Volume 9, Issue 6 - June 2008

bending over backwards 

to Meet Customers' Needs
by Alan B. Goldberg

At Ventana USA, bending is at the core of what they do. Whatever size or shape of vinyl profile is needed, the company has the engineering know-how to bend extrusions to specifications, and it has a 21-year track record to prove it. But the company is also focused on “bending” or changing, to meet the needs of the customer and a changing market. The decision to change its packaging methods to save money and the environment at the same time is just one of many ways Ventana USA has bent with the times.

A Little History
Ventana’s Germany-based parent company identified a niche in the North American market and formed a company to fill it in 1987.

“Our majority partner, Guenther Pennekamp of Ventana International, Vreden, Germany, recognized the need for vinyl profile bending in the North American vinyl window market,” says Tony Pauly, vice president and general manager. 

Ventana Plastics Inc. began in Plum Boro, Pa., as a custom PVC profile bending operation with three employees, working in 3,000 square feet of space. Within one year, the U.S. company outgrew its space and moved to a 9,000-square-foot facility nearby in Murrysville.

Pauly attributes the company’s early and sustained success to two key factors: dedicated people and responsiveness to its customers.

“We built our organization to be responsive to our customer’s needs. We view ourselves as an extension of their production floor from stocking of materials and simplified ordering to fast and prompt deliveries,” he says.

In 1993, the company expanded again, this time to a new 35,000-square-foot plant in Export, Pa., 25 miles east of Pittsburgh. The new building had the space to serve a growing market and now 45 people. The year 1996 marked a turning point, with major organizational changes that would impact growth significantly. Pauly joined the company as a partner, responsible for managing the business, and made some positive changes. Lead time improved substantially from a two- to four-week average to seven days. The plant experienced high volume, and the size of the workforce grew to more than 70 people. 

Another expansion occurred one year later, as 7,500 square feet of space was added to the facility. By mid-1998, more space was needed and was leased nearby in the same industrial park. The rate of growth increased from 25 to 38 percent, and in the midst of these changes, the company name changed to Ventana USA. One year later, the company pursued a new window of opportunity in the fence, decking and railing (FDR) market. (For more information on this aspect of the business, see the June 2008 issue of DWM’s sister publication, Shelter magazine). The leased 25,000-square-foot building was purchased, with five acres available for future expansion, to produce its garden windows and to manufacture the fence, deck and railing products.

Today, the total output for window and fence shapes exceeds 45,000 shapes a year, and nearly 6,000 garden windows are produced. Approximately 146 employees work two shifts, five days per week. Total annual sales are in excess of $14 million. 

Shaping a Niche
What is most unique to this operation is the least visible to visitors. Both tooling and equipment are engineered and built in-house to meet the specifications for the variety of shapes and sizes of bends.

Production manager Bob Colchagie points out that this in-house capability makes it possible to achieve quick start-ups or adjust tooling when profiles change slightly. Tooling fabrication, he says, was not always done inside.

“Seven years ago, tooling fabrication was outsourced. But in 2001, we decided to bring this inside and we are now doing all of our own machining of bending tooling for new window systems,” says Colchagie. 

Five years ago hot air (dry) bending was added, which eliminates the cost of glycerine. He says this is the unique part of the operation and points out that extrusions can be 8 to 12 feet long.

Colchagie says there are four stages of production: bending, fabrication, welding and finishing. The operation actually begins where larger profiles and accessories to frames are inventoried. Fabrication is a manual operation that makes use of single mitre saws. One of the frame cutters, Scott Campbell, who cuts angles to meet specifications, has seen many changes since he joined the company.

“I was hired to install beads 18 years ago,” he says. “Since then, I have done just about everything. To me, the biggest changes are in quality and tooling.”

There are plans to purchase a CNC saw from Joseph Machinery that will streamline this step.

It is the next stage, welding, that represents new technology for Ventana USA. Three years ago, Wegoma welders were replaced with those from Hollinger/Rotox. Pauly explains that the previous welders had outlived their useful life and could no longer be repaired. 

“Some of these units were purchased as used equipment when Ventana USA got started in 1987,” he says. He points out that Wegoma no longer exists, and the new company does not offer the same equipment. Hollinger/Rotox was selected based on referrals. Pauly says his customers and sister companies in France and Germany had good experience with this welder. 

“It gives us the benefit of new technology and reliability, neither of which was possible with the old equipment,” says Pauly. Colchagie adds that everyone is very happy with the welders and the support from the new supplier. 

The single-point welders are used to fuse sections of the vinyl window profile together through heat and pressure. Prior to finishing, the weld bead is scraped off and the glazing bead is fit into the frame. In the finishing stage, the frame is cleaned and checked for imperfections.

At this point, the open frame is either packaged for shipping or it moves to glazing where it becomes a glazed window. 

“Not only do we fabricate our own insulating glass, we also make our own grids,” says Colchagie.

Grids can be flat or contour, in colors or wood grains. Serving more than 300 vinyl window fabricators, the company is able to provide a wide selection of grids as well as glass. More than ten types of low-E glass in different strengths are available, supplied from a number of sources, based on the customer’s glass needs. In the initial stage, all glass goes through a Billco glass washer. 

“Billco is second to none. We also use Billco machines for cutting glass,” says Colchagie, who points out that the company is only 45 minutes from the plant so equipment can be serviced easily.

The spacer system of choice is Edgetech IG’s SuperSpacer. “We’re very pleased with Edgetech and with the performance of SuperSpacer,” says Colchagie.

