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Volume 6, Issue 1                                                January/February 2005

PLANTTOUR:  CONTINOUS CYCLE

Edgetech IG Stays Ahead by Continuously
Improving Its Processes and Providing
More Value to Customers
by Tara Taffera

Acontinuous improvement process is a journey not a destination.” These are the words of Mike Anderson, Edgetech IG production manager, and this phrase emulates a commitment to excellence that is seen throughout the company. This commitment is all focused on one common goal—ensuring that Edgetech provides more value to its customers. When DWM toured its facility in Cambridge, Ohio, including its manufacturing plants, recently, we found out that this spacer supplier truly is dedicated to improving its own processes so window and door manufacturers receive all the tools they need to succeed in a competitive marketplace.

Lean Manufacturing
This constant focus on improvement is felt throughout the company and starts at the top. “Today, Lauren International is a company that refuses to become complacent with our current success,” said Kevin E. Gray, president of Edgetech’s parent company Lauren International. 

“As domestic suppliers, we are looking for creative ways to remain competitive while distinguishing ourselves as the supplier of choice. Our approach is to make sure we are creating new products and services while providing value-added solutions for our customers.”

In order to increase that level of value for the customer, Edgetech is making the transition to a lean manufacturing process, which according to Anderson focuses on maximizing flow while minimizing investments, scrap, travel within the plant and other wasted movements and practices.
Gray describes the process further saying that manufacturing processes are being transformed throughout all of the facilities with a focus on “velocity” through the plant. He added that all this improvement will enable its customers to compete in a global environment. 

“We believe on-time delivery, smaller lot sizes and a relentless pursuit of unmatched quality are keys in combating global competition. Our goal is to create supplier-customer partnerships at such a high satisfaction level that offshore competition will need to completely rethink their approach in an effort to compete,” said Gray. “Today, most customers do not want excess inventory, and in fact are looking for partners that can help manage their supply chain.”

Plant Operations
To produce its spacer products, the company operates its own mill that feed into the extruders continuously. 

“We have control of our raw material by blending it in house,” said Anderson. 
Lauren International owns seven additional companies including LMI Custom Mixing. Lauren International and Meteor Gummiwerke joined forces in 1998 to form LMI as a state-of-the-art custom mixing facility that was designed to produce the finest quality custom polymer mixes anywhere in the world, according to Lauren representatives. LMI is housed in a 50,000 square foot fully automated facility alongside Edgetech’s 470,000 square-foot facility in Cambridge.

The mixing facility is so automated that, according to plant manager Eric Alander, an operator at one plant can practically operate a machine at the other location and vice versa. During the transition toward lean manufacturing, Alander says the company realized the plant was creating waste by having two separate extrusion and laminating processes. 

“The two areas didn’t communicate,” he said. “We brought them into close proximity with one operator to support both areas.”

As the product comes off the reel in the plant, the surface is treated electrically so the adhesive will stick to it.

“Time is of the essence,” said Alander. “You don’t want this product exposed any longer than it has to be.”

The production line runs continuously, but according to Alander, “We now work smarter not harder.”

Another change the company made in the plant has to do with changeover of its spools. According to Alander, Edgetech can now run much longer without changeovers. 

“We can produce exactly what we need,” added Anderson. “We control the quality. And if we find a problem we take care of it.”

Anderson says the company’s focus on continuous improvement will never be finished.

“A continuous improvement process is a journey not a destination,” he said.
Alander also points out that it is not a process in which orders are barked from the top.

“The operators are always coming up with their own suggestions,” he said. “It is a very rewarding process.”

And every change is taken seriously, and could have a big impact, no matter how small it may seem. For example, Edgetech associate Keith Zedicker recommended a packaging change, in which product instructions were printed right on the box rather than having to inset paper instructions. 

“We saved a tree and improved the process,” Alander said. 

Improvement is something that happens a lot here.

“We’re in the process of moving our shipping department to improve product flow,” said Alander.

“The employees are taught things that help them make better choices,” said Anderson. “They don’t need to be told.”

“We’re getting rid of wasted motions and wasted movements,” he added. “We’re getting the right people, right training in the right place at the right time.”

Alander stressed plant personnel doesn’t focus on a perfect system. 

“Incremental improvement is better than trying to find the perfect solution,” he said. “We would rather make incremental steps so it’s better than it was the day before.”

As the company truly does continuously improve, it also truly does listen to its employees and focus on their training. In fact, each plant operator spends 30 minutes a day in training. 

Testing Lab
Plant processes isn’t the only area in which Edgetech is evolving. According to Brian Kress, research and development manager, the company’s testing capabilities are changing as well. While the company used to have two labs, it now has one that it is expanding. 

Kress says that the company’s testing facilities is another great service offered to its customers.

“Another way Edgetech provides more value to customers is by offering testing services to customers especially when they are preparing for re-certification of their products,” he said.

The company’s testing abilities are extensive and include: a high humidity chamber, modified P-1 chamber, spacer desiccant activity, gas chromatography, Gasglass argon tester, dew/frost point, 
Canadian fog boxes, acrylic adhesion, QUV chamber and T-Box fog. 

One of these, the QUV chamber, is used when the company is looking at materials for new products.

“We’re further refining our analytical approach to product testing,” said Kress. 

He added that the Edgetech lab is able to share resources with other companies that are part of Lauren International, and that really makes a difference. 

Technical and Marketing Services 
While Edgetech says its customers are pleased with the service the company proves, how did they come to choose Edgetech when it was searching for a spacer supplier?

