Editor’s note: This case study is an extension of the conversation from an In the Trenches article originally published in the August issue of Window & Door. Read about lamination as a finishing option for fenestration.
As the demand for color in the window industry increases, so does the demand for applicators of these finishes. This trend was a key reason for the startup of a Dallas, Texas, business, Stealth Finishing. “Color has been around for a long time in Europe. It’s grown in much of the U.S. and Canada and, more recently, that demand has really moved into the west and southwest,” says Jamey Rentfrow, owner and president of Stealth Finishing. “I sold my aluminum extrusion business and was looking for a new opportunity. Having seen the growth of vinyl in the window market, I explored the opportunity of providing a finishing business to serve those needing better color options.”
Paint vs. laminate
When first investigating the business potential for adding color to PVC, Rentfrow looked at both laminating and painting processes.
To explore lamination better, he made contact with Wilfredo Argueta of TreCo Tech, trecotechandsupply.com, the North American representative for Barberan machinery, a supplier of profile wrapping equipment. Argueta invited Rentfrow to Ohio to tour the window profile wrapping operation at Next Dimensions Components Inc., ndci.biz. NDCI has been in business since 2009 and has a great following in the window industry when it comes to wrapping both interior woodgrains and exterior solid colors.
Following that visit, Rentfrow was sold on the process and purchased Barberan profile wrappers and a film slitter, and Stealth Finishing was underway. “Wilfredo and I discussed how many lines to start with and we agreed on three,” he recalls. Right away Stealth started to have success. The company recently moved from their original building into a larger facility that is over 45,000 square feet and added additional wrapping machine capacity.
Stealth later added the equipment to paint finished windows on demand to be a more full-service partner for his customers. Comparing the two technologies, he points out that “laminates make the most sense for the volume runners or top selling colors used on windows.” He adds that painting is a good idea for smaller jobs or specialty colors.
“Ultimately our customers determine which process they want and specify the paint or laminate to be used. When customers ask my opinion for exterior color, I advise them that film is the best solution with superior long-term color hold, much better scratch resistance and a rich appearance due to the texture from the surface emboss.”
Stealth advises that the lamination process is far more competitive in price. “Painting finished windows requires masking all of the glass, seals, hardware and all areas not to be painted. It takes a lot of time and labor just to prepare the parts and then loads of clean up afterwards,” Rentfrow reports. “I have four guys that are busy prepping, masking and cleaning just for my one painter. It is a very labor intensive and expensive process. It also creates a great deal of waste from all the masking materials.”
He continues, “Painting can also be a challenge when it comes to a consistent finish. Changing ambient conditions and the nature of the process make exact repeatability sometimes difficult. With laminate films, the finish is always the same. It is totally repeatable.”
Paint’s positive attributes are the on-demand process and small color batches. It therefore works well for small jobs and requires less work-in-process inventory. However, according to Rentfrow, painting a standard window can run about three or four times the cost of laminating the same color.
Ultimately, the solutions that work best are those the company finds by working closely with industry partners. “Working with my suppliers to find solutions to customers’ problems is just as important as working with my customers,” he says.