Volume 8, Issue 11 - December 2007
Door and Window Manufacturers Say
Knowledgeable Suppliers are Crucial
by Alan B. Goldberg
Editor’s Note: This is the last in a series of articles based on surveys that show how door and window manufacturers view their suppliers. Our first article was about screen suppliers (see DWM, March 2007, page 52) followed by hardware suppliers (see DWM, June 2007, page 48) and more recently, glass suppliers (see DWM, September 2007, page 34).“Quality” was by far the most important factor when measuring the performance of and/or selecting a supplier. In this final article, we wanted to see what ranked the highest when quality was not included. We found that opinions definitely vary.
One area in which manufacturers are unanimous is in their preference for using more than one supplier. In fact, the number of machinery suppliers used by manufacturers ranged from three to 15 proving that manufacturers definitely shop around for the right equipment to meet their individual needs.
Phil Sironko, product development manager for Milgard, says his company uses four suppliers in its door and window operation—Joseph Machine Co., Sampson Saws, Erdman Automation and Kent Automation. Another point upon which many manufacturers interviewed agree is that machinery and equipment suppliers must have extensive knowledge of the door and window manufacturing business. “What we do is very different from vinyl operations and we need equipment that does what we want,” says Bob Pecorella, president of Northern Building Products in Teterboro, N.J. “Our suppliers must know our business. That may sound very basic but for us, it is critical.”
Manufacturers Expect a lot from Suppliers
For Milgard Manufacturing in Tacoma, Wash., a track record with strong customer service is ranked as the most important. However, flexibility is what WinDoor in Orlando needs in a supplier, according to Dave Miller, general manager.
“Given the nature of our operation as a custom manufacturer, we look for suppliers that can work with us and provide machinery or equipment that offers us a level of flexibility we need on a day-to-day basis,” he says. As for price, only one manufacturer surveyed, Royal Prime, in Elizabeth, N.J., rated it as its highest priority.
Acknowledging that all of these factors are necessary for any supplier to be competitive, Joe Shoots, vice president and general plant manager of Vinyl Design Corp. in Holland, Ohio, says another factor comes into play.
“When we evaluate equipment, we are more concerned with the reputation of the equipment supplier,” he says.
Shoots points out that when a company is reputable, the other variables—price, customer service, lead time, product range—fall in line. “We backed out of a couple of equipment deals over the years due to what [the company’s] customers were saying about them,” adds
Shoots. Suppliers: Domestic Versus Non-Domestic
“We typically have made it a rule of purchasing equipment from a company in the [United States],” says Shoots. An exception, he says, is a product that is serviced and supported domestically. Others, however, don’t see it as a problem.
Silverline has reported using a supplier from China for four years. Most of Plastpro’s automated equipment is imported, according to Franco An, Plastpro president. He says the company has been using one supplier from Germany, one from Taiwan and a new supplier from Spain.
WinDoor is using a supplier from Italy, while Gossen’s primary suppliers are from Canada and the United Kingdom, says Simon. According to Pecorella, all of Northern’s latest saw purchases have come from Canada, but the company has placed its first order with an overseas supplier.
“We are ordering a fully automated sealing system from Lisec (in Austria). [The company] understands our business and our immediate needs, and that is what we value the most in a supplier,” he says.
Service and support are critical to Duxton Windows in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
“Given our size, we need to know that the supplier will respond when we’ve got a problem,” says Al Dueck, president.
“Having a supplier that can quickly handle any service or troubleshooting needs is key in this business,” adds Shoots.
Wish List for Suppliers
“With one exception, all of our major, established equipment and machinery suppliers need more thorough knowledge of the peculiar tailoring required to process fiberglass,” says Sironko. “Finding people who can help us and achieve efficiency and automation [in our fiberglass operation] is my wish,” says Dueck.
An would like to see his supplier “be able to fine-tune the design to fit [the company’s] specific needs.”
Miller has three wishes, one for each major supplier.
“I wish one of them was more responsive, another more flexible and a third offered better pricing,” he says. For Widner, synchronization of standards among suppliers would make life easier.
“Equipment and raw material suppliers need to be in sync with each other,” he says. “One of our biggest issues is that our suppliers are using different sets of standards. Our extruder uses one set and our equipment suppliers another and when things don’t mesh, we get stuck in the middle of a blame game we would rather not play.”
What Suppliers are Saying
Auletta says what makes the situation even more difficult is that return on investment has gone from within two years to six to twelve months. “In a situation like this, everyone tends to be very competitive. The problem is that no one is growing. At best, someone is taking market share. We [suppliers] are all in this together and the only thing we can do is help our customers find ways to reduce costs.”
Auletta says that during a downtime, his company invests heavily in research and development. He has high hopes that its technologies of the future will enable its customers to reduce costs, improve quality, increase capacity and, overall, operate more efficiently. In the meantime, he predicts the current situation will continue and probably deteriorate further until hitting bottom in the first quarter of 2009.
“I don’t believe this industry will get back to the peak 2005 window production volumes, where we saw the substantial amount of investing in new products and facilities, until 2013,” he says. Erdman Automation Corp. also sees challenges.
“We must be able to provide first-rate equipment and service at a price our customers feel is reasonable,” says Jessica Erdman, marketing manager.
She says customers are generally looking for innovative, dependable equipment to improve their products and the way their products are being made. Manufacturers are saying lots of things about their suppliers and many, regardless of how they are impacted by the soft housing market, seem to gravitate toward machinery/equipment suppliers who know their operations and can help make them more efficient.
Republic Windows and Doors, however, is one of the companies who says the market has had a huge impact on equipment purchases. “Unless there is a change in the market, we will not make any purchases (related to new construction) that were planned for 2008,” says Tim Widner, director of manufacturing for Republic.
For Milgard Manufacturing, equipment purchases for the sake of upgrading have been deferred but anything related to its new product line will proceed as planned, says Phil Sironko, product development manager. Some manufacturers haven’t seen declines and are proceeding with business as usual.
According to Silverline, the company has been gaining market share and has not been affected. The same is true for Plastpro and Northern Building Products.
“Because of the nature of our business, we have not been impacted and so we have not postponed any of our plans to purchase equipment,” says Bob Pecorella, president of Northern Building Products.
“The right machinery will increase the efficiency [of our plants],” says Franco An, Plastpro president.
Bob Simon, national sales manager for Gossen, says that his company will add new equipment for the development of new products that are not tied to the new construction industry.”
Joe Shoots, general plant manager for Vinyl Design Corp., says the timing is right for new purchases. “We are in a mode right now where our equipment purchases are imminent,” he says. WinDoor also has no plans to postpone new purchases, according to Dave Miller, general manager. “We are following our five-year plan to a tee,” he says.
When making equipment purchases, many manufacturers say they are doing so to increase automation, saying this plays a major role. “It’s a big part [of our decision],” says Simon.
Sironko notes that while fully automated lines require a huge investment, and labor is still needed, the company has taken a somewhat different approach.
“We are positioning ourselves more toward semi-automation as fully automated lines are somewhat inflexible in regards to utilization during cyclical demand and are large up- front investments with relatively high cost and skilled labor to maintain,” he says.
Alan Goldberg is a contributing writer for DWM magazine. He has 31 years of experience in the door and window industry.