Volume 38, Issue 11, November 2003

Addition Mission
New Machinery Can 
Render Many Benefits 
for Fabricators

by Ellen Giard Chilcoat

“There are a number of demands on glass fabricators [to produce more efficiently] and the product range is more complex in terms of sizes and the new building codes. We continually have pressure to run cost-effective operations, and that will give you a competitive 
advantage if you have the best equipment possible.”
– Mike Diedrich

Machinery upgrades and additions can do a lot for glass fabricators. Cost savings, improved efficiency and labor reductions are just a few benefits fabricators often experience as the result of purchasing new or improved machinery and equipment.

But how does a company know it is the right time to upgrade or add on? 
The managers at Viracon’s Statesboro, Ga., plant knew it was time in the spring of 2002, when they chose to purchase a Lisec KSL automatic glass seaming line. 

“There are a number of demands on glass fabricators [to produce more efficiently] and the product range is more complex in terms of sizes, performance requirements and meeting the new building codes,” said Mike Diedrich, vice president/director of operations for the Statesboro plant. “Compound the market demands with the continual pressure to run cost-effective operations, and you can see how having the best equipment available will give you a competitive advantage.”

Company Background
The 341,000 square-foot plat, which has been in operation since 1998, is situated on 50 acres (with room to add an additional 60,000 to 65,000 square feet). Actually designed as a manufacturing extension of its headquarter facility located in Owatonna, Minn., Viracon produces high-performance glass products, with capabilities for coating, insulating, laminating, tempering, silk-screening and opacifying there. 

The Owatonna plant has been running Lisec equipment since the mid 1980s when it purchased its first insulating glass (IG) line. And when it came time to equip the Statesboro facility, the company didn’t have to look far.

“We had a relationship with Lisec, so we didn’t have to plow new ground,” said Diedrich. “We did look at a lot of equipment, even traveling to Europe, but we felt that Lisec could supply us with the equipment we needed. In addition, by installing equipment in our Statesboro plant that was similar to the equipment already installed in Owatonna, we optimize synergy between the two operations, making it easier for Lisec to provide us support.”

Viracon Statesboro began in a temporary facility in August 1998, and moved into its permanent home March 1, 1999. When the time came to relocate, it was important to do so efficiently.
“When we set up production on the temporary site there was a lot of coordination involved, and then also when transferring [the equipment] to the permanent site,” said Greg DeWeese, vice president/general manager for Lisec America. 

New Addition
Just a few years after the Statesboro plant’s start up, the decision was made to purchase additional machinery. According to Diedrich, there are a number of things that could prompt a new machinery purchase or upgrade. Capacity restraints, a demand for higher levels of quality, new products, safety concerns and a need to reduce operating costs in terms of labor, scrap and utility costs are just some factors to consider.

“We wanted to improve edge quality and consistency on our heat-treated products, we wanted to automate a laborious process (manual seaming) for both safety and labor savings reasons and we wanted to reduce process scrap loss, as we felt an automated process would reduce handling damage to the glass as well as improve furnace yields,” said Diedrich. 

“This was an important line to add because it provided a uniform edge to the glass,” added operations manager Brian Olmstead. “Prior to [adding the KSL] glass was seamed by hand. The new equipment provides the exact same glass look, but is better and faster than by hand.”

The KSL automatic glass seaming line is a fully automatic machine for glass edge seaming. According to DeWeese, some of the machine’s features include the ability to seam all four sides of the glass in one cycle, automatic adjustment of various glass sizes and thicknesses and vertical-to-vertical glass handling for less damage.

“Various other methods are horizontal, and there’s a lot of manual handling involved,” Said DeWeese. “[By offering a vertical line] we have focused on reducing labor, losses in handling and placed an emphasis on automated handling. [For Viracon] that’s an even bigger issue because of the size, weight and complexity involved.” He continued, “With our applications we try and understand what the individual needs of the customer are.”

Getting Started
The new equipment arrived in Statesboro from Austria in late November 2002 and was fully operational by the first of 2003.

“Key employees were involved with the installation, and then Lisec technical personnel stayed on for two weeks working with our operators,” explained Diedrich. “In addition, about seven months after going live with the equipment, we sent one of our process technicians to Austria for one week of training, followed by one of [Lisec’s] training technicians coming to Statesboro for training with all three shifts of our operators.” 

