and Building Owners
Not every screen supplier sells to door and window manufacturers’—some sell direct to the homeowner. Take Quality Screen and Glass Inc. of Fresno, Calif., for example. The company boasts that it is the largest solar screen supplier to the residential replacement market, according to Brent Thompson, vice president. He says his customers are apartment owners and homeowners who are replacing their original screens, and they care about timeliness and quality. Thompson says the industry is changing constantly and he sees it in the types of materials used in screens.

“We don’t see as much aluminum mesh [in California] compared to the South or Midwest. We stopped using it because fiberglass seems to be the standard material,” he says. 

He says that vinyl-coated polyester is another material that is used in solar screens because it gives the screen mildew- and fade-resistance. Another attractive feature is color, as screens are appealing to consumers because of the many colors that are available. A potential market for the company is interior screens, better known as roll-down shades.

Prices on the Rise
The challenges for each supplier are as varied as the products they provide. For Aluminite, it has to do with housing starts that are down and the cost of aluminum that is on the rise. 

“We use aluminum coil and extrusions in our screens and we supply screens for retrofit as well as new construction so we are impacted in two ways,” adds Kegans.
King expresses the same concerns.

“It’s all about cost savings. We’re trying to reduce costs on a product that is made of aluminum and the cost of aluminum keeps rising,” she says.

She believes the price increases on aluminum could be driven by factors in other markets, but the smaller markets are really feeling the impact of the higher prices—not just coming from aluminum.

“Prices for zinc are also increasing and that is affecting hardware items that are zinc-plated or die-cast,” she says.

Whether screens are being provided for or by door and windows manufacturers, suppliers have clearly indicated that making screens is everyone’s business.

Screens: Survey Snapshot

In the January issue of DWM magazine, a survey was mailed to a sampling of door and window manufacturers regarding window screens and these manufacturers’ views of screen suppliers. As evidenced by the preceding article, many companies opt to manufacture screens in house. But of those who do use an outside source, respondents gave some interesting insights into the supplier relationship. The most revealing was that the majority said they would consider switching suppliers. 

As to why, the responses varied from wanting “more of a product variety” and “lower price.” But all is not bad news for suppliers. When asked what they value the most from their current suppliers, some of the answers included, “quick delivery,” “low price” and “quality.”

Alan B. Goldberg is a contributing writer for DWM magazine. He has 31 years of experience in the window industry.


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