A New Way to Make Vinyl Windows
September 15, 2003
FEATURE ARTICLE | Materials & Components, Methods & Techniques, Close-Ups
Production has started at Survivor Technologies Inc. of a vinyl window incorporating a “brand new process.” Developed and licensed by Sashlite LLC, the process eliminates traditional insulating-glass production and, instead, incorporates an “insulated sash.” Executives at Sashlite and its supplier partners predict the insulated sash could “revolutionize” vinyl-window production.
Anthony Balestro, Survivor’s vice president of operations, shares their enthusiasm for the technology. “It simplifies the process very significantly,” he explains. “And it gives us a better product in the end. It gives us better structural performance. It gives us better energy performance.”
The insulated-sash concept is fairly simple. Rather than building a separate insulating-glass unit to be glazed into the sash, the vinyl sash profile incorporates the spacer. Two lites of glass go straight from the washer to a specially designed glazing table, where they are directly glazed to both sides of the vinyl sash. “We’re streamlining the whole manufacturing process,” states John France, Sashlite vice president of research and development. “We’re taking spacer and insulating-glass production and bringing everything right to the sash.”
|Eliminating separate IG production, a spacer is extruded right into the vinyl sash profile. Individual lites of glass are glazed directly to the sash spacer to create an insulating unit.|
With vinyl serving as the IG unit spacer, the insulated sash delivers the highest levels of warm-edge performance, adds Bob Hornung, Sashlite president. “It’s the only technology,” he claims,” that combines greater efficiencies in manufacturing, higher performance and improved aesthetics.” It’s also the first technology that can be adopted by a manufacturer of any size, he adds.
Sashlite, based in Westport, CT, has teamed with a number of suppliers over the past three and a half years to develop the technology. Many of the biggest hurdles to the concept’s success, Hornung states, were overcome by H.B. Fuller Co., the supplier of sealants and adhesives. The St. Paul-based company played a leading role in the commercialization of PPG Industries’ Intercept spacer technology with the development of a desiccant matrix, he notes. It has now formulated a new desiccant matrix for use with the Sashlite technology, as well as a proprietary sealant technology.
Other partners include vinyl extruders Dayton Technologies and Vinyl Building Products, now both part of Deceuninck North America, as well as Mikron Industries. Specialized equipment for producing insulated-sash units has been developed by Sash Systems Inc., a joint venture formed between Hornung and Erdman Automation Corp. FDR Design Inc., the supplier of gas-filling equipment, also served as a development partner in the project. Finally, the new system incorporates specially designed muntin clips developed by Ashland Hardware Systems.
Survivor, based in Hillside, NJ, is the first vinyl-window manufacturer to license the Sashlite technology and begin production of windows featuring the insulated-sash design. The company, a leading supplier of vinyl windows to Lowe’s Home Improvement Stories, as well as numerous other customers, is rolling out the process with a new casement design. Sashlite plans to license the technology to a limited number of additional companies initially, before a full-scale roll out to other manufacturers, Hornung notes.
“Any new technology that decreases manufacturing costs and improves efficiency is highly sought after,” states Hornung. “By eliminating an entire assembly process, significant cost savings are achieved. Because the manufacturing process involves fewer steps, lower assembly and product costs are achieved. In addition, the resultant lowered margins of error translate directly into increased quality and therefore decreased product defects.”
Sashlite has received extremely positive feedback from manufacturers that have been confidentially introduced to its technology, Hornung continues. He reports that every manufacturer contacted to date has taken a serious look at the system and many are planning to adopt the technology once it is available.
|Survivor has started production of the insulated sash for its casement using a semi-automated table.|
Naturally, Hornung is the most enthusiastic about the new system, but the other industry suppliers share many of his views about the system’s potential. Recalling the success of the Intercept system launched in the early ’90s, Kristen Gray, new business development manager for the window business unit of H.B. Fuller, sees the chance to “create another revolution in the industry.” Her company, she notes, has always supported all the available technologies and will continue to do so, but the Sashlite system “expands the whole range of options” available to manufacturers. What is particularly appealing about the new technology, she continues, is that any vinyl-window manufacturer, regardless of size, can adopt it. “We see it offering bigger savings to the smaller companies.”
“This is a no brainer,” says Darwin Brown. That was the president of Deceuninck North America’s first reaction to the concept. He was still cautious, he adds, because “concepts don’t always become a reality.” At this stage, he continues, the extruder is very pleased that it decided to invest in research and development, because it does see great potential. “Everything that’s been done in the lab says it will succeed, but we still have the real world to deal with. It still has to be proven,” he notes. “There are lots of benefits in the manufacturing process. There are things we’re still trying to quantify, but we’re confident, that when you get down to the per-unit cost, it is going be lower, and you’re going to get a better product. And it’s not just thermal performance. It’s structurally better.”
