Your Need-to-Know Guide for Navigating Your Next Machinery Purchase

By Ellen Rogers

Fabricated flat glass is in demand, driving fabricators to invest in new equipment and machinery. According to a recent Key Media & Research survey, 77% of glass fabricators plan to purchase equipment in the next two years (see related article on page 48). While installing a new machine can bring growth and new opportunities, it’s critical that fabricators not jump right in without proper planning and preparation.

“A customer needs to identify what fabrication processes are required, i.e., drilling, milling, edge polishing, etc. This will ensure that the correct options are included and the correct machine or machines are identified,” says David Anderson, regional vice president of machine sales for HHH Equipment Resources, a division of Salem Fabrication Technologies. “The customer needs to know the electrical power requirements of the machinery and what power their facility has currently, as well as water and air requirements.”

Blake Steffy works in sales and business development for DeGorter Inc. He says when a company examines its current operations, it should look at details such as the amount of floor space they have and find an ideal location for the machinery that best suits the production flow. Anderson adds that all machinery has a lifespan, so fabricators need to be aware of the age of a current machine and if parts and components are still available.

“Also, is current machinery keeping up with production demands? If business is being lost because lead times are extensive, it may be time to add additional machinery to increase production capability,” he says. “It’s always a good idea to know what machinery is on the market and what new technologies are emerging. Sometimes, however, economic indicators and the need for larger facility floor space may be [reasons] to wait.”

Regardless of the type of equipment a company is buying, Mike Synon, president of HHH Equipment Resources, says some of the most important considerations are U.S./North American-based support and U.S. parts inventory. “Without these things, the fabricator may have longer production downtimes should a repair or replacement part be needed,” he says.

Training on any equipment is also essential. This can be particularly important after the initial installation, given the increasing operator turnover.

But even before all of these specifics, it’s important for companies to know about the wide variety of options available. Steffy says attending major trade shows is a good way to start the machinery-buying process.

“This allows companies not only to see machinery in person but also to meet directly with the various manufacturers who can help identify what equipment solutions best meet their needs,” he says.

Looking for buying suggestions when purchasing a specific type of equipment? We checked in with some machinery suppliers and asked them to weigh in on what they see as the most important considerations for various types of equipment.

Cutting Line Considerations

• Does your vendor have U.S.-based technical support and inventory of spare parts?
• What is the glass size and glass thickness?
• Is the end use architectural, automotive or display?
• How is the breaking after cutting going to be done?

Laminating Lines

According to Nancy Mammaro, CEO of Mappi, the first consideration when choosing a laminating line is the volume of glass to be laminated. “In today’s market, there are lines for large volume laminated glass production with a huge space and cost commitment,” she says. “Then there are lines for small to medium production, which are more flexible and can use different frames, with lower costs and reduced space.”

Mammaro says some companies are looking for a flexible machine and small
productions, while others choose their equipment based on the type of interlayer they plan to use. For a flexible machine, the cycle’s speed (which is usually quite long) and the quality of the final product must also be considered, she adds.

Laminating Line Considerations
• Does your vendor have U.S.-based technical support and inventory of spare parts?
• What are the production capabilities of the two laminating solutions—autoclave and non-autoclave? Which solution fits best for them?
• What are the production mix and needed capacity?
• What is the needed maximum glass size now and five years later?
• What interlayers and glass types are you planning to run?

Tempering Lines

When purchasing a tempering line, Kimmo Kuusela, vice president of strategic accounts and innovation with Glaston, says there are a number of considerations. These include understanding the division between clear and low-E glass in production; the capacity that needs to be produced; and how mixed is the production that the company is running?

When looking at operations, there are a number of indicators it’s a good time to invest in your own tempering equipment.

“If you buy your tempered glass now, at some point it makes sense to produce it yourself. As a rough estimate, if the cost of setting up your own tempering capability is lower than a three-year margin you pay to your suppliers, for example, it might make sense to start tempering yourself,” he says. “If you cannot differentiate in cost competition, focus on improving your own efficiency—e.g. reducing waste and focusing on quality in yield.”

Tempering Considerations
• Does the vendor have U.S.-based technical support, both phone and on-site technicians?
• Does the vendor have U.S. inventory of spare parts?
• What are my specific manufacturing needs? Consider factors such as production volume, product specifications and operational efficiency.
• Evaluate your budget, including the initial purchase cost and ongoing expenses like maintenance and repairs.
• What is the needed capacity to be produced?

Drilling and Edging Equipment
According to Nicola Lattuada, president of Lattuada North America, companies buying drilling and edging equipment should consider local sales and after sales services offered by the supplier. He says fabricators should also find out if the machine is manufactured with high quality standards to grant easy and low cost maintenance (i.e., reduced downtime).

“Also, can the machine be supplied with added value options such as automation, Industry 4.0 and energy saving features?” is another question to ask, he says.