For sealing, we use H.B. Fuller’s hot-melt butyl. In the final step, the IG units are filled with argon gas. However, not all insulating glass is done inside. Oversized and tempered glass and certain types of coated glass are outsourced.

“For the small volume of oversized units, it is easier to outsource,” says Colchagie “Our close association with a local glass fabricator, United Plate Glass, permits us to provide a two-day service.”

The IG is then installed in the frame in the dry glass process with glazing tape or silicone. Recently, Dow Corning’s hot-melt system replaced the manual application of silicone. Packaging is done one of two ways. For delivery on the company’s fleet of trucks, a cohesive wrap is used to prevent scratching. Colchagie says that approximately 40 percent of its windows are shipped this way. Another 40 percent are shipped on customers’ trucks with minimum packaging or in accordance with customer specifications and 20 percent is shipped with elaborate packaging in prefabricated, expandable boxes on common carriers. Recently the company started using a new packaging system that not only reduces the cost of freight but also is environmentally friendly. It includes a biodegradable material that replaces styrofoam and saves on space. 

This improvement fits right into the company’s effort to be environmentally conscious. Glass, cardboard, wood and aluminum waste are recycled.

Garden windows are fabricated at the company’s other plant nearby.Pauly explains that the initial series of garden windows was the result of a partnership with a major extruder. 

“We have since advanced the design in response to requests from fabricators,” says Pauly, who points out that angles make this garden window a little different from others. Fabrication is a manual operation and components are welded with a two-point welder. A major improvement in the near future is the addition of a new CNC router by Thermwood. One of the unique features of this garden window is an aluminum reinforcement.

“We add aluminum to get a DP rating of 50. This is the only vinyl garden window with such a high rating,” says Colchagie.

Improvements at the plants have been the result of many lean and 5-S projects that have increased efficiency, increased production, reduced cost or created more open workspace. By introducing cross-training and building flexibility, for example, into the workforce, production bottlenecks have been eliminated. An on-going project is realigning equipment and consolidating operations for the sake of efficiency and better use of space. “We have freed up 5,000 to 6,000 square feet of space,” says Colchagie.

He says part of the success of the program is “involving people in decision-making and providing the means for them to achieve their objectives.” 

Improving Efficiency Through Software
One improvement that has had the most significant impact company-wide is a new software system. Pauly says WTS Paradigm was selected for a number of reasons, but mostly for its expertise in order entry and its ability to develop a system geared to the operation.

“It took longer than anticipated to build this system, but three years later we are seeing the benefits of it,” he says.

Kevin Reilly, sales manager, sees the system as an excellent tool for order entry and product information. The time-savings for customers is significant. He says they can place orders electronically, check on the status of an order, design shapes with grids and accessories and generate a quote. 

Pauly describes it as “another way of being an extension of our fabricator customer’s operation.”

Colchagie says the new Paradigm software has replaced many time-consuming steps.

He says that all data for cutting is shown clearly on the monitor as is the amount of material lost in the welding process. With the company tooled for more than 700 different vinyl window systems and an inventory of at least 700 different profiles in various colors and wood grains, the system makes it possible to track inventory electronically, usage and recorder points.

Although operational, the system is by no means complete.

“Our goal is to become paperless and fully integrated,” adds Pauly. 

A Unique Blend
Pauly believes the company’s ability to serve both the window and FDR markets is another uniqueness.

“I have yet to see another window manufacturer that has been successful serving both markets,” he says.

But success, especially in multiple markets, brings challenges and Ventana USA certainly has its share.

According to Pauly, one of the biggest challenges is in production. 

“Producing an architectural/ geometric shape from an extruded vinyl lineal remains an art form, yet we still live with the inevitable variations that can occur in a profile extrusion from shipment to shipment,” he says.

He explains that new profile designs have more chambers and rounded exteriors that can be challenging to the bending tool designer and fabricator, but even more so to the operator. He says surface finishes are very important and the dimensional tolerances must be maintained so that the shape can be mulled to the straight window. 

John Seba, manager of research and development, can attest to that.

“In the past 20 years, the biggest change I have seen is in the complexity of the profiles and the changes in processing,” he says. 

Another challenge is the variety of sizes and shapes, which do not lend themselves to a traditional type of inventory. 

“We have established our own alphabetical listing and coding in order to simplify retrieval,” adds Colchagie.

There is also the changing capacity and short lead times that can wreak havoc on a day-to-day basis.“

The daily order pattern is up and down. It is hard to schedule for capacity when you’re running a custom operation. Each person becomes critical and if there is any degree of absenteeism, we have to juggle, which is one of the reasons we implemented cross training,” says Colchagie.

He refers to the employees as excellent and seasoned in all areas of shapes production and says turnover has improved dramatically, from 40 to 7 percent. 

“We changed the corporate culture here,” says Pauly, “and that has made a tremendous difference.” 

He says by getting people involved in decision-making, especially with lean and 5-S projects where they see improvements from their participation, attitudes change and so does the environment. People like what they do and it shows. Also, the company’s pay-for-skills program, which rewards those who want to expand their skills, has been very successful.

Training is an informal process. It is done through “job shadowing,” which takes from two to four weeks. The second phase is working on actual orders and learning the different window systems. He says the company offers incentives to those who expand their skills.

Finding new employees who have the skills for this specialized production process is another challenge. The company is working closely with local workforce investment boards and schools to re-introduce vocational training in high schools.

“Our goal is to eventually bring in high school grads to learn a trade,” says Pauly.

Looking ahead, he sees a bright future for the company, with growth projected throughout North America for both businesses. 

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

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