VEKA’s Plant Poised for Growth and Efficiency
by Debra Levy
What strikes you first is the size. The nearly 600,000-square-foot plant (and U.S. headquarters) for vinyl-extrusion maker VEKA stands as a behemoth in the rolling hills of Western Pennsylvania. The 14-year-old non-union plant just 30 miles north of Pittsburgh runs three shifts, seven days a week, extruding profiles for window and door systems and other products. VEKA USA employs approximately 800 workers with varying duties in its three plants.
What strikes you next is the evidence of rapid growth that is everywhere. The first building has been expanded a number of times and additional buildings have been added. The company’s plant in Reno has undergone a similar growth trajectory. The Western location opened in 1995 with two extruders and 30 employees. By 1996, seven extruders were operating there and the number of employees had doubled. VEKA currently is adding an additional 56,000 square feet to that facility for a total plant size of 247,000 square feet.
While size and growth hit you first, it is the efficiency of the plants that have the most long-lasting effect. Compound delivery is a massive undertaking that seems effortless through a system of automatically-controlled trains that bring materials to each mixing station. The plant has four silos that hold up to 600,000 pounds of resin, which are divided by color—white or beige. The train system deposits resin and other materials at each “hot mixing” station. A complex computer system monitors material movement through every part of the plant and can show problems as they occur.
After heating, the materials then pass through a cool mixer where chilled water removes the heat from the mixture. This is also one of the many stages at which samples are removed for quality control. The mixture then moves into one of the plants’ 61 extruders to be formed.
Extruding vinyl is very much like pushing Play-doh® through the Fun Factory, only on a much larger scale. The mixture is forced through one of the company’s approximate 1,300 extrusion dies. As the material reaches the die, it is a 380-degree taffy. As it passes through it begins to harden, and upon exiting has been formed perfectly into a vinyl profile.
Fit to be Died
Dies are the backbone of any extruding business. Each die creates a unique shape for a unique use. They are extremely expensive and time-consuming to produce and, as you might expect, must be extremely accurate with only minimal tolerances allowed. VEKA has an area devoted exclusively to the development of new dies, which can take years sometimes.
Most processes to clean such dies generate hazardous waste water. With its rapid growth, VEKA USA had seen its hazardous waste generation grow from 51,000 pounds in 1999 to nearly 81,000 pounds in 2000.
In early 2000, the company began an initiative to reduce its hazardous waste production. It replaced its sodium-hydroxide-based cleaner with a non-hazardous one and added a small pump and filter to its current cleaning system, allowing it to recycle its wastewater and eliminate the hazardous component. As a result, the company has not generated any hazardous waste water from its die-cleaning process since the end of 2000.
“Adding the re-circulation pump and filter … cost less than $500,” said company spokesperson Steve Dillon, “but the simple modification will save VEKA more than $24,000 annually and eliminate more than 107,000 pounds of hazardous waste.”
As a result of this improvement, VEKA was the recipient of the 2002 Governors Award for Environmental Excellence. The company was visited by Pennsylvania Secretary of State for the Department of Environmental Protection, David Hess, who presented the award.
Once the profile is fabricated, it passes through a wide variety of quality control tests. It is then considered “finished” and may continue to post processing to receive laminates or exterior color
A Well-Ordered Disorderly Warehouse
Painted products are shipped in boxes. The other materials are shrink-wrapped and bar-coded, then ready for shipping or warehouse storage. The bar-coding system is a technological triumph. Sensors on the ceiling can reach the barcodes anywhere in the plant. There is no need to put the material in any type of “order” because the bar-coding can tell you its location immediately. Customers can even use the system to track their orders in the plant. Production runners have hand-held barcode scanners that scan both the extrusions and their locations into the system.
Plant three is devoted exclusively to accessories and new product development. It also has a whole inventory area that is used for tools and dies. Three of the company’s 61 extruders are used for fine-tuning and product development as well.
Innovation in Products
From left to right: Two examples of Veka’s SwingView™ entry Door; Veka’s SlideView entry door and finally an example of the TimberView™ line in natural wood grain offered in a choice of pine poplar, maple, oak or cherry.
In addition to door and window systems, VEKA also produces decking, fencing and railing (mostly at its plant in Youngstown, Ohio) and new products such as its TimberView™ windows and Swingview™ Classic Entry Doors.
The patented TimberView window system features wood applied to the sash and frame interior, interior wood for mulls and a wood lift at lock rail. It accepts full or sliding half screens and allows for tilt-and-turn operation.
The Swingview door “was developed in response to requests from fabricators for an entry door that would replicate traditional door construction with which most consumers are already familiar,” said special accounts director Mike Holmes. “With mechanically fastened stiles and rails joined at 90-degree angles, this new 5-6-9 vinyl configuration is poised to fill the niche between low-cost steel door and the premium wood swing door.”
“We strive to provide products that are a higher quality and defect-free,” said VEKA USA president Walter Stucky (for an interview with Stucky, watch for the next issue of DWM). “We are totally committed to our customers—with product, service and support. That partnership with our customers is the most important aspect of our business.”
Debra Levy writes occasionally for DWM. She is publisher of its sister publication, USGlass magazine.
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