Drilling and Edging Considerations
• Does your vendor have U.S.-based technical support, and inventory of spare parts?
• Does the vendor offer operator training even after the initial installation training?
• Does the vendor offer a full stock of consumable tooling and supplies needed?
• Is the machine manufactured with high-quality standards for easy and low-cost maintenance?
• Can the machine be supplied with added value options such as automation, Industry 4.0 and energy-saving features?
• Consider the machine’s footprint and if automation (robotics) would benefit you.

Insulating Glass Line Considerations

Some of the considerations when buying an IG line are the same as other types of equipment. Specifically, working with a vendor that has U.S.-based technical support and an inventory of spare parts. Specific to IG, it’s also important to think about the types of units you fabricate (doubles and/or triples), dimensions and sizes as well as the type(s) of spacers you plan to use.

In addition, some members of the Erdman Automation sales team offer a few other points to ponder when investing in an IG line.

Brian Ludwig,
South Central U.S.
• Carts for finished IG and cut glass (for companies not currently making their own glass). I see a lot of places that don’t have enough when they start to accommodate production of cut glass and finished IG.
• Raw material storage for spacers and a location for easy access.

Josh Klick,
North Central North America
• Floor space: Is there adequate floor space or the desired equipment and how does it fit with plant flow (cutting equipment, finished glass, etc.)?
• Equipment Maintenance: Regular daily/weekly/monthly maintenance is critical to equipment life and consistency. Is there staff internally to handle the addition of this equipment?
• Production: How many shifts are you looking to run? Are you looking to add, reduce or stay the same with this new equipment?

Rick Mathews,
Western North America

• ROI: Lower cost via overall material, labor, etc.
• Safety: Reducing excess handling helps improve overall safety.
• Repurposing labor: Reducing labor for IG will help redirect valued associates to other areas of your company.
• Quality: Moving to automation can help improve the process, make it more repeatable; it takes the potential for human error out of the process.
• Is the equipment designed with the North American manufacturer in mind?
• Are you able to bring in units that are currently outsourced due to size/space limitations, etc.

Software Solutions and Suggestions

When starting the process, Josh Rudd, A+W’s sales and marketing
manager for North America, suggests looking at how software specifically addresses each of your business needs.

“Take time to walk your facility/facilities, review the capabilities of your machines—including the current software—talk to stakeholders, consult with the software salesperson, and outline the top needs that the software must address,” says Rudd. “When you develop a comprehensive analysis of your business needs, you can more effectively evaluate the software’s features as compared to your needs. This involves understanding the software’s functionality and how it aligns with your specific business needs, whether it be streamlining processes, automating tasks, entering orders, generating reports, tracking inventory, e-commerce capabilities, or managing data.”

Having the right support people, both internally and externally, is also important.

“Just as you need a certain skill set to correctly operate and maintain a tempering furnace or CNC milling and drilling machine, you need to consider the skills for setting up and maintaining a software system to meet the operating requirements of your business,” says Dave Miller, business development executive with Fenetech. “A new software system will take time to implement, and it will impact your staff’s daily activities. To become fluent in the use of the new system and to ensure that it is properly set up to support your business requirements, staff from all business departments will need to schedule a time during their normal business hours to devote themselves to the new system setup and training.”

Steps to implement the software into the business operations must also be carefully considered.

“Ensure that your supplier and infrastructure can support the system long-term,” says Miller. Also, consider how often your team re-enters data for the same order. Focus on implementing a software system that can move data from a single point of data entry through the entire life cycle of order processing.”

Rudd adds that the implementation process should be structured to follow an outline of the necessary steps, resources and timeline required for a smooth transition.

“By developing an implementation process, you can minimize disruptions to your business, maximize benefits and help stakeholders align with the key criteria. This will then allow you to manage risks and ensure an efficient implementation, which delivers the desired outcome,” he says.

Washing Equipment

With proper care and maintenance, a high-quality glass washing line can last for decades. At some point, however, companies may find it necessary to purchase a new one. Jay Campbell, account manager with Billco Manufacturing, offers a few key indicators that it’s time for a new washer.
• Structural integrity of the machine frame: If the framework is in poor condition, it’s time for a new machine, he says.
• Is the condition of the electrical cabinet up to code? Older machines may not meet modern standards and electrical components may be obsolete.
• Is the manufacturer still in business? “Over the years once common names have disappeared, and new names have come and gone,” says Campbell. “If the machine cannot be supported, it is a matter of time until your production (and ultimately your customer) suffers.”
• Is the washer going to be used for a different or a changing, process? “A glass washer is not simply a glass washer. Some are configured for specific applications and using an incorrect configuration may leave you with poor results.”
• Review components individually and determine if the cumulative cost for parts and labor makes sense. A new machine may or may not be the correct solution.
• “Lastly, whichever path you choose, recall that parts availability in our post-Covid world has changed and that new machine deliveries tend to be a bit longer. Be sure to plan accordingly and allow yourself the time needed.”

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