Six Areas Where Software Can Save More Money

Continued advances in software mean window manufacturers are still finding ways to cut costs and improve efficiencies
By Byron C. Clayton, NxWare Division, GED Integrated Solutions
February 15, 2007
FEATURE ARTICLE | Operations

In today’s market, driving down cost is the number one priority for many window manufacturers. The key is to simplify and streamline process areas without hurting precious competitive advantages—quality, delivery time and product differentiation.

Although computer technology is not new in most plants, many manufacturers are winning the battle through the use of increasingly sophisticated software and newer modules designed to address specific processes. Eliminating manual calculation, analysis and data entry is leading to major bottom-line savings through increased throughput, reduced man-hours and reduced scrap. Even better, these software solutions increase the quality of the product and services they deliver to their customers. There are several areas of production manufacturers consistently target to apply these solutions and reduce their cost per window.

GLASS OPTIMIZATION
Office-based glass optimization software has been integral to window manufacturing for many years. New advances in software technology provide additional savings by optimizing at the cutting table in real-time. These new software features incorporate lites from rush schedules, subsequent batches, remakes and last minute filler requirements, to minimize glass scrap and increase production flow.

Ideal Window Manufacturing in Bayonne, NJ, uses an advanced package to reduce scrap and save glass cutting time. As in most glass departments, Ideal’s previous software capabilities only allowed the company to run one production batch at a time at the cutting table. Its production people often found that, at the end of a batch, only a few lites might be needed from an entire sheet, leaving most of that sheet as scrap. The new software automatically optimizes lites from several sources in addition to the main production batch to fill the last sheet, or other low yield sheets as required to improve yield.

The glass optimization software provides an added advantage—real-time monitoring of actual glass usage. The software automatically records the type and amount of glass cut on each cutting table, enabling management personnel to access electronic or paper reports indicating actual yield, throughput, sheets used and lites cut by type and date.

John Parker, Ideal’s vice president of engineering, believes the use of the glass optimization software is saving the company more than $60,000 a year and will pay for itself in a matter of months. Scrap has been reduced by 50 percent and throughput increased by 10 to 12 percent. The number of operators has been reduced by one. The company has also realized a steadier flow in the glass insulating line and less overtime hours.

REMAKE MANUFACTURING
It is estimated that each IG remake costs a manufacturer between three to five production IG units in lost time. As newer machinery and manufacturing methods increase production efficiency, even more production units are lost due to inefficient remake procedures. With today’s fast-paced production and delivery schedules, manufacturers only have a matter of hours to produce and ship remakes or suffer the cost of special deliveries and/or incomplete orders.

Remake manufacturing software can slash the cost of “make-up” labor and time caused by inefficient remake operations. It can decrease the impact of a remake from three to five production units down to one and a half  or less.

Before Jordan Windows & Doors in Memphis, TN, implemented remake manufacturing software, its people were recording remakes on paper and manually passing the order through the production line. This caused unnecessary confusion and sometimes resulted in the same remake being ordered multiple times.

Jordan recently started using a package that provides tools to re-manufacture damaged IG units “on-the-fly.” The operator scans the barcode label on a damaged IG unit and selects the reason for remaking the unit. The IG department immediately receives the information. When ready, the IG supervisor uses a computer workstation to select and schedule the units to be re-made. The software automatically sequences the units, optimizes the glass, prints required reports and labels and creates/releases the schedules for each machine. Manually inputting remake data at each machine is not required. Remake analysis reports are also available to pinpoint what, where, when and why remakes are being generated, to aid in identifying root quality issues.

According to Jackson Vaughan, IT director at Jordan, the software has not only cut costs through reduced materials and time, it is leading to improvements throughout the IG manufacturing process. “Now we are ordering a remake once and making it once and we’re able to identify what areas need improvement. We’ve changed some of our processes and we continue to improve them based on the data provided by the remake system.”

VINYL OPTIMIZATION
Much like glass optimization, vinyl optimization software reduces scrap costs by centrally optimizing the cut lists for auto, semi-auto and manual saw operations. Vinyl optimization software has been around for years, but many manufacturers are now realizing the limitations of their outdated solutions. International Window Corp. in Hayward, CA, had communications issues between its saws and existing software. The company’s vinyl optimizer also didn’t allow for expansion as better technology was emerging.

International’s search for a better solution included some key criteria every manufacturer should consider—that the software be easy to use, maintain and expand. It also had to be a “drop-in” replacement. The company required that any new software need no additional interfaces to network with the existing front-end system. Last, but not least, the software needed to come with solid technical support.

The company chose an optimizer that enabled it to further simplify the cutting and welding process. The software automates order import, optimization and file distribution, easily re-routes schedules to accommodate machinery downtime and allows manufacturers to create custom reports and labels. Additional features improve the yield on the last bar of a batch and signal opportunities to utilize existing remnants.
“Our new software communicates with both our glass and vinyl equipment,” says Rick Johnson, IWC’s Northern division general manager. “I like the idea that all of the machines are on the same software, so if there’s a problem it’s easier to diagnose. And, we’re able to add to it as newer cost-cutting software is developed.”

