Ask around the industry these days, and lead times have become a hot topic of discussion. In some instances, homeowners who have purchased new windows are waiting months before installation, and it’s created a situation like we’ve seldom seen.
There are a few factors at work here. First and foremost, raw materials have been hard to come by, with short supplies lengthening lead times from the outset of the process. Second, the ongoing labor shortage continues to challenge manufacturers to do more with less, particularly in light of our third factor: a hot housing market and big demand for new windows in both new construction and retrofit projects.
But getting quality products into our customers’ hands in a timely manner is our responsibility, and we need to be doing whatever’s in our power to do it. To those ends, here are a few things I’ve been thinking about recently:
1. Automate what you can, when you can.
The benefits of automation on the manufacturing floor are well documented, helping window and door makers make higher volumes of insulating glass and move workers to high-value tasks with less overhead investment. But not all businesses are in the position to invest in a brand-new high-speed line—nor are those lines necessarily readily available at the present moment. Due to demand, machinery suppliers are seeing lengthy lead times too.
What can you do in the interim? Look into what’s available and cost-effective for your needs. Semiautomated tools for IG, like fixed-head secondary sealers and spacer applicators, can allow a small team to produce anywhere from 400 to 700 insulating glass units in a normal shift. Compared with manual equipment, this kind of improvement can noticeably increase your capacity.
2. Strategic alignment with your suppliers is more important than ever.
Given the challenges we’ve seen around supply throughout the value chain, close collaboration and alignment with your suppliers are more important than they have perhaps ever been.
If you’re manufacturing vinyl-framed windows, for example, working closely with your vinyl vendors to ensure supply reliability and quality consistency can be beneficial in times like these. Particularly as ready availability of raw materials may vary, knowing your vinyl supplier is aligned with reliable raw material suppliers is essential to secure a source for your window and door manufacturing business.
3. Consider your outsourcing options.
When you need to produce completed window units more efficiently, one beneficial strategy can be to outsource production items more easily produced by vendors that specialize in that product.
Think about your window and door screens—manufacturing includes frame cutting, punching corners, frame assembly and rolling screen mesh. This is hard, skilled work, and if you’re already struggling for labor, the process can become a major headache.
But quality screens are your customers’ expectation, and there’s no room to cut corners. If screens production is a problem spot in your plant, it’s even possible that you’re able to build more windows in a day than you are screens. And that’s a problem.
In this scenario, it’s worth considering outsourcing your screens production with a supplier you can trust. This strategy allows you to refocus your labor toward what makes you money, with screens delivered in step with your production.
At the end of the day, demand is up, and that’s a good problem for our industry to have. But it also means we need to keep thinking about new ways we can produce quality products to meet the demands of our customers in a reasonable amount of time.
What are you doing to try and cut your lead times? I’d love to hear from you at Eric.Thompson@Quanex.com.