Fabricators and Suppliers Share Dos and Don’ts When Buying Machinery

Panelists discuss considerations when buying machinery.

The advice given during the live panel discussion, “You’re Purchasing New Equipment – What to Know Before You Buy,” was invaluable for those looking to buy machinery, and was part of a special session held yesterday during GlassCon Global VE-Glass Expo VE.

Panelists included: John Dwyer, president, Syracuse Glass Co.; Nancy Mammaro, president and CEO of Mappi; Louis Moreau, head of innovation and technology with AGNORA; and Mike Rosato, western region machine sales director for Salem Flat Glass & Mirror. The session was moderated by Ellen Rogers, editor of USGlass magazine.

Getting Started

The suppliers on the panel said it all starts with trying to understand exactly what the customer is looking for including volume produced, plant space and more.

Rosato said he begins with a series of questions that digs below the surface.

“We need to figure out what they really need, their current production levels, future goals, minimum and maximum sizes, weight capacity, facility requirements, voltage and amps available,” he said. “It involves a series of questions to make sure we don’t over or under sell.”

Mammaro, whose company supplies tempering equipment, agreed. “We try to understand what they are looking for—which technology is best for them. How much they temper today. The space they have. The volume they will have.”

She added that visiting the potential customer to better understand what they need is also crucial. This includes looking at everything from the space available, the power in the area, and other factors.

When it’s time for a fabricator to make a purchase, Dwyer said it often coincides with demand.

“We put in a full custom laminating line a few years ago when the demand warranted it,” he said.

Moreau said AGNORA always looks to see if refurbishing is first a possibility, as he says the “brains are always the first to go.”

“The first thing that goes out is the brain—the hub—the interface so we have replaced the brain in much of our equipment,” he said. “We have been upgrading our cutting lines, our tempering furnace—our IG line. We are contemplating replacing the brain for the laminating line.”

Mammaro said it is possible sometimes to upgrade old machines. “As I always say—the tempering furnace is a big investment for anyone—big or small.”

Moreau added though that there are instances, of course, where demand requires new equipment.

“We bought a larger CNC machine, as we had one 20-feet long and we went to 35-feet long,” said Moreau. “We needed that to be able to secure larger pieces of glass … We also bought a printing line which was also customer driven … We were bombarded by our customers who wanted silk screens.”

It appears that timing is everything, and Rosato said now is the time to move toward automation as more people are working from home, even those in the plant. “It is very important to look at this now so you don’t have to rely on an employee coming in. When fabricators can’t produce what happens—you have unhappy customers and they jump to competitors.”

He did stress however, that it doesn’t necessarily mean fewer employees but rather redistribution of tasks.

Dwyer made an especially important point when he talked about what he looks for in a machine and a supplier. “When we buy new equipment upgrading in the future is one of the things we talk about in the process,” he said. “We place weight on that when making a purchasing decision.”

Lessons Learned

The fabricators on the panel are experts with decades of experience, so they shared some of the lessons they have learned over the years.

“It’s good to ‘overbuy’ a little bit,” said Dwyer, who also stressed the importance of seeing the product in action before signing.

“We like to see it in operation in another glass fabricating plant even if it means going to Europe,” he said. “It is very worthwhile to bring the maintenance and production supervisors to really see it in the environment and think about how it would work and talk to another fabricator who has experience using it.”

Moreau agreed with the importance of making a visit. “We went to another fabricator in Toronto who had upgraded their laminating line, and spent a half day there,” he said. “We were able to see what kind of quality the system was bringing. There is much more than price in a purchasing decision. For me, all of our equipment is European made so we have to consider the availability of parts and the service level. What kind of downtime we can expect? These are all things we take into consideration.”

Dwyer was full of great advice, including getting good references.

“I have met a lot of great people and I love to be able to pick up the phone and ask, ‘Honestly, what is your experience with this: can we come see it at your plant?’”

Lastly, he has a spreadsheet which looks at several factors more than price, such as parts and service experience, ease of use and ability to upgrade.

“I have the different suppliers on my spreadsheet and I share that with the suppliers and a lot of times that elicits a lot of great discussion,” he added.

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