Volume 45, Issue 8 - August 2010



If I’d Only Known Then …

Fabricators Talk About Best Practices for Buying Machinery and Equipment
by Ellen Rogers and Megan Headley

With the industry’s biggest glass equipment and machinery show, glasstec, only months away (see page 32) some fabricators are starting to think about whether now might be a good time to invest in new equipment. And when it comes to purchasing and installing new glass processing machinery and equipment, careful consideration and examination are key—after all, you want the equipment to meet your specific needs. In recent years a number of glass fabricators have taken the plunge into such new purchases, and say they have been quite successful in doing so. They say careful planning and considerations, cautious steps and simply working with those they trust were instrumental.

Eugene Negrin, president of Galaxy Glass & Stone in Fairfield, N.J., purchased a large-format water jet late last year. For him, he says, the purchasing process was perfect and he would do it all again the exact same way.

“It’s exceeded my expectations,” he says of the water jet, which he adds is in operation about eight hours a day. “I’ve been buying equipment since 1984, when I purchased a 13-spindle edger, so I’ve been doing this for some time. I research the equipment, look at the market, hone in on the manufacturers and then have discussions with them.”

Negrin adds that researching the manufacturer is critical, particularly during a time when so many companies are going out of business. “Trust, but verify,” he says.

“You need to investigate the manufacturer and its abilities because today you don’t know [whose going to stay in business],” says Negrin. “Plus, I always tell the manufacturer I want to see two or three similar pieces in operation; I make the investment in time [to see the equipment in advance].”

Mike Kelley, who handles special projects for Tulsa-based TriStar Glass Inc., says his only regret about the equipment purchase they made last year, a HOAF modular laminating system, was that they should have bought more pieces.

“We’re still buying equipment and see that now prices are starting to go back up,” says Kelley, who adds that they learned the importance of being prepared to take advantage of these opportunities as they are available.
“We should have made the purchases sooner and done so more aggressively,” Kelley explains. “But we were being conservative about it at the time and now we are playing catch up.”

And what about advice he’d give to others also considering such purchases?

“It’s still the people business and it’s best to deal with those you trust. Follow your instincts; if you don’t like the people you’re buying from you’re probably not going to be happy with the purchase in the end,” says Kelley.

Wolverine Glass Products in Grandville, Mich., also added new equipment last year, a cup wheel flat edger, but instead of buying a new one, Mark McGann, president and owner, decided to go with a factory re-build.

“I’ve had great results with it,” says McGann of the edger, which was re-built by Salem Distributing.

According to McGann, he made the decision to go with re-built equipment because, given the economy, he was trying to be conservative.

We’re still buying equipment and see that now prices are starting to go back up.
—Mike Kelley, TriStar Glass Inc.

“Re-built equipment can be about half the cost of buying new equipment,” he says.

Making this type of purchase is also a bit different compared to buying new.

“When you’re buying new equipment you can go to the machinery shows and see the equipment and how it’s going to work.
With this, though, you have to trust that it’s going to do what you want it to do.”

All in all, he said he had no surprises with this purchase, but the electrical requirements are one area of which to be aware.

“With new equipment you can have the electrical requirements spec’d to your specific needs, but when buying a re-build it’s not as cost-effective to change the power supply,” McGann adds.

And for others who may be considering a similar purchase, McGann recommends a factory re-build versus doing so in-house “unless [the company] has the personnel to do the work.”

Pete Chojnacki, president of FabTech LLC in Peninsula, Ohio, purchased a new CNC machine two years ago for curtainwall, storefront and door fabrication. In hindsight, Chojnacki says that despite being happy with the transaction he might have done things differently if he’d known what lay ahead.

“We would have potentially purchased probably more capability,” he says. “Ours is capable, but we might have purchased multiple, more specific pieces of equipment overall to do everything. While it’s a valuable piece of equipment in our business, the throughput can be challenging trying to do multiple departments putting it through the same equipment.” He adds, “Right now we’re challenged, like many people, to keep the quantities up to justify it.”

The company opted to lease the latest purchase on their own, rather than through the machinery company. “That’s advice I’d give someone who is buying equipment,” Chojnacki says. “Look at purchasing and look at leasing, but look at leasing through whatever lease programs might be offered as well as look at the relationship you have with your own local bank. Sometimes you can get a better deal with your bank than the vendor. Other times, the vendor has special incentives; instead of putting a discount on the equipment, they put a discount on the interest. Make sure people go in with eyes wide open with multiple scenarios and see which one fits them the best,” Chojnacki says.

Having worked in the past with a machinery manufacturer, Chojnacki has some extra insight into the questions fabricators should ask prior to purchase.

“I think one very important question is the expected maintenance costs per year, preventive maintenance, and the initial investment in spare parts that they would recommend,” he says.

“The other thing that they need to pay attention to is to make sure they understand the utilities. Do they have the right power in their building, right air and water? If it’s a machine where that’s an issue, make sure that that investment is part of the payback.” With his most recent purchase, he noted, “We had to do some electrical work because of where we’re putting it in the building, and we built that cost into the machine.”

Finally, Chojnacki adds, “You’ve got to start with what it’s going to do for your customers. Is it going to increase your speed, your quality, your repeatability? If you’re answering yes to all of those, then you go back to how to justify it—but you’ve got to start with the customer impact of the system. Whether it’s software, machinery, you’ve got to look through the customers’ eyes first.

“I think sometimes, people see the shiny detail and fall in love with capabilities but don’t understand they might be capabilities their customers don’t care about,” Chojnacki adds.

“I’d recommend justifying it on a conservative view of on your business as it exists and how the machine can help improve your service to your clients and your economics.”


© Copyright 2010 Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved.
No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.