“We’re always looking for new technology,” states Paul Warner, co-president of Mikron Industries. “We have to add value, so we’re always keeping track of what’s coming down the pike. We see the Sashlite technology as new and different with a lot of possibility.” He suggests that the insulated sash could play a significant role in the business. “We’ve looked at the market and, if it’s as good as what they say it is, we could see it gaining a 30 percent market share.”
“We’re very excited about the new technology,” states John Rovitar, director of technical service and product development at Survivor. “On the production side, we see it as a home run. It’s going to require less factory space, there will be less machinery to maintain, and there will be fewer workers required. The overall process is much easier.”
“We’re creating a hybrid between backbedding and IG lines, combining both departments,” states Hornung. “It’s a simpler product to make. There’s less to do and there’s less to go wrong.” Windows can be produced with lower labor costs, lower material costs, less work-in-process, lower inventory requirements and smaller floor space requirements than using competing systems, according to Hornung. “It’s also the first technology that offers savings to any size manufacturer—from the small guy doing 20,000 windows a year to the largest players in the business making 5 million,” he adds.
Manufacturers already have the glass washers and the necessary vinyl-fabrication equipment, Hornung explains. To use the Sashlite process, a manufacturer needs only to invest in what’s basically an upgraded glazing table. “The equipment is affordable at all production levels,” he states.
The initial machine developed for insulated sash production that is being used by Survivor is a semi-automated table. Designed for lower-volume production, it can complete one sash approximately every 30 seconds, explains Morgan Donohue of Sash Systems. The hand-assist table features two heads to apply sealant and desiccant matrix to the sash. Based on Erdman’s technology, the table’s variable-flow-rate feature assures that the proper amount of material is applied no matter what rate the operator moves the applicator around the unit, he points out. Additionally, the machine features two devices for pressing the glass into the unit to wet out the sealant. For larger units, including patio doors, a roller can be run around the perimeter to press the glass. For smaller units, air is evacuated from the unit through a hole drilled in the vinyl profile, pulling the glass in. The same hole, which is sealed to complete the unit, can also be used for gas filling.
Based on Erdman’s experience in developing a full range of glazing lines, Sash Systems expects to produce completely automated machines for the process also, Donohue reports. He foresees “prices in the same range” as standard glazing equipment for various levels of production, although costs will be somewhat higher because of additional features such as the matrix application head. Like Hornung, he expects manufacturers of all sizes will be able to justify the investment in equipment for the Sashlite process. Plant layouts and the logistics of bringing glass to the glazing area will have to examined, but Donohue sees a significant potential benefit in reducing labor and work-in-process with this approach.
“One reason it’s appealing is that a lot of our customers favor cell manufacturing and lean manufacturing approaches,” Mikron’s Warner states. “This technology fits very well into those types of processes.” He sees the biggest potential savings for manufacturers in the costs associated with making insulating glass in a separate area of the plant or, in some cases, a separate building. The Sashlite process could reduce both the costs of transferring IG units and the costs of replacing broken IG units, he notes. Most companies have taken a lot of steps to lower the potential for glass breakage, but it can still add up, he states.
“If successful, it could be a very disruptive technology,” he notes, however. Entire production lines have to be re-organized, and there are a lot of costs associated with that, he continues. Not only does the technology require an investment in new equipment, but there’s the question of previous investments, often substantial, in other systems. As a result, he expects those companies that do take on the Sashlite process will do so first with lower-volume product lines. There will be product on the market by year’s end, but it will take some time before a lot of manufacturers adopt this technology, he predicts.
Hornung points to the Survivor experience as evidence that the changeover is manageable. “Acquiring the technology is actually fairly easy. You don’t have to shut down everything.” Because the equipment is affordable, and a sizable amount of production can be obtained in a limited amount of floor space, even larger manufacturers can bring in insulated sash production on a step-by-step basis fairly easily, he states.
H.B. Fuller’s Gray advises that with any sort of changeover, since the new process involves integration of the backbedding with the insulating glass area, “proper glass handling practices are critical.” The operators currently backbedding IG units are typically not concerned with careful handling of clean glass since the IG airspace is protected. The new technology requires the operators to bed clean lites of glass to create that airspace. H.B. Fuller has developed specific multi-language training programs and tools to help with the integration of the bedding and IG manufacturing, she notes.
