Shop Talk
by Larry Johnson
vice president of sales, North American Fenestration division
Quanex Building Products
June 22nd, 2021

Outsmarting Supply and Labor Issues with Outsourcing

The door and window industry is on the brink of what’s traditionally been our busy season. But for many of us, it feels like it’s been busy season for the past year.

A hot housing market, low interest rates and homeowners looking to make enhancements to their spaces—they’ve all worked to drive a major spike in demand. For door and window manufacturers, lead times remain high, labor remains a challenge and supply chain challenges and price increases continue apace.

Is there a light at the end of the tunnel? Perhaps. It’s worth holding out some hope that the easing of the pandemic and the end of many state health orders may encourage some people to return to the labor pool. And at some point, price increases will eventually level off.

But demand remains high, and we must do what’s within our powers to navigate these challenges while meeting the needs of our customers. That brings us to today’s tip:

For the best results, collaborate with your suppliers.

Any door and window maker that extrudes vinyl framing in-house knows that their recipe for a finished product is like that of a cake: if one ingredient is wrong, the finished product won’t come out as intended.

Availability of certain chemistries, resins and other raw materials that go into high-performance vinyl has been challenging for a while now. Many have begun to investigate alternative materials or source comparable materials from different parts of the globe. While this all may very well result in a good product, it necessarily involves running sample batches and conducting robust testing to qualify performance. All of this can be time consuming, especially if you find that sample batches aren’t up to standard.

One option that can help you avoid the supply headaches inherent to in-house vinyl extrusions right now is to consider sourcing your vinyl profiles from an outside supplier. A dedicated vinyl supplier should have strict quality control measures in place, taking the hassle of raw materials supply off your plate while you focus on other critical parts of your business. They should also be able to match your exact specifications, as if the extrusions were indeed made right under your roof, at the capacities you need to keep up with orders.

Screens are another area where raw materials shortages have hamstrