Volume 10, Issue 2 - February 2009

Manufacture Special Shapes and Stand Out
by Don Baker

We are bombarded daily with news on the credit crisis, outrageous new home inventory levels, layoffs, declining property values, company closures and the list goes on. Yet some companies manage not only to survive but also prosper during these times. While some are closing, others are expanding. 

As we move further into this current economic downturn, we must all look deep inside our organizations and decide if we will go quietly into the night like so many of our competitors or seize the opportunity to step back and make the necessary changes to grow and prosper by providing what the market demands.

Dare to Be Different
With the high-volume new construction sector of the vinyl window business slowing, many companies are looking to the higher-end new construction and custom-built properties, as well as renovation and commercial properties. One very important key to opening that door to opportunity can be offering a high-quality creative look in specialty geometric shapes.

Unfortunately, experience shows that sales and marketing departments tend to avoid serious promotion of specialty shapes. There are a number of reasons for this, mostly the poor performance of suppliers and/or in-house specialty departments.

Imagine what business would be like if we were so comfortable with our ability to produce all and any vinyl specialty geometric shapes quickly and easily (profitably) that our sales department took that opportunity to our customers and promoted the concept of making their homes or businesses stand out from the crowd simply by installing an unusual shaped window. Everyone knows that when we are awarded a project because of the ability to offer something attractive and different, all the standard windows that we do so well are included in the project, thus increasing the work for the entire plant.

In-House or Outsource?
If this is an area we choose to explore, one of the first considerations is deciding whether to partner with a competent supplier of quality shapes or produce them internally. There are pros and cons to either approach.

Outsourcing is less demanding from a budget point of view because you only pay for the product received. Typically the initial investment is relatively low. However, depending on your position on the supplier’s priority list, delivery times may be longer than you can live with during those critical busy spring, summer and fall periods. Control of the quality also is forfeited under this scenario. Partnering with a custom bending operation that has CNC equipment and guaranteed glass fit will enhance the odds of receiving a consistently high-quality product on time.

Internal production requires committing all the necessary resources to update an existing bending department or create a new one. Methods of bending vinyl profile have come a long way. In the early days, the use of hot liquids often resulted in the bending area being segregated entirely from the rest of the production area. Gone are the days of venting and drainage and dressing up like “fishermen.” 

Try thinking of bending systems the same way we now think about welders. A multitude of options ranging from a relatively inexpensive single point to a four-point multi-stacked unit are available. Do you base your decision on price or on capabilities of the welder? Today’s bending systems present a multitude of options ranging from entry level to CNC high throughput. Unfortunately, many companies view shapes as insignificant and set unrealistically low capital expense budgets. This results in inadequate equipment acquisitions, incapable of achieving the results to satisfy that new target market.

Innovative new technology now available is capable of producing excellent quality curved products quickly and easily so the geometric shape department can be integrated into the regular production area. Heating devices are fast, clean and dry and can vary in capacity from one up to eight profiles simultaneously. CNC radius adjustment takes only seconds and ensures accuracy and symmetry. The quality of the bend determines how well and how fast the unit goes through the system. This reduces manufacturing cost greatly while increasing customer satisfaction. Those companies that invest in developing their employee skill set for bending achieve a higher rate of success moving forward along with an accelerated return on investment than those that do not.

Modern CNC bending equipment also can deliver a perfect radius allowing simultaneous production of glass to improve production time. This, of course, is the reason innovative companies create technology: to help make our lives easier, to relieve some frustration and to increase our customer satisfaction and “profit.”

Careful Assessment is Crucial
Technology in and of itself should be considered carefully. Make sure you do your homework. Be an informed consumer. Decide what section of the market you want to service. The days are numbered for those markets in which the main criteria simply is to “fill a hole” and quality is secondary. Carefully assess how important it will be to have high throughput, extreme accuracy, continuous jambs and impeccable aesthetics for the markets you want to enter, then make sure that the equipment of choice is capable of delivering all of those requirements. Does it allow you to produce all of the creative shapes and sizes required by your target market necessary to help you move to the industry forefront? 

It is unlikely we will see the exciting robust market for vinyl windows of the last 20 years return going forward. A new and very different market is emerging–one in which every industry supplier has an equal opportunity to be successful. However, change is the order of the day. We all must take a look at where our companies can best fit into the new future and make the necessary changes and investments that will position our operations to take advantage of these markets. 

At first thought, these opportunities may appear elusive or exceptionally challenging; however, the reward is out there waiting for you.

Whatever approach you take in addressing the new future as a manufacturer and/or supplier of vinyl windows, a keen attention to creative window shape and design would be a strong addition to any company’s portfolio. 

Don Baker is the chief executive officer for Syn-Tec based in Beamsville, Ontario. Mr. Baker’s opinions are solely his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of this magazine.

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