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Maximizing Investments

How to make the most of today’s technology - 3 manufacturing challenges 

By now, many fenestration manufacturers have invested in some form of automated production technology with the hopes of creating efficiencies, boosting profits and enhancing quality. Robotics for cutting, edge deletion, conveying, sorting, racking and vinyl welding all promise to maximize labor and increase product throughput.

However, incorporating robotics doesn’t automatically elevate a plant’s efficiency or quality. To get the most out of new equipment, manufacturers must apply the right strategies. Let’s look at the common challenges and opportunities for maximizing such investments and realizing the true benefits of automation.

Challenge #1: Production Bottlenecks

Bottlenecking happens when inputs (raw materials) and outputs (finished products) aren’t optimized. When it comes to input, consider whether the machine is idle because of a lack of raw materials (glass, metal and vinyl) feeding it. On the opposite side of production consider if there is a logjam, with too much product coming off the line with nowhere to go that is halting production.

Losing track of products is another common issue with higher-volume production, resulting in unnecessary remakes or lost time tracking down products. In short, every step of the process must be looked at with a critical eye to achieve the best possible results from beginning to end.

Challenge #2: Shipping and Logistics Hurdles

Companies can work hard to optimize plant flows, but sometimes the unexpected can occur as final products are heading out the door. Driver shortages and the cost of shipping can cause logistical challenges, no matter how efficient the inside of the plant is.

Jobsite-related issues can also cause headaches ranging from weather-related construction delays to onsite labor shortages. Key to managing the backflow when the unexpected occurs is having the storage capacity to manage it.

Such contingencies are magnified with greater production capacity and bigger projects. For starters, communication between manufacturer, installer and customer becomes critical.

Challenge #3: Competing Across Markets

Automation presents the potential to tap into new revenue streams and markets. Increased capabilities and capacity open new worlds of possibilities for manufacturers. We’re seeing more residential manufacturers dabbling in light commercial and multifamily residential, for example. With that, however, comes a whole new workflow and different expectations. It’s important to fully understand the market and make sure your business is prepared to meet the demands. 

For one, training the sales team is critical—they have to know how to set the right expectations without overcommitting resources, especially as a company first enters new markets. If done correctly and with due diligence, you will realize the benefits.

The Opportunity: A Fully Integrated Plant Floor

For every challenge, there is an opportunity. When it comes to automation, the solution to almost every challenge comes in the form of looking at the plant floor holistically to maximize returns. Investing in new technology and new equipment is just one step. 

To achieve desired results, consider:

  • Applying equipment at every stage of operation to reduce bottlenecks and drive efficiencies: lift cranes, glass assist devices and other equipment can help move units from point A to point B more efficiently through the plant.
  • Implementing a robust, user-friendly ERP system: software that complements automation is available from a wide range of vendors. These systems can help plants formalize processes, better track line inputs and outputs, and help processes run more smoothly overall. 
  • Integrating software solutions to improve communication and troubleshoot lines: software is available to give more visibility into every step of the process, resulting in enhanced customer communication and improved uptime. Predictive and troubleshooting tools can alert problems before they occur, helping to avoid unplanned downtime. Automation plus software means communication can happen digitally.

Final Thought: Keep an Open Mind

The bottom line is: those that get stuck on the way it’s always been done could be missing out on opportunities to advance. Keep an open mind, and never stop imagining what could be done differently. This is truly how businesses get ahead and realize all the benefits new technology has to offer. 

Benefits of Total Transformation

Automation, a modern workforce and the drive to seize new opportunities. They’re all necessary to holistically rethinking how to make quality products. The implications go beyond just an automated line, however. Consider the additional possibilities: 

  • Optimized raw materials sourcing, capacity, storage and inventory. 

  • Automated ancillary processes, including glass cutting, edge deletion, breakout, conveying, sorting, racking, machining, vinyl welding, cleaning and conveying. 

  • Strategic outsourcing of low-value production, like screens. 

  • Enhanced maintenance and quality control with automated defect detection systems across production lines. 

  • Improved plant floor layouts. 

  • Strategic equipment selection and the right component supplier.  

…All tied together with fully integrated software at every stage to manage order complexity, quality and volume targets, from initial orders to the shipping dock. Download a full white paper on the subject. 


Joe Erb

Joe Erb

Joe Erb is commercial sales specialist for Quanex Building Products. For more tips, read Quanex’s blog, In Focus, or contact Erb at