“The technical service and equipment support we offer is a way we’ve attracted people to Super Spacer,” said Joe Erb, regional sales manager.

According to Erb, Edgetech’s customers have full access to technical service representatives who can help them with flow analysis, generating layouts and other functions aimed at helping them improve processes at their plant. 

“We try to make this is a one stop shop for them,” he said.

Larry Johnson, executive vice president, said the company can deliver to the customer quickly. 

“If a manufacturer requests a turnkey system in two weeks we can get it to them,” he said.

And if customers aren’t sure what they want they can visit our facility and see first hand what their line will look like. 

“Being able to see it is a big deal for them,” said Erb.

“Systems are important to the customers but they’re not just buying the machine they’re buying your services,” said Johnson.

According to Erb, customers are given a copy of the Super Spacer IG manual which tells them how to make a quality unit. Other suppliers don’t offer this, he said. 

“The learning curve for new manufacturers is pretty short,” Erb added.

Case in point is one manufacturer who produced 200 units on the first day of using the Super Spacer equipment. 

“That’s one of the reason they chose us,” said Johnson. “We got them up and running quickly.”

Edgetech’s full-service marketing department allows customers to promote their new IG system in a timely fashion as well. According to marketing director Erin Johnson a customer can have customized brochures, direct mail campaigns, window labels and website revisions within a matter of a few hours. Edgetech also offers on-site training at dealer seminars and new IG system open house events. 

“For some new customers, the marketing services alone are why they chose Edgetech as a supplier,” said Johnson. “Since our product is a value-added product, this service is a definite advantage in our marketplace.”

Customer Service
Along with technical service, Edgetech is expanding its customer services as well. The company launched an e-commerce program on June 1, 2004, and inside sales manager Wendy Rostad says the company would like to have 100 customers using e-commerce by the end of the year. 
With this program customers can check the status of products, invoices, etc., all online, just another extension of the one-stop shop concept.

“Any information we can tell them on the phone they can see on the Internet,” said Irish Rubright, customer service. “This is very important for when we are closed and the customer needs information.”

There are many advantages to the e-commerce program, according to Rubright, including the fact that customers can view a photo of every product. It is also possible for the program to alert users if they are about to make an error. 

“If they transpose two different numbers it will tell you that you never ordered that part before,” she said. 

“We are providing tools for customers/salespeople,” said Rostad. “This allows us to turn things around rather quickly. We are trying to be paperless.”

International Presence 
While Edgetech has enjoyed success both in the United States and internationally, Edgetech president Mike Hovan said the company is readying itself for an increased international presence.

The company already has made some major inroads outside the United States. It has an office in the United Kingdom that continues to provide major sales opportunities for Edgetech. Currently, the UK is Edgetech’s largest international market outside North America with four main customers featuring the TSS (Thermo Set Spacer) Super Lisec auto line. 

The rapid expansion of Edgetech operations across Europe in 2003 led to the establishment of a new subsidiary, Edgetech Europe GmbH in January 2004. In light of passing the new European 
Standard CEN 1279, Edgetech GmbH is bracing itself for significant new opportunities, according to Hovan. The GmbH team has put tremendous efforts to position the Super Spacer products in the market and to meet the various stringent European and British standards. 

This latest investment in Europe by Edgetech follows on the heels of recent expansion in the UK. Edgetech UK Inc. experienced 65 percent growth in 2003 and budgeted for a 70 percent increase in 2004 leading it to invest in a brand new warehousing and distribution centre based in Coventry to service the UK and Ireland, Hovan said. 

“We’re focusing our time and attention there,” he added. “Europe is number one on our target list.”

Edgetech also has a representative office in China since 2000. The focus here is to educate architects and foreign window companies operating in China on the Super Spacer technology.
China has some great long-term potential in some of the specific areas we are targeting,” said Hovan. 

In August 2004, the company opened a representative office in Korea. 

“This region has great potential as Korea’s warm-edge spacer market was at five million dollars in 2003,” said Hovan.

He added that there is a possibility of partnering with Korean IG manufacturers for a Super Spacer line. 

“The number of windows internationally is very small compared to the United States but we are poised for growth,” he said. “For example, Eastern Europe, particularly Poland, is positioning itself as the technical leader in insulating glass.”

But, that’s not the end of the company’s international scope as it is currently researching for a representative in the Middle East. Additionally, there is customer potential in Thailand, Indonesia and Australia, according to Hovan, places where the company also has representatives. 
But here in the United States Edgetech employees are busy as well. The company, mainly focused on the residential market, introduced its SuperSpacer® TriSeal® recently for structural glazing applications. 

Hovan adds that more new product developments will be introduced in 2005. In fact, he says this, coupled with expanded systems solutions and an international focus will be three areas of focus in 2005. But that’s not all. 

“We will also focus on further improvement in markets that have always been strong for us in North America,” he said. 

And that means focusing on current and potential customers. 

Edgetech employees stress that the company is focused on its customer and can help them meet a variety of needs whatever those may be.

“We can come up with solutions for customers ... variations on products,” said Anderson. 

“Whatever the customer wants we can give them.”

In fact, Gray says that giving customers what they want when they need it is critical to the company’s success. 

“We believe that customers will continue to make their buying decisions on more than price alone,” he said.

And Edgetech definitely brings wealth of value-added benefits to the table for its current and potential customers. 

Tara Taffera is the editor and publisher of DWM magazine.

DWM
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