“Ripping” Through the Competition
Republic Windows and Doors Utilizes Innovative Strategies to Remain Competitive
by Alan Goldberg
The massive glass facade that greets visitors to Chicago-based Republic Windows and Doors is striking. On the surface, this vinyl window and door manufacturer wants its attractive facility to reflect who it is and what it does. But its real identity is beyond the glass wall. It is a large family of enthusiastic people whose day-to-day lives working on a production line have been affected by change.
The story behind Republic Windows and Doors is more than expansion, a modern plant, steady growth, on-site test labs, an obsession with safety, changing processes, customer-driven policies, low turnover or extensive recycling.
The driving force that transcends all of these is innovation in the way people are motivated at every level of the organization.
Republic Windows and Doors was founded in 1965 by William Spielman. Although it remains family owned, the company has blossomed into a highly sophisticated operation, becoming a major supplier to Chicago’s new construction and window replacement markets. A turning point was the move to a new facility on Chicago’s historic Goose Island in 1998.
Situated on 16 acres, the 375,000-square-foot facility was designed with ergonomic, environmental and human issues in mind. A three-story lobby creates an airy, bright and upbeat environment. Six 3,200-square-foot roof monitors allow ample natural light into the manufacturing area. Two fully equipped fitness centers offer employees the convenience of on-site facilities and round out the many amenities.
Running a “Green” Business
Republic prides itself on running a green business. The company refers to its 10,000 ENERGY-STAR® certified Heat Mirror units used in the award-winning front entry as one of many examples. While these serve to identify Republic, the Heat Mirror units are also a practical solution for saving energy and a good substitute for a larger HVAC system that would have been required to keep the building cool in summer and warm in winter. In fact, every window in the building has been installed with either Heat Mirror or low-E glass.
Another aspect of the company’s green program is recycling.
“Recycling is a way of life at Republic,” said Kevin Heylin, manufacturing vice president for the company. “Since moving to our new facility three years ago, we have reduced our waste by nearly 75 percent, while increasing our window production by 40 percent. Nearly 99 percent of all materials brought into Republic leave as finished products or are recycled.”
The company uses and recycles vinyl, aluminum, steel, glass and paper regularly. By increasing its yield by as much as 7 percent (in 2001), it was able to reduce the amount of generated scrap—all of which is recycled.
Two years ago, the company recycled a million pounds of vinyl (approximately 77 truckloads or 64,000 cubic feet of waste) that did not go into the ground. Republic sells 100 percent of its steel and aluminum scrap. It has invested in new roll-form machines with continuous coils of product and exact cut-offs, which will soon eliminate up to 99.9 percent of scrap produced. The company also sells back any glass scrap that can be used in other glass products, such as bottles or inert fill for roads. Republic has also devoted a loading dock and a compactor to 100 percent of box and paper recycling.
Republic’s plant includes nine production lines. Many high-tech additions to the operation have provided flexibility and helped shorten lead times. Its million-dollar glass-tempering oven is one example.
A “Stay Clean” glass machine, a warm-edge production line and three Intercept™ spacer machines are some of the others that have made a difference.
Left: Natural light streams in through 10,000 sq. ft. of Heat Mirror™ glass. Right: Republic Windows & Doors’ Stay Clean® glass oven bakes on a super polymer coating that fills in glass pores, so windows “stay cleaner” longer.
But what makes this operation run so smoothly, with a high degree of efficiency and a high level of safety—increasing productivity with less space—is more about a change in corporate culture than a change in equipment.
Coinciding with the move to a new facility was the need for a change—a change in philosophy, a change in structure and attitude and a change in the way Republic conducted business.
“We wanted more than just a nice looking building. We wanted to fulfill its potential,” said Republic chief operating officer Les Teichner, who is credited with turning the company inside out with a process referred to internally as “ripping.”
Investing In People
At the heart of this program is investing in people: involving everyone in the change; empowering people to assume responsibility; providing the tools to develop skills; developing a new mission, vision and values as the company standard; and creating financial incentives to reward productivity, safety and training.
