Volume 8, Issue 5, September-October  2004


Plotting for the Future

New Technologies Offer Dealers Efficiencies, with a Cost
by Les Shaver

In an industry such as window film, with a variety of products coming from many manufacturers, it’s hard to get consensus on a lot of products on the market. Everyone has their own films, customer service and marketing programs. But when Window Film magazine asked a number of suppliers what technology they thought dealers should be watching, there a was simple answer: computer cut machines.

They offer advantages in saving film, manpower and producing a more professional installation. The machines can the film a dealer will install if the operator puts in the parameters of what he wants cut. Many machines also come pre-programmed with specifications for the windows in most of the automobiles on the road. But there are costs.

A List of Advantages
The biggest argument for computer cut machines is simple: saving time. The machine can cut film much quicker than a person.

“The ComputerCut plotter takes a downloaded pattern and cuts it in a matter of minutes, as opposed to the time necessary to cut an entire job by hand,” said Rob Garlo, automotive programs manager for Bekaert Specialty Films, LLC in Clearwater, Fla.

Time can also mean money.

“They save time, which means installers can do more cars than they would otherwise,” said Marty Watts, president and CEO of V-Kool in Houston.

Harvey DeVane, owner of Custom Sun Control in Marietta, Ga., says his computer cutter helped him compete with other decorative film dealers. In the past, he would have to price these jobs high because cutting the decorative film was very detailed oriented and time consuming to do by hand. He lost a lot of jobs.

“The work was going to people skilled with plotters [because plotters could do the work quicker, keeping the price lower],” he said.

After crossing many hurdles, DeVane finally got his computer cutter up and running. 

“It’s been a pleasant surprise how many markets [the computer cutter] has helped us enter,” he said.

While the computer cutter works, installers can be doing other things.

“Even an experienced installer who spends little time cutting, can be doing other things while ComputerCut cuts the patterns for them, such as cleaning the glass and booking appointments,” Garlo said.

Many people (though not all) say a properly set computer cutter does a better job than a person. 

“A good computer software program, which is not all programs, can cut most window patterns as good or better than all but the most experienced applicators,” said Calvin Hill owner of GIS Distributing in Canton, Ga.

Quality can also reduce waste. The job is not done on site where conditions are often uncontrollable. An example of how this was evident at a recent job organized by Enpro, a distributor in Houston. The security film job had all the sizes of the windows. Enpro pre-cut the film using its system and says it saved a lot of time and potential error.

“It allowed us to show up on the job site with specifically cut pieces of film … and it saved a tremendous amount of time,” said Chris Weinhardt, marketing manager for the company.

Computer cutting offers one other major advantage: it can cut vinyl and paint protection products. By cutting vinyl film dealers have the ability to design and produce graphics for windows. This gives them other markets. 
“Both of these products put the dealer into the 21st century,” said Bill Stewart, national sales manager for Film Technolo-gies International in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

A Major Investment

While computer-cutting machines come advantages, there is a cost that can be considered very high for a small film dealer. Manufacturers and distributors Hurricane Charley swept through Central Florida in August, leaving an aftermath of destruction totaling in the billions. While window film alone may not have saved the 24 lives lost or the homes that were completely destroyed, there are those in the area who benefited from the application of film. interviewed for this story estimate that a computer cutting machine can cost anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000 with monthly fees ranging from $125 to $300 a month depending on the product. 

For this reason, Stewart thinks the systems are more applicable for larger film dealers, who will be more easily able to absorb the costs. These dealers also may get better use out of the systems since they have larger production runs. 

“In the case that the installing shop is mostly wholesale and a high-volume operation, these machines are a life saver,” Stewart said.

But there are downsides, he says. The operator must spend time adjusting the machine for each cut of film. 
“The settings have to be right to ensure that it’s cutting through the film and not just the backing,” DeVane said. “In some designs we have to go to paper backing instead of polyester for it to cut. And, if everything is not set correctly, it may grab and pull the film, instead of cutting it.”

Then there is the issue of the machines’ size. 

“The machines are large and take up valuable retail space, and require a person to operate them,” Stewart said. “This increases overhead and the whole reason to have a cutting machine is to reduce time and money.”
Wayne Thompson, owner of Solar Works, in Roswell, Ga., has shied away from the systems so far. One reason is that he does small volumes of automobile tinting and doesn’t think computer cutters are worth the investment. 

“I don’t know how much it would speed up the process or justify the expense,” he said “if we were doing 10 to 14 cars a day, it may help though.”

As for the flat glass side, he says cutting film is generally not the hold up.

“With residential installations, we have to deal with rubber gaskets and silicone,” he said. “The cutting doesn’t slow us down.”

Even if the conditions are right to get a computer-cutting machine, you still have to know who you’re buying it from and what additional support they offer. DeVane says his supplier provided him with very little support. Eventually he changed software systems. Still he only uses the system for decorative film. 

“If we are just doing one window, there’s not a significant time savings,” he said.

Because of this, Hill recommends that dealers take their time before deciding on a system. 

“If I were a tinter, I would probably hold off from making this type of significant investment for at least six months until I had had the opportunity to shop and compare these new products,” he said. “While the old systems were a gigantic step from hand cutting, you might compare this next step-up to be like the jump from DOS-based computer programs to Windows-based programs.”

Four Other Hot Technologies "Like Microsoft Outlook on Steroids"

Computer cut equipment may be hot but for dealers, here are some others to watch:
1) ScheduleSmart.com: After making appointments in his planner and then scribbling through them and losing notes when people cancelled, Jeff Tabachnick, owner of ABC Tint and Sales in St. James, N.Y. Tabachnick partnered with a technology company to develop Schedulesmart.com. The website allows dealers to schedule each of their jobs to a particular date, time and employee. Once completed, the system keeps the job on record for future reference and allows commercial customers, like auto dealerships,to log on, see what times are open and line up appointments themselves. 

2) Proposal Systems: Film Technologies International in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., has a system that produces flat glass proposals on the spot for Sun-Gard films. The system comes equipped with film management and a film-to-glass recommendation function. It also calculates film by square footage and linear feet. 
Enpro Distributing in Houston offers its customers a software program that can generate quotes. The dealers simply measure the windows, put the numbers into a spreadsheet on their laptop, and the system prepares a cost. 

3) Marketing Material Production: Madico offers print on demand capabilities for dealers that log onto its website. The manufacturer has come up with both approved designs and copy bullet points for its dealers. 

4) Online Technical Information: CPFilms in Martinsville, Va., has a new website, www.llumartech.com, that gives dealers technical information. The site includes all kinds of information from how to set up your shop, train installers, job estimating software, architectural specification references, installation guides and many other things.



© Copyright 2004 Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved. No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.