At Survivor, the preparations for the new casement-sash line have gone smoothly, reports Rovitar. The company has installed a small glass washer at one end of the glazing table, which feeds glass, and the sash, which is cleaned by blowing off all particles, comes from the other end. “It all comes together in one clean operation,” he states. “We think it’s going to minimize a lot of issues.”
|The "insulated sash" concept for this casement window design was developed by Dayton Technologies for Survivor Technologies Inc.|
The company selected its casement line, which is relatively low volume, because it would be the “quickest, easiest way to start,” Rovitar notes, but the manufacturer will be looking at its double-hung and slider lines next. As completely automated Sashlite tables become available, he envisions the company, which now has one main insulating-glass line feeding all its sash lines, creating two insulated-sash lines to feed its various frame lines.
Everyone involved in the Sashlite system agrees that manufacturers changing over to the new system will see cost savings. The technology is also said to offer a better product in a number of ways, but just how that may be marketed still has to be sorted out. “We’re just beginning to see the performance side of the equation,” states Hornung.
“On the fabrication side, the benefits are pretty straightforward,” notes Rovitar. Survivor is just starting to look at the marketing side of the equation. “We see about a 10 percent improvement on the energy performance,” he continues. “On the warm-edge front, we see it exceeding anything out there.” He notes that condensation resistance around the perimeter of the unit is an important factor these days, as it helps address concerns related to mold.
Yet, he also points to cleaner sightlines offered by the system, and better structural performance. “We’re able to get a 50-plus DP rating, without reinforcement,” he states. The Sashlite system does this, he explains, by allowing the individual glass lites and vinyl to move independently, relieving a lot of stresses. These are factors that Survivor expects will be very well received on the market, he predicts.
With no metal spacer involved, the potential benefits, as far as thermal performance and warm edge, are pretty clear, states Hornung. What is just beginning to be understood is the potential offered by the inherent strength of the insulated sash system, he continues. Extruders have found that having the spacer extruded as part of the sash profile makes the profile itself stronger, he notes. He predicts a significant amount of further product development as a result. “We could see a whole new generation of profile designs.”
Sashlite technology insulating-glass unit construction allows each pane of glass to float on the sealant and therefore function independently without transferring stresses from one lite to another, he adds. “We’re learning that the rules for this structurally are very different than the rules for standard insulating glass.” Other performance enhancements, he notes, include the fact that many of the shapes extruders are designing elevate the IG system away from water.
As far as aesthetics, Hornung states that the Sashlite process delivers a number of benefits, including cleaner sightlines. He points out that in production, one lite of glass is a lot easier to handle than an IG unit. It’s much easier to lay down and it centers itself. “You get perfect 90 degree corners and no unsightly interruptions in the view perimeter,” he explains.
Additionally, grid alignment is much easier, because the grid is attached to the sash itself. With standard insulating glass, he explains, first, the grid has to be attached square with the unit and then the unit has to be placed in the sash. If the IG unit is slightly out of line in the sash, it makes the grid look out of line. In the Sashlite process, an automated unit notches the spacer in the proper locations, so inserting the muntin clips and squaring the grid to sash is relatively simple.
As far as performance is concerned, Mikron sees potential benefits, but its biggest concern was the long-term durability of the Sashlite system, Warner states. The extruder has done a lot of work looking into the system and asked a lot of questions about it, he continues. It has done its own lab work and looked at the other testing before determining itself that this system has “a reasonable chance to be successful.” Although it has yet to complete the full battery of tests for CBA-level IG certification, Mikron’s fairly confident it will.
Warner expects manufacturers looking at the system to be just as cautious “They’ll each have to do their own due diligence, just like we did at Mikron. There are a lot of questions. In the past, people have decided to buy the latest sealant, and there have been failures.” Particularly in today’s litigious environment, window manufacturers are very careful, he points out.
Sashlite has already received several letters of intent from customers that wish to license the technology, Hornung reports. “These early adapters represent manufacturers of numerous sizes and annual production capabilities, thus proving that a demand for the Sashlite technology exists across all levels,” he states.
There are some limitations, he notes, pointing to round-tops and direct-set type products in particular, but he projects many of these can be overcome through the further design and engineering efforts. He also notes that the technology, while being launched with vinyl, could also have applications in fiberglass, aluminum and various plastic-composite products.
Looking at the future, “We don’t know a lot of things yet, but we do know it will be a change,” concludes Deceuninck’s Brown. “We have to walk before we can run. That’s one of the reasons we’ve worked with a very limited number of customers.” He expects much will be learned from the experience at Survivor. Once they have completed the implementation process, other manufacturers will be eager to look at it as well. “I think everyone will have to take a look at it. It’s revolutionary to the industry. That doesn’t mean everyone will adopt it, but it certainly means everybody has to take a look to see whether or not it fits.”