Teichner adapted the company’s very successful “blast” process—implemented in manufacturing—to every process in the company. Blasting means an entire manufacturing line is broken down, every process is analyzed in minute detail and all elements that have to value to that particular process are removed (referred to as lean manufacturing).
Results from the blast process confirmed its effectiveness. According to Heylin, the blasted lines use 50 percent less space while productivity has increased by the same margin. Production more than doubled—from seven units per production employee to 15 units per production employee. As an example, three of the blasted lines now take up a total of only 20,000 square feet (down from 40,000 square feet) and have an annual capacity of 275,000 windows.
The reason the blast process works so well at Republic is the way employees are involved from the start.
“The company has everyone involved before work begins on a line, using a variety of learning exercises,” said manufacturing manager Senthil Rajamanickam. “The exercises give them a better understanding of these cellular manufacturing concepts and how each stage of production affects the next. The exercises also enable employees to see what this type of process can achieve once it is
There is a sense of enthusiasm because each person can offer suggestions on improvements and feels a part of the concept. The outcome is that standards are established and people are held accountable to meeting those standards.
“If you don’t have standards, you can’t judge whether or not you are doing a good job,” Heylin said. “Our goal has been to establish a high-performance culture within the entire company. Just as the blast process changed manufacturing at Republic, Teichner’s ripping process is changing all other areas of the company. You could say the entire company is being ripped for lean operations.”
“We find that friendly competition among the production lines also works as an effective incentive,” said Rajamanickam. “People that have a reputation for being productive want to work on those lines.”
Republic also established an elite group of manufacturing people called Special OPs (operations team). The individuals are trained to make every product, are always on call and are used as support for unusual circumstances. For example, they may be needed to meet a sharp increase in demand for a certain product or demand due to seasonal fluctuations, to help train fellow employees or to serve as role models, providing an incentive to fellow employees who are looking to advance.
Testing to AAMA Specifications
As a further check against standards, units are randomly pulled off the line to be tested rigorously to AAMA specifications in an in-house laboratory, only a few steps away from the production floor. Each window is assigned a code for ease of identification based on product type (awning, basement, casement, fixed, hung, horizontal, sliding, vertical), performance class (residential, light-commercial, commercial, heavy-commercial, architectural) and performance grade and size. Three tests are required—air infiltration, water resistance and uniform structural load—to determine the performance of the unit.
A Zero-Accident Culture
The company believes that working safely is equally as important as working efficiently. As part of creating a zero-accident culture, Republic has developed a comprehensive safety program that reflects a philosophy of teamwork and 100-percent responsibility of every employee from manufacturing to top management. A clearly defined procedure in the event of an accident includes a thorough investigation within 72 hours.
“This is proactive, not punitive,” said Greg Shaw, vice president of human resources. “We make the situation an area upon which we can improve. It’s all very positive.”
The procedure includes digital photos of the event and a two-to-three-page report, which becomes a manual for retraining, and another aspect of reinforcing standards. Safety manager Tom Ayala visits the area ten days following the inspection and works with the process engineer to see if the work has been done. As a final step in the process, everyone in the area—not just those who were involved in the accident—is retrained within 30 days of the occurrence.
“The focus is on creating a safety-oriented culture, rather than dealing with accidents after they occur,” Shaw said. “We rely on coaching rather than punishment. It’s not about catching people doing something wrong.”
The results clearly show the benefits of the safety program. From 1999 to 2001, there was a 65-percent decrease in accidents while sales increased by nearly 40 percent.
Extensive training does not stop with employees. Through Republic University, training is available to its dealers in many areas including sales, product knowledge and installation. Customized marketing materials based on more than 35 years experience are also available when appropriate.
Republic doesn’t think of itself as just a window manufacturer.
“Before we were a company making windows,” said Teichner. “Now we are serving-up world class
Alan Goldberg is a freelance writer for DWM. He has more than 30 years of experience in the insulating glass market.
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