The Right MIX
by ELLEN GIARD CHILCOAT
Total Integration at Vinyl Building Products Sets the Company Apart from the Rest
Foreground: Brian Andrews,
manager, research and development department; Background: Jeff McLaughlin, senior technician, conduct structural tests at VBP's test wall.
There are several essential ingredients every baker needs to bake a cake: flour, sugar, eggs and shortening. There are, however, those who take the basics, add a few secret ingredients (a little of this and a little of that) to bake a cake that stands out from the others. Those bakers know that it is their own personal touches—those ingredients simply their own—that make their cakes what they are. And they know to guard those recipes, and never reveal the added ingredients.
Vinyl Building Products Inc. (VBP) of Oakland, N.J., is such a baker. A manufacturer of vinyl extrusions for windows and doors, the company uses the essentials, such as the right equipment and supplies, to create its products; but it also incorporates some extras here and there to make its products stand out from the rest.
Since 1999, VBP has been 100-percent owned by ThyssenKrupp of Germany, which is made up of five segments: steel, automotive, elevators, technologies, materials and services; VBP falls into the technologies segment. The company attributes much of its growth over the past three years to its operation under ThyssenKrupp. Such growth examples include the launch of a new warehouse facility in Wayne, N.J., in 1999, renovations of the Oakland plant in 2000 and the opening of a new logistics center in Pompton Plains, N.J., in 2002.
But it’s not the number of plants and warehouses or the amount of space (the company’s facilities share a combined square footage of more than 350,000 square feet) that make a company successful. Nor is it VBP’s capacity to turn out more than 250,000 pounds per day. Instead, this company’s success stems from adherence to its strict goals. “We are focused on vinyl window and door extrusions, with consistency in quality and efficiency in extrusions being our main goal,” said Ralph Weiss, president and chief executive officer. He explained that where similar companies may focus on areas other than windows and doors, such as decking, fencing and railing, VBP’s focus remains solid on extrusions for fenestration products.
Starting from Scratch
Even at stage one, the company’s operation is unique. To make an extrusion, you must begin with the right choice of raw materials. Robert Weishaeupl, director of manufacturing, said that VBP works with North American market leaders for the products it requires to make its extrusions. “We have long-standing relationships with them, which is very important,” he said.
To ensure the right products are used throughout, VBP employs a number of chemists to help find better products for the applications. “We don’t look for cheap fillers, and we don’t look for cheaper ways to make compound,” said Weishaeupl. “We look for better ways to make better products for our customers.”
One area in which VBP prides itself is the beginning of the extrusion-making process—the blending stage. The system, which was purchased from a VBP sister company, combines all the
components and cutting edge technology, such as self-correcting scaling with an accuracy of +/- 1/100 of a pound, currently available on the market.
“Again, consistency is essential for the extrusion process which eventually will lead to consistent high-quality profiles,” said Weishaeupl. "The quality of our product is a reflection of how we run our business, " said Weiss. He adds that VBP benefits greatly from 40 years of extrusion experience of its parent company Thyssen Polymer in Germany.
Currently, the total compounding capacity of VBP is 90 million pounds per year. Supporting the company’s focus on manufacturing extrusions for windows and doors, Weishaeupl said VBP constantly upgrades its extrusion capabilities (computer-controlled, SPC) to ensure a highly efficient extrusion process. Among the recent upgrades is an advanced material feed system that avoids de-mixing of compound during the conveying process. “The apparent cleanliness of the entire plant is partially the result of this innovative conveying technology,” Weishaeupl said.
VBP also builds almost all of its extrusion tools in-house. By employing a segment devoted exclusively to tool designing, manufacturing and tuning, the average time it takes to create the production-ready tool is as little as six weeks. Weishaeupl explained that the equipment ensures that the tools do what they were designed to do. In addition, VBP operates advanced tool-manufacturing equipment that helps ensure the highest quality products.
Product Development, Marketing and Engineering
Fred Metzger, director of sales and marketing, believes that creation of new and innovative window and door products is what makes VBP attractive to window and door manufacturers. He pointed to the company’s exclusive products, such as the heat-reflective exterior colors for selected products and its newly developed high-end sliding and swing door, which incorporate hardware designed exclusively by a European hardware company for this system. “An exclusive multi-point locking system for our casement systems makes the product even more popular plus it guarantees exclusivity to VBP clients and sets VBP fabricators apart from the industry,” said Metzger.
Although VBP says that products are indeed important, management stresses that engineering and window manufacturing support is an equally essential part of selling window profiles today. The company creates layouts of customer plants, analyzing bottlenecks and recommends, in cooperation with manufacturing management, manufacturing improvements for increased efficiency. Turn-key operations for new set ups as well as the selection of the right manufacturing equipment and the training of production personnel, etc., are also part of the service.
VBP also offers the services of a fully staffed marketing department to its customers. “Eighty percent of our efforts are spent working with the customer, focusing on creating the most effective and innovative materials that will increase sales while educating the end user,” said Ted Brolsma, marketing communications manager.
VBP uses a micro-processor-controlled blending system.
VBP has also taken a number of quality-control measures to guarantee the best possible product. For starters, VBP employs a staff of ten individuals who are devoted solely to quality assurance. Starting with quality control of all raw materials in a newly established laboratory with cutting-edge testing equipment (thermal analysis, etc.) in combination with VBP blending technology, Steve Drexler, quality-control manager, says that a highly consistent compound is guaranteed.
After the profile is extruded, each part goes through multiple checks. The checks begin at the profile control station, which provides the tools and instruments to perform the extensive quality control checks. The company says these profile control stations incorporate the newest technology of profile scanning available in the market and support more consistent and objective inspection during production.
In addition, VBP says it goes beyond the required AAMA testing by applying alternative testing technologies, such as the company’s outdoor weathering program, throughout the world and in the United States.
VBP's products undergo weathering tests in ten locations both international and domestic. Outdoor testing allows the company to see how its products will withstand the various types of climates.
Miguel Cruz, assistant foreman, production department, operates the Romidot profile quality-control equipment.
With the extrusion made and checked for perfection, the next step is to make sure that it is stored properly or packaged for the customer. The company’s standard shipping/ inventory method is a system of nestable and stackable racks that it developed. All products are then bar-coded. Bar-coding helps in tracking the products from production through distribution, as well as inventory control and problem identification, according to Metzger.
The Next Wave
As part of its devotion to product development and its customers, VBP is taking strides in the realm of e-commerce. For example, VBP has introduced ordering of all VBP parts via the Internet for all VBP accounts. "Connectivity of VBP accounts to access all essential information, such as engineering information, ordering histories, financial data, etc., is a very important part of today's business, " said Frank Gerris, director of VBP's in-house IT department. His staff of two full-time programmers allows the company to create customized systems designs for each account while continuously developing enhanced programs that target improved communications with its customers. Frank Gerris, director of information technology, says it is the base of the newly developed vendor-management program which helps customers to track their own inventories.
Future offerings include expansion to a full management system—VBP Management System (VMS). The VMS systems will use the aforementioned facilities as a base and incorporate all the components required by a window and door fabricator. VMS is centered around a seamless design—i.e., configuration, order entry, inventory, manufacturing and financials.
“VBP’s goal is to provide the most appropriate technology to give each customer the competitive advantage based upon his individual needs,” said Gerris.
Despite the plans VBP has for growth and expansion, there are still those details—those secret ingredients—that it wouldn’t disclose. Perhaps it is those procedures, steps and methods that are strictly VBP that give the company its right mix.
Ellen Giard Chilcoat is a contributing editor for DWM/BCM magazine.
© Copyright Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved. No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.