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Volume 6   Issue 2                March 2005

PLANT TOUR

Certain About the Future

One Company’s Commitment to Safety and 
Quality Insures its Place in the Window Industry
by Tara Taffera

At CertainTeed Corp., the window group is the company’s smallest when compared to its other entities including roofing, insulation, siding, fence/deck/rail and pipe/ foundations.

However, the windows group has made a name for itself within the fenestration industry. In fact, when I toured the company’s Richmond, Va., facility recently, I found that the window plant has the lowest level of accidents in the company’s history. In fact, in 2004, the company beat its quality goals consistently each month. Couple that with its commitment to lean manufacturing principles and CertainTeed has a recipe for success.

Safety Culture
CertainTeed takes the issue of safety very seriously. 

“Safety is a real driver here,” says Steve Potter, director of operations. “We’ve worked hard to develop a safety culture.”

The plant uses DuPont’s Stop program, a behavior-based program, which includes daily employee safety observations. The company also has a safety committee with participants ranging from line workers to upper management.

“If an accident happens at another CertainTeed facility, that information is shared throughout all of our plants so we can prevent another accident,” says Potter. “The safety manger tells the plant manager who tells the employees. We make sure everyone knows.”

Saint Gobain, parent company of CertainTeed, believes very strongly in promoting a safe environment. In fact, in 2004 the company instituted its first International Day of Safety and Health. On this day, all Saint-Gobain facilities around the world focused on health and safety. The Richmond plant shared the good news regarding its safety record and each plant reiterated the importance of safety. 

Potter attributes the plant’s tremendous record to its employees.

“This is a tribute to our people who have reduced the number of accidents by 75 percent in the last five years,” he says.

A Diverse and Lean Culture
This group of workers is a very diverse one at that. Potter points out that 40 percent of the workforce is made up of immigrants and 12 different native languages are spoken in the plant. 

He adds that the company hasn’t had too difficult of a time finding new hires. This is good news considering that fact that Richmond’s unemployment rate is traditionally a bit lower than the national average.

Potter says all managers have an open-door policy toward employees. 
“Employees are encouraged to walk in our door at any time,” he says. “I want people to know that they can come to me with a question or idea.”

He adds that managers are present on the production floor and that daily meetings are held with supervisors and all the key players.

And all CertainTeed players have been wired to think lean.

“Lean manufacturing principles have become part of the company’s culture,” says Potter.
CertainTeed has been implementing lean manufacturing principles for a few years. 

“It’s gratifying to know that the windows group is at the leading edge,” says Potter. “People are wired to think, ‘What if we changed the packaging, etc.?,’” he adds.

Quality Control/Production
CertainTeed employees are also wired to think in terms of quality. Each finished product is inspected for cosmetics, cleanliness and operation, and each window is cleaned by hand. The windows are also measured to make sure they are the correct width and height.
An inspector looks at every window and every part.

“Each product is inspected for conformance to the customer’s order,” says Curtis Newcomb, plant manager. 

This attention to detail has paid off. 

“The yield at final inspection is at an all-time high,” he says.

In fact, in 2004, the company exceeded its previous year’s quality level each month.
“Month over month we beat last year,” says Newcomb. “Our quality level was at 98.7 percent.”

In fact, October 2004 was the best month the Richmond plant has ever had in terms of quality. 

It would be difficult to make quality products without quality machines. When choosing machinery, CertainTeed looks at the top three OEMs and considers costs, quality and reliability. 

“We will make the best decision on the total investment instead of saying, ‘this guy is $20,000 cheaper,’” he says. 

Potter adds that the company doesn’t necessarily buy from the same manufacturer repeatedly.

“We lean very heavily on our OEM partners to support the machines,” he says. “They are very good about phone support and sending people to the plant within 24 hours.”

At the Richmond plant, four multi-process centers do the fabrication. At the sash welding operation, one operator runs two machines, while the same is true for the frame line. 

Five different families can be produced on one product line, according to Potter. He adds that the plant offers a fair amount of mulling and transoms and a variety of mullion options.
However, the real key to the company’s production success lies in its manufacturing operations system. 

“This is the real key to our overall improvement,” says Potter.

There is a computer monitor at every loading dock that lists every window to be loaded that day, and a packing slip is printed for each order.When it comes to packaging, Potter says it is important to create a clean product package with just one label to remove. With one quick pull the installer can remove the label [which also includes the NFRC information], says Potter. The shipping label is easy to read as well and includes the customer’s order number, dimensions of the product, ship date, etc.

Not all Smooth Sailing
While Potter cites impressive statistics for the plant, all facilities have moments when things do not run smoothly. In Richmond, Potter says this happened when the plant attempted to implement a new software system almost two years ago.

“It failed miserably,” he says. “We had to turn it off after two days: we felt the aftermath for six months.”

The company lost some customer orders and duplicated others.

“It was the worst nightmare you could imagine,” says Potter.

It’s not as if the company wasn’t prepared either. In fact, the plant tested the system for one year before proving that testing doesn’t always mean there will be no problems.

“We learned a lot from that experience,” says Potter. “After that we started testing the system even more thoroughly. We were extremely cautious. We double and triple checked everything.”

The company went live with the program for the second time in the spring of 2004 and the process went so smoothly that Potter says the customer didn’t even notice that a change was made.

New Products
CertainTeed has introduced a few new products recently. This includes larger sizes of its new Castle XT™ DP-50 rated windows, which the company says make it easier for East Coast builders to meet homebuyers growing demand for larger windows while adhering to stringent building codes. The expansion includes 24 larger sizes that meet the DP50 structural rating including windows as large as 36- by 80-inches for single-and double-hung, 72- by 76 inches for twin single- and double-hung and 108- by 76-inches for triple single- and double-hung. 

“CertainTeed now offers some of the largest DP-50 rated windows available industry wide,” says Maria McDonagh-Forde, marketing manager for CertainTeed’s window group.
The company also released a new grid offering for its PrismGrid, as well as two new mullion 
systems. 

As evident with these new product options, the company’s focus is clear.

“We have developed a culture that will exhaust our resources to take care of our customers,” says Potter.

Tara Taffera is the editor and publisher of DWM magazine. 

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