HOW THEY DO IT:
Inside the Manufacturing Operations
of Andersen Corp.
By Ellen Chilcoat
Most people, including those outside the fenestration industry, are familiar with Andersen Windows, just as most people, including those outside the computer industry, are familiar with Microsoft. Privately-owned Andersen Corp., headquartered in Bayport, Minn., employs more than 8,500 people in the United States.
While the Andersen brand name is recognized worldwide, different types of people, specifically homeowners and other fenestration manufacturers, hold distinct opinions about the company and its products. A homeowner might simply think, “That’s a lot of windows; maybe I’ll get some for my house,” but some fenestration manufacturers consider Andersen the echelon of the residential industry.
Inside the Plant
In Bayport, Minn., Andersen’s 2.8-million-square-foot facility, operates five days a week, three shifts a day, and produces thousands of windows and patio doors daily, according to Jeff Anderson, director of manufacturing.
The process of creating an Andersen window begins with raw plank (whenever possible the company uses completely reusable raw materials). Once the wood arrives at the plant it is cut, milled, finished and assembled. According to Anderson, while all steps of the process are equally important, the milling process probably draws the most attention.
“Correct dimensions and a quality finish are often the two most important aspects to customers,” Anderson said.
The painting/finishing department is unique. According to Dan Grubish, a construction specialist, product application group, the process was adopted based on the way by which Tonka was producing its toys in 1965.
“We saw how Tonka was producing and thought it would work well for us.”
The finishing process begins with window components, hanging from a hook and sprocket, dipped into a tank where they receive a preserving agent against rot and insects. Once the component is removed, it has a negative charge so the positive paint will adhere to it. Next it receives a primer coat and is placed in a kiln. Once it is removed from the kiln it is finished with a designated color and then put into another kiln. The entire process takes about 45 to 60 minutes.
Quality finishing is also important because of the guarantee Andersen puts on it.
“The finish has to hold up to the standard for which it is warranted,” said Grubish.
While process machinery, such as molders and extruders, are usually bought off the shelf, all of Andersen’s assembly equipment are custom made.
“We work with vendors to create custom assembly equipment,” said Anderson, who explained that working with them closely helps them ensure reliable, efficient equipment that is process capable.
When it comes to choosing suppliers, reliability is most important.
“We review their quality process, that’s number one, followed by on-time delivery,” said Anderson. “We ask ‘is this company reliable?’ Third, is cost competitiveness, but that means nothing without the first two; our focus is on delivering to our customer.”
One of the main components of Andersen windows is insulating glass, the majority of which is supplied by Cardinal Glass. Aside from its primary glass supplier, Anderson says the company has “many” suppliers. But it takes more than lumber, hardware and glass to make windows and doors. Andersen employs its own plumbers, machinists, electricians, carpentry workers and maintenance building supervisors.
“The company is self-sufficient,” added Grubish.
Quality Control/Quality Employees
To ensure the highest quality product, Andersen instills a number of quality control measures throughout its operations. Station quality control checks are such an example.
“If something is out of spec we can [make the necessary adjustments],” said Anderson. “If [the product] is out of spec we scrap it; we do not sell or create seconds.”
These station checks are done numerous times throughout the day.
“Depending on the process, there could be station checks every ten minutes,” Anderson added.
Another quality control measure is what the company calls an “out of the box” check.
“Once the product is finished, crated, packed and moved to the warehouse it’s pulled out of the box and put into an opening called a ‘buck’ that simulates a window opening,” said Anderson. Once installed, the window endures all function operations—opening, closing, etc.—to ensure it performs as intended.
Once the product is complete, it is packaged in cardboard, loaded onto trailers and shipped via common carrier to dealers and distributors.
“Some products are shipped direct to retailers and in other cases they go to distributors,” said Stacy Einck, manager of public affairs, who added that Andersen owns 60 to 70 percent of its distributors.
For Andersen, it’s number-one focus and goal is the customer, so ensuring not only a quality product, but one that arrives on time is crucial.
“We are always focused on our customer service,” said Anderson. “Certainly, glitches [in shipping] arise, whether they are on our end or our suppliers … they could be weather related … there also seems to be a shortage of truck drivers, but that’s [shipping] an area we work very hard to do well in.”
Regardless, however, of how good a product a company can make, what really makes a company successful, is people and Andersen works hard to incorporate its employees into the manufacturing process.
One way they do this centers around its custom equipment.
“When we’re working with vendors to design equipment we often take workers to the vendor site as the equipment is being developed, because [since they are the ones using it] they have a better idea of the adjustments that need to be made,” said Anderson.
Communicating with employees is also important.
“Before each shift, production supervisors talk about the issues that may have arisen during the previous shift, goals, etc.,” said Anderson. “This also gives associates an opportunity to offer feedback.”
Keeping employees up-to-date on not only the happenings inside the plant, but business-wide is also important. In that respect, “town hall” meetings are held.
“These meetings give associates strategic information [about the business as a whole], allowing them to ask questions and learn about what’s going on.”
In addition, three years ago Andersen began incorporating the Kaizen problem-solving process (part of the lean manufacturing philosophy) into its operations.
“Lean is wonderful,” said Anderson. “It involves the shop floor associates [so they know] what is being worked on. It has improved our quality, it has shortened our lead times and improved our efficiency.”
Anderson continued, “We’re at a point now where it’s really becoming part of our culture … the philosophy of lean is that if there’s an error it’s in the process, not the person, so we fix the process. There’s so much opportunity [with Kaizen] and it’s fun to look at the process and come up with ideas. And, it’s satisfying to include the production associates in the process.”
One area that may be reflective of Andersen’s lean thinking is its recent efforts to streamline production.
“Streamlining production has become the big thing in the past few years,” said Grubish. “Because of the age of the building, assembly lines were set up as they were acquired.” In other words, processes didn’t necessarily “flow” in the most effective manner. “Now we’re trying to align and streamline the process because there is no room for expansion.”
From stage one of the manufacturing process to shipping the completed product, everything Andersen does centers around its number-one asset: the customer. And customers, along with codes and changes in the market, drive the way it develops new products. As a privately-held company, Einck did disclose only a limited amount of information about Andersen’s product development process.
“We have a sound process to evaluate what our customers want,” she said.
Codes are also considered in product development. The StormWatch hurricane-resistant window is an example of a product developed due to code changes as a result of Hurricane Andrew.
Energy-efficiency is also important, and offering an energy-efficient product, has been of the utmost importance to Andersen for practically its entire existence.
“Andersen was the first window manufacturer to introduce IG and we worked with PPG on that in 1952,” said Einck.
And as codes continue to change in that direction, Andersen is confident it will continue its products in that way as well.
“Energy-efficiency is the priority of our products,” said Einck.
Ellen Chilcoat is a contributing editor to DWM.
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