At the Forefront
Vinyl Window Technology Leads the Next Generation of Windows
by Lester A. Lundeen Jr.
To stay competitive in today’s ever-changing residential construction market, companies must design and develop new products, as well as upgrade older product lines. A number of factors have accelerated this need for change in the vinyl window industry, including new market demands, adoption of more stringent local and national building codes and improved energy
For example, many coastal areas now require a rating of DP-50 (ANSI/AAMA/NWWDA 101/I.S.2-97) for the air, water and structural performance of the window system. New state energy standards have spurred the growth and adoption of energy-performance requirements for windows, and many companies have joined the ENERGY STAR® program, attracting the environmentally conscious consumer. As window performance requirements are instituted and legislated on an increased basis, window companies are answering the challenge by introducing new products or modifying existing product lines to meet the demand.
Modern technology has a significant impact on how today’s leading window extrusion companies design and evaluate vinyl window systems and their components. New technology has made tools available that designers, extrusion tooling engineers, fabrication equipment engineers, manufacturing personnel, hardware suppliers, marketing managers and salespeople can use to evaluate the form and function of the window system long before the first extrusion die is ever cut. Having sophisticated tools that allow one to simulate the appearance and function of the proposed window system allows a collaborative approach to designing and developing the new product.
By implementing these new technological advancements with the resulting collaborative approach to product design and development, our company has both improved the performance of its window systems and simplified the production process.
Drawing on new technology, designers can now provide a three-dimensional image of a window system using software programs like AccuRender which converts the computer-aided design (CAD) generated components into a rendering of the window. This rendering captures a three-dimensional illustration of both the interior and exterior of the window, including a sectioned view of the components. In contrast to a two-dimensional CAD drawing, the three-dimensional view produces a markedly realistic image of the shape, style and form of the proposed window.
Marketing managers and salespeople now can show customers the appearance and features of the new window system, and receive customer feedback shortly after the conceptual designs are completed. Product modifications can be implemented and new renderings generated that take aesthetic changes or additional features requested by customers into account.
The “rapid-prototype” machine (stereo lithograph, i.e., 3-D printer) provides the designer with yet another innovative tool. This highly specialized machine can construct the profile directly from a CAD drawing. Using a series of overlays, the machine builds the original profile into a three-dimensional image by stacking layer upon layer of ABS until the new profile reaches its designated height. An actual part is created directly from the computer-generated drawing, showing the dimensions, shape, radii and hollows. Once the shape has been produced, it can be viewed and evaluated for aesthetics, fit and function by extrusion and quality engineers. By evaluating the part against known extrusion tooling and process standards, its dimensions, tolerances and shape can be modified, if necessary, to simplify the extrusion process and thus provide a consistent and high- quality part.
Such a profile can be sent to component manufactures, along with the CAD detail, thereby helping them determine how well their products fit with the new design. Hardware suppliers now have a part they can use to evaluate how balance systems fit or how locks and keepers can be attached. The part itself can provide a clear picture of each product’s fit, revealing any changes that may be required to improve the performance of the product or simplify its installation.
The designer’s goal is not simply to provide a functional window design that meets specified performance objectives. The designer must also consider the necessary requirements for extruding the profiles, the complexity and cost of the extrusion tooling and the difficulty involved in the extrusion process. Simplifying the shape of the profile can simplify the die and calibration equipment, reducing the extrusion tooling costs and machine start-up cost significantly. It can also make the profile easier to extrude, improving run rates and providing a more consistent quality product.
Fabrication tooling engineers can also benefit from early-part prototyping and renderings. Having actual parts to work with during the development process makes it easier to see what the finished part will look like and how it will fit with its companion parts. Working with the part and seeing the end result makes it easier for the engineer to determine the process steps required for its fabrication. This reduces mistakes and can help the engineer in simplifying the fabrication steps.
If the engineer can combine fabrication steps during the processing of the profile, he minimizes the number of operations required to fabricate the window, reducing the number of processing stations required and freeing up valuable floor space. The result is lower capital investment and lower labor costs to the window manufacturer.
The vinyl window industry has come a long way over the past 30 years. Through its willingness to work with its customers, and by embracing new ideas and new technologies, the industry has continued to develop and introduce new products and new window systems to meet today’s stringent performance requirements. Consumers have recognized the benefit of vinyl windows, and many enjoy the beauty and performance of the sound investment they have made in their selection of vinyl windows for their homes.
Lester A. Lundeen Jr. serves as marketing/communications manager for Chelsea Building Products in Oakmont, Pa.
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