“The people from Lisec came to Statesboro and taught us how to operate the line,” said Olmstead. “We were in our infancy. We got better [the more we ran it]; we still had errors, which we could usually fix, but we didn’t know why we were having those errors; we weren’t good at diagnosing what went wrong.”

As Diedrich explained, after about seven months of operating the line a technician dedicated to the KSL line was sent to Austria for additional training.

“Now that he had been working on the line for several months he was able to know what questions to ask [to learn why certain things went wrong],” said Olmstead. He added that Lisec again sent people to Statesboro from Austria for additional training, which gave operators the opportunity to ask questions as well.

Viracon is now in the process of creating a certification that will qualify individuals to operate the KSL line (the company also did this with its Lisec IG line). 

“It will include a written and oral exam,” said Olmstead, explaining that the oral portion will be hands-on. “They will have to adjust the machine and troubleshoot.” 

Those who don’t pass the first time will be re-trained and given a different test, Olmstead added. 

Up and Running
As the company got operations moving with the new seaming machine, the biggest challenges it encountered didn’t center on the machinery as much the software.

“We’re asking the equipment to do quite a bit in our layout,” said Diedrich. “The biggest challenge was the software integration and linking the cutting, seaming and laser logo operations all together. Additionally, we had to learn how to adjust the trim breakers on the Y-Z cutter for various types of glass, as different types of glass break differently.” 

He continued, “The most help we required from Lisec was with the software, and Lisec Software people made a number of trips here to help work out the complexities.”
Olmstead agreed.

“Sometimes [different parts of the machine] wouldn’t communicate with each other,” Olmstead said. “If the software quit communicating with the machine [sometimes] we’d have to shut down and clear the line to get it to start communicating again.” 

He said the people with Lisec Software have been helpful.

“I’m on a first-name basis with all of them,” he said. “If I have a problem, I call them.” He said in some cases the software representatives have even been able to fix glitches that have arisen remotely. 

And, as with all machinery, the seaming equipment requires a certain amount of regular maintenance.

“Some things are weekly, some things are daily, depending on the particular item you are addressing,” said Diedrich. “There’s a certain amount of ongoing maintenance. It’s not extraordinary for issues to come up that need to be addressed.”

Keeping the machine clean is a crucial task.

“In the beginning, we found that we didn’t clean the machine very well; we learned that the cleaner the machine the better it would operate,” said Olmstead. “We now clean it daily and also do monthly maintenance where the entire line is shut down for eight hours and we do a thorough cleaning—we wipe down the rollers and belts … the entire line is dusted and vacuumed … all the broken glass underneath is picked up … everything is wiped down, even the top of the washer.”

According to DeWeese, with routine maintenance, equipment can last on, average 15 years.

Operational Changes
Now that the new equipment has been running in Georgia for nearly a year, you may wonder how the company is faring. Did it meet its goals of improving quality, saving labor and reducing process scrap loss? Yes and no.

“We have enjoyed improvements in labor reduction, in cutting and have seen improved quality in terms of scratches and defects,” said Diedrich. “However, the system has not afforded us the labor savings we desired in tempering, as it has not been able to do the volume of glass we anticipated [with it] being connected to the cutting line.” He continued, “We had hoped it would be able to cut and seam enough glass to keep up with two furnaces (one line is still manually seaming the glass), but this hasn’t been our experience.” He explained they currently are looking to move the KSL to the front of one of the two tempering lines to try and further reduce labor in tempering.

Olmstead also noted another disadvantage.

“[Often] the more complicated [the operation] the more problems. For example, if there is a flare in the glass edge the KSL reads it and stops the line completely until the glass is removed,” said Olmstead. “The line then has to be manually restarted and that can be time-consuming.”

The line, however, has helped Viracon improve its overall operations, including from a safety standpoint. 

When Viracon installed the KSL it also added an Y-Z breakout line. “Unless the glass is too large or too small to go through the Y-Z we no longer have to break out glass manually,” said Olmstead. He said this allows them to produce a high-quality product and also reduce worker fatigue as they are no longer lifting the glass, lessening the chance of injury. 


© Copyright Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved. No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.