CUSTOM GRID FABRICATION
Due to industry trends, manufacturers are making more custom grids than ever before. These can be quite challenging to manufacture, especially when standard muntin fabrication software cannot accommodate a specialty configuration. The cost in manpower to manually calculate grid cuts and notches can be significant, especially when you consider the cost of re-fabricating an incorrect grid and the subsequent downstream production consequences.

Custom muntin fabrication software eliminates, simplifies or automates the steps required to correctly cut and notch custom muntin grids. The software utilizes user-defined templates to generate the data required to correctly size the grid, fabricate the components and notch the spacer frame.

For Cascade Windows in Spokane, WA, valence grids were the number one manufacturing issue going into 2006. The fabrication process was time-consuming and prone to mistakes. To improve the costly process, Cascade installed new software, in conjunction with a GED Intergrid machine upgrade. In addition to reducing costs, the software was tailored to work seamlessly with Cascade’s existing information format.

“We didn’t have to change our front end output at all because the software automatically works with the information we have,” says Larry Mulvey, manufacturing applications programmer/analyst for Cascade. “We don’t have to fuss with the software, either. The best thing you can say about any software package is that it runs on its own with little or no intervention.”

SPECIALTY GLASS PROCESSING
Specialty products are among the fastest growing segment of the window industry. Software programs can ease the cost of integrating processes like tempering, v-grooving or decorative films by more effectively optimizing production equipment and speeding up turnaround of remake units.

When Philips Products in Selinsgrove, PA started tempering IG units in-house, it decided it wanted software to make the process as efficient as possible. The manufacturer chose software that integrates their cutting tables with the tempering process, allowing operators to feed tempering lines directly from the table. Tempering operators use the software to efficiently load the tempering bed, quickly synchronize tempered lites into the fabrication process and automatically feed broken lite information back to the cutting table as remakes.

“We never forget about tempered remakes,” says Hope Wetzel, quality assurance manager at Philips. “We don’t have to write things down or manually enter lites to re-cut, the system handles that for us, without paper. And it optimizes remakes back into a cutting schedule to help keep glass scrap to a minimum.”

The graphical display is also a big advantage for the system’s operators, notes Wetzel. “The key reason we use the software is so that the outfeed operator knows exactly what is exiting the tempering oven and how to place them back into the proper sequence for shipping or manufacturing.”

PROCESS OPTIMIZATION
The overall goal in software automation is to reduce the manpower and time associated with all of the processes that go into creating production schedules and running them—whether vinyl, glass, muntin, spacers or any other process. Reducing the “idle” time portion of producing each window component or customer order results in faster delivery times, lower labor costs per unit and reduced work-in-process costs.

A primary target for process optimization is IG manufacturing. IG departments typically supply a multitude of products to several glazing lines during each production shift. Efficiently level-loading IG machinery while maintaining a consistent flow to each glazing line is a combination of art and science. Add in a typical day’s worth of rush schedules, personnel issues, equipment downtime, remakes, order modifications, inventory problems, etc., and you have the makings for an extremely complex and intense production process.

Dynamic scheduling software simplifies the IG manufacturing process. Supervisors use the software to quickly setup the initial production sequence and machine scheduling at the beginning of a shift. It also allows real-time monitoring of glazing line requirements during the day and provides a “drag and drop” feature that enables the supervisor to re-sequence production schedules and machine loading “on the fly” to meet glazing line needs. The software includes “on demand printing” to accommodate this rapid sequencing and scheduling process. Instead of printing, sorting and distributing production paperwork and labels from a central office, the software prints at the machines as the schedules are being processed.

Andy Mittnacht, manager of the IG department for Viwinco, has experienced the benefits of dynamic scheduling software. “I am saving 45 minutes of supervisor time per day while increasing my production time by 30 minutes per day. I get a real-time, accurate picture of the plant floor from automated machine reporting without risk of human error.”

GETTING STARTED
Cutting costs through software integration starts with identifying the problems that are hurting the bottom line, and then working with a software provider to choose or develop the right solution. Choosing process solutions that integrate under a single software platform, including the glass and vinyl machinery software, can provide solutions that are easy to install, operate, support and upgrade. Selecting a provider with a modular software platform allows manufacturers to add only the solutions they need, only when they need them. This will reduce the costs, resources, training and time required for software implementation and integration.

Regardless of the provider, the software solution should be flexible enough to fit the unique needs of each operation and be easily integrated into the current process. The right solution implemented in these six key process areas results in across-the-board savings no one can afford to ignore.

Byron C. Clayton is president of the NxWare Division of GED Integrated Solutions. The Twinsburg, OH-based supplier’s LeanNet software platform integrates frame, sash and Intercept IG manufacturing. Configurable software modules—enabling users to buy only the modules they need to address specific production issues—include LeanGlass LookAhead glass optimizer, the LeanVinyl optimizer, RemakeNow for re-manufacturing IG units, and Grid Manager for muntin fabrication. Clayton has more than 25 years of experience developing automated systems and software solutions in the fenestration, automotive, aerospace, construction, nuclear and defense industries. He has been with GED for nine years and started the equipment supplier’s NxWare division. More information is available at www.gedusa.com.