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Volume 7   Issue 2               February 2006

Software Savvy


Fear Not
Custom Grill Orders Donít Have to Be a Nightmare

by Chad Banman

One of the trends impacting the industry is the growing demand for custom grill patterns for both new construction and renovation markets. Consumers want more choice and they want to make their homes unique without spending too much money. One way of achieving this is to add grill patterns to windows. In the past, many manufacturers have limited the style, type and pattern of the grill, since producing these required manual intervention in the production process. This inevitably led to the unit being made multiple times in the attempt to meet the consumers expectations. 

Making Custom Orders Easier

Limiting the consumer to a rectangular grill pattern with one grill bar thickness is no longer an option as consumers want choice. They are looking for manufacturers who can meet their needs. In order to make the production of custom grills profitable and less of a drain on the factory floor, many manufacturers have turned to sophisticated configuration software to help them streamline the process.

Many software tools on the market that have helped manufacturers configure basic units and grill patterns and then provide the consumer with a static picture that resembles what the customer might get. The problem with this first generation of software is that it is not dynamic enough to handle the customization of the patterns and the manufacturer must resort to a manual process to handle changes. This can lead to delays in manufacturing and errors making what should be a profitable endeavor turn into a costly one. 

One of the key steps in solving the problem is having a graphic tool that can represent the grill pattern accurately to the end consumer. These advanced configuration tools prevent users from choosing a pattern that cannot be built by the manufacturer. More sophisticated configurators will allow the user to align grills across multiple units in an elevation even if they are not joined. This is a critical component as it allows the user to create the right look for the elevation of the house. Many custom home builders also like to create a pattern that becomes their signature, to set them apart from other builders in the same region. A configurator allows them to create and save that pattern to be used when ordering from the manufacturer. 

Manufacturer/Builder Interface

The next step is to transmit the configuration to the manufacturer. The accurate drawing and positioning of the grill in the window is what will then allow for the creation of an accurate bill of materials. Companies producing simulated divided lite grills need to know information on the interior, exterior and middle bars, all of which can be different lengths but need to align in the window for visual purposes. They will also need to know the notch positions, whether or not the horizontal or vertical bars run through and the size of radius and cut angles. If the bar is removable, typically a frame needs to be built around the perimeter of the pattern to give it rigidity, which the configurator needs to account for in the bill of materials. Once this data is able to be passed accurately to the manufacturer, he can than build the product correctly the first time. This information can be sent to automated equipment or to a plotter on the shop floor, or images and data can be sent to paperwork for manual assembly.

Given the right information from graphical configuration software, manufacturers need not fear the requests for custom grills. Offering it as an option to customers will allow you to distinguish your company from competitors without putting undue pressure on the manufacturing floor. Custom grills should also allow for larger margins on product as consumers generally are willing to pay more for custom options. In the end, with the right software tools, this can turn into a win-win scenario where the consumer gets what they want and the manufacturer can build it without hassle. 

Chad Banman serves as account executive for WTS Paradigm based in Middleton, Wis. You may e-mail him at cbmanman@windowengineering.com 


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