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September  2004

Quality In Quality Out
Your Product is the Sum of its Partners
by Amy Zimmerman

ecently, a friend asked me, “Is there a formula for building the best quality product–one that exceeds all of its competitors?” What appeared to be an overly simplistic question got me thinking, and I realized that the answer is really very simple. When you want to prepare a fabulous meal for friends, you first need to start with the finest ingredients. Manufacturing windows really isn’t any different—except that the most essential ingredients include people, not just materials. 

Quality Partners = Quality Products
The quality of the ingredients, from your own people to extruders, to glass manufacturers and hardware suppliers, and on to machinery manufacturers—determines the quality of your end product. It’s not just their credentials that make them quality partners: It’s the quality of their relationships with you and your other partners.

In order to develop what is potentially the finest product on the market, you need partners who are committed to your company culture. In other words, their systems have to mesh with yours. In the end, it’s not just about your product—it’s about the entire matrix you offer your customer, from ordering and distribution to installation—and after that, warranty and service.

This doesn’t happen by accident. It takes a lot of planning, relationship-building, respect and responsiveness from every partner.

Case in Point
Our technical services department wanted to create a proprietary extrusion for our newest window line. In many cases, the design-manufacture process works this way:
• Extruder says, “Look at our extrusion.”
• Manufacturer says, “OK. Let’s make that window.”
• Manufacturer calls machinery supplier. They install stock machinery not designed specifically for that extrusion.
• Problems may show up in manufacturing, because extrusions 
and machinery were not conceived to work together initially. Often valuable time is wasted while revisions are made.
We decided to take a different approach. Because we view the extruder and machinery supplier as our partners, we included them in the design process from the beginning. The result was not only our highest quality extrusion yet—we also produced a flawless manufacturing line. In the end we created a partnership that produced much more than any company could have done alone. Following are some of the steps we took. 
• First, our design team presented its design idea to the extruder. The extruder reviewed the design, and thought about how it could best extrude the design so the most consistent and reliable parts would be provided. As this was being done the extruder came upon some issues and presented them to the design team;
• Back at the drawing board with the extruder’s requests, our design team had re-design the extrusion to make it easier to extrude;
• Once the revisions were made, our team turned to partner number two: the machinery supplier. Basically, we asked if it could make the machinery to cut, weld and machine the extrusion. The supplier responded with some changes it wanted us to make on the extrusion design, so the line would operate more efficiently. The result of that round produced 39 design changes to the extrusions. 
• We then went back to our extruder and presented the designers there with our machinery supplier’s wants and needs. The extruder responded by making accommodations until everyone was comfortable with what we wanted done.
• Our machinery supplier actually set up the entire line in its facility for testing. Then our engineers, supervisors and key line people trained there and made yet more modifications to the machinery ensuring the line was running perfectly—before the equipment ever hit the floor.

An Across-the-Board Approach
Our company used that same model with our hardware manufacturers also. In fact, our view is that every relationship we have deserves the same attention, from our employees to our customers, to our suppliers. It’s what makes for true innovation because there is an opening for creativity at all times, and a respect for each individual and what they can contribute to the process.

What is most revolutionary and exciting about this mindset, is that it at the end of the day, the process makes us all better. When our partners, who may be at various ends of the supply chain, can collaborate at a product’s infancy stage, it raises the bar for everyone. When hardware designers meet with extruders, and equipment manufacturers design machines to better accommodate advances in extrusion shapes, the whole industry benefits. 

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