In the Market for Machinery?

July 12th, 2021 by Nathan Hobbs

Take These Steps to Ensure The Upgrade Goes Smoothly

By Trey Barrineau

As demand for doors and windows ramps up, manufacturers face a familiar problem— should we add another machine?

It’s not a process that any company should rush into, said Morgan Donahue, vice president of sales and marketing with Erdman Automation, during a presentation at the Window and Door Manufacturers Association Technical and Manufacturing Conference in Minneapolis.

Begin the Conversation

“The first step in selecting a piece of equipment is to make sure you have a strong understanding of what your issue is and what solution you require,” he said. “Improved ergonomics, enhanced craftsmanship, labor reduction and/or increased production output are all good examples of issues machinery can solve.”

Donahue said it’s important to know what issue you want to resolve with a new machine, and to get as many stakeholders as possible involved—most importantly the people who will run the equipment.

“Ask your operators what options they think would make their jobs easier or more efficient,” he said. “Show them that you value their input. Get a feel for the level of machine complexity your operators are capable of running. Over-sophisticated equipment often goes unused. Getting your operators on board is much easier at the start of the project than at the end.”

Once the need has been identified and operators have been consulted, assign a project manager as soon as possible, Donahue said, adding that the machine builder you’re hiring should do the same.

“Assigning accountability on the front end goes a long way to ensure the project stays on track,” he said. “This person will act as a liaison between your company and the machine builder.”

Donahue said the project manager should be responsible for the entire process of integrating a new machine, including quoting, purchasing, providing product drawings and samples, as well as training.

New or Used?

During the early stages of a machinery project, increasing cost frequently becomes a big concern. That’s why many companies look at refurbished equipment. Jim Plavecsky, owner of Windowtech Sales in Pickerington, Ohio, works with companies interested in these products. He says this typically involves stripping out all of the old electronics “so all you’re really saving is the frame” and then re-building the machine.

“We warranty it as a new machine, but it might be 30 percent less,” he says, adding that the customer will still need to purchase software.

Plavecsky says his company also sells a lot of as-is used equipment, and that’s a strong market.

“Ever since the downturn … it conditioned the industry to search for used machinery before deciding to buy new. So a lot of companies often look at used first,” he says.

According to Plavecsky, you also have to think about how new advances and developments will affect the refurbishment.

“Refurbishing only gives you what the machine was capable of in the first place compared to the new advances on a new machine,” he says. “With the latest software available, for example, you might want to integrate operations, but the machine doesn’t have the capability to do so.”

Plavecsky says deciding whether to refurbish or buy new depends on what you want from the machine. For example, many companies demand automation.

“You can buy refurbished, but if you buy new, there might be an auto-mated version available, and labor is such a big issue,” he says. “New machinery can offer automation.”

Is It a Good Fit?

Another important aspect of adding machinery is making sure it’s a good fit (literally) inside your facility. Detail any obstructions in the building that may be an issue, Donahue said. Make a detailed layout to be certain your facility is capable of holding the equipment with an eye to ceiling heights and the location of columns, stairs and aisles, and make sure that your facility doors are big enough to take delivery of the machinery.

Automate With Care

Automation in manufacturing is a topic that DWM has been following closely for the past few years. John Moore, the vice president of marketing for GED Integrated Solutions, and Joe Shaheen, the company’s director of sales, share advice for companies considering automation options for their plants:

“There are three common issues we hear from customers: a lack of employees, a need for more information from the floor to make decisions, and lower total costs. Through a combination of robotics, automation and software, these issues can be addressed, but it is also important not to automate just for the sake of doing so. There are too many installations of highly automated systems that tout the elimination of workers, but in the end they cannot produce the quantity of product required to meet demand at the lowest cost.

“When considering new automation equipment, objectives need to be clearly defined. If the objective is only to eliminate employees, then several other important factors may be missed. ‘Intelligent automation’ is finding the right balance of machinery automation with human innovation. In other words, automate, but automate with your employees and their input in mind.

“Understanding your product position will also help determine the level of automation and help set your objectives. In a commodity business, total lower cost is usually the driver. When you have a unique product, then quality may be the primary driver. Consistency of product can also define the level of automation. Using robotics will provide that consistency over and over again.

“When making the decision, it is important to take a team approach. Without input from ‘influencers’ or ‘users,’ the implementation of automation usually fails or is delayed, costing the company any savings it had hoped to gain. The decision-makers need to include the influencers and users not only to understand the big picture but also to gain buy-in from all affected.

“As with all equipment, automation systems require maintenance. Do you have the team to keep the equipment tuned and running?

“Having the correct software implemented will help determine whether you are meeting your stated objectives. They will help you tune your systems further to ensure you are operating effectively and efficiently using all the capital—equipment and employees.”

Putting it Together

Once the final decision is made, Donahue said it’s important to set milestones if the machine builder doesn’t. Bi-weekly communication via email or telephone is critical. These stages can include a kick-off meeting, design review and acceptance, and the final assembly inside the plant. To ensure a successful installation, have one of your maintenance people work with the installation technicians.

As far as teaching the operators how to work the new equipment, consider recording the machine training session provided by the installation technicians.

“Your builder will supply a machine manual, of course, but recording the training session will provide easy access to the specific information your team needs,” Donahue said.

Does It Work?

While having the machinery installed and plugged in might seem like the end of the road, it’s not. You have to verify your production capabilities.

“If you are trying to increase production output, it’s critical to know if your ancillary equipment will be fast enough to keep up with a new piece of high-speed equipment,” Donahue said. “Your production can only go as fast as your slowest piece of equipment.”

Consider how fast your operators can supply and take away the finished product, he said. Faster production may require more floor space to store the finished product. It also may be necessary to revamp your shipping and receiving schedules.

Communication is Key

Finally, Donahue emphasized how important communication is for the process to be successful.

“You and your machine builder should be on the same page about problems you are trying to solve and the agreed-upon solutions,” he said.

Trey Barrineau is the editor of DWMmagazine.

To view the laid-in version of this article in our digital edition, CLICK HERE.

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