Plavecsky's Ponderings By Jim Plavecsky
by Jim Plavecsky
February 4th, 2016

Growing Pains? Lean Into Your Component Suppliers

When I visit door and window operations, I notice two common themes: labor and floor space are in short supply. We’re running out of room and good people who are in it for the long haul are just near impossible to find. “We consider ourselves operations experts, but we still don’t have the answers!” said one of my customers in complete frustration.

Indeed, many door and window fabricators are finding quality labor in short supply. The jobs in a window factory are quite repetitious and the plant environments are hot and dusty, which leads to boredom, exhaustion and premature attrition. In many areas, keeping a drug-free environment also means alarmingly high attrition rates. The random drug testing is administered and all of the sudden, employers find they have quite a few employees to replace. So with so much turnover and so many windows to make, employee training becomes a critical element to the success of a manufacturing operation.

Also, as companies grow, they find themselves ordering new equipment, racks and require additional storage areas for work in the process. Americans have invested in a great deal of horizontally-designed equipment historically. Over the last several decades, however, vertically-oriented equipment has started to penetrate the market, but there is still an abundance of the horizontal production lines in place. These tend to take up a greater amount floor space and as companies grow, that can be a problem.

How can we solve this? Well, you could consider hiring a consultant. But if you do so, please do yourself a favor and make sure he or she understands the fenestration industry. As much as I love the show The Profit, I would hate to try to instill 30 years of window industry experience into Marcus Lemonis in the course of a few short months!

Believe it or not, one of the best sources of help and advice may be your component suppliers. They know the products they are selling you better than anyone else. Call them for training and ask if they offer quality audits as a service. There was a time when I would have to finagle my way into my customers’ facilities to perform quality audits. These days, with constant turnover of the labor force and the consequent quality issues that arise, I find myself being invited to come in and perform these audits. That’s because of the constant turnover of factory employees and the consequent lack of experience on the shop floor. My customers now need and want the help!

Floor space utilization and production flow are two other areas where component suppliers can lend a hand. When you think about it, who has seen a more diverse cross-section of plant layouts and production lines in their lifetime—your operations director, who lives in the same plant on a daily basis or your component supplier, who visits hundreds of operations per year? Granted, nobody knows your own business better than you do, but if you are open-minded, your component supplier may be in a position to offer you an efficiency study. This would be a fresh perspective on how to re-organize the plant, re-arrange production flow or perhaps provide advice on how to invest in automation which can streamline the production process while improving quality. The more steps your production workers take per day, the lower the daily output that results. Also, the more times work-in-process is touched by human hands per day, the more likely failure rates will go up.

With the increasing demands being placed upon door and window operations coupled with the oftentimes frustrating constraints that come from your available resources, don’t hesitate to lean into your component suppliers for help. Those suppliers with a long-term strategic partnership in mind will be happy to help!

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  1. Amen to that Brother Jim!
    Yes, everybody is running out of space, people, money, and patience! Yep, I do audits almost everyday with my customers. Some of my principals do as well. As the industry crawls out of recession many manufacturers are learning that while things got bad they got complicated. Did you ever think we would have as many glass packages as Baskin and Robbins has ice cream? Hardware, lineals, finishes, not to mention labels and codes are all more involved; which in turn complicates manufacturing. Manufacturers need to appreciate what good reps and suppliers can do for them. The business they save might be their own!

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