Volume 50, Issue 10 - October 2015


Upgrading Machinery: When itís Time to Pull the Trigger

When is the right time to upgrade your machinery? The question can be answered on many levels.

For Lewis L. McAllister, executive vice president of Coral Industries, it starts with a math problem.

“Basically, you have to know how much money are you spending on maintenance, what kind of condition is the machine in, and is it operating the way it’s supposed to?” he says. “You monitor your cost of maintenance and cost of productivity—if you’re spending more money there than it would cost to upgrade the machine, then that’s an indication.”

Cost efficiency is a critical factor, but there are plenty of others.

“It’s a multi-variable question,” says Syracuse Glass president John Dwyer.

One variable is the market outlook. Dwyer says that if you’re selling a lot of a particular product and the market appears in good shape, it may be time to consider an upgrade or addition.

Consultant and USGlass columnist Paul Bieber, who spent more than three decades in the industry, says timing can be everything in the marketplace. While he says he’s more prone to buy when the overall economy is trending upward, there is a real benefit to investing in the slow times.

“I always like to invest in downtime,” he says. “Because I could call a manufacturer, and an edger that could be worth $100,000 when they’re busy is now $80,000.”

Another variable is technology, as continued improvement in equipment makes for increased productivity and decreases in errors.

“The last piece of machinery we purchased was a vertical CNC milling and drilling center,” says Dwyer. “It’s really slick in how it integrates with the computer software, and that’s kind of a trend we’re seeing… Now the software integrates with the machinery to provide multiple benefits and makes it so much easier to operate.”

He adds that new technologies offer a “whole new level of productivity in the way information is handled. For instance, we’re doing more and more laser marking—with that, you don’t lose a label or mislabel the glass.”

Aside from productivity, technology can factor in on other levels, as well. McAllister says it’s important to keep an eye on what others in the industry are doing.

“When looking at new technology, if you change out or add this piece of equipment, how fast are you going to get a return on the investment?” he says. “What is everybody else running? … You have to look and see what you have compared to your competition, whether they’re using better equipment or not.”

He says that machines that were “high-end” 10 years ago can still perform well and that many of the competitors on Coral’s level are all working with similar equipment—putting a premium on maintenance more so than the next big purchase.

Maintenance is also critical in the shop.

“We’re kind of a just-in-time supplier,” says Dwyer. “If we have a critical piece of machinery go down, we have to stop the process.”
Dwyer adds that Syracuse Glass puts a lot of effort into its maintenance department, and he gives great weight to the parts and service support of the supplier.

“With a lot of these pieces of machinery, we may only have one or two of them,” he says. “We need them to be extremely reliable.”

Market conditions, the economy and product demand are just some of the factors that play into whether or not fabricators or glass shops should upgrade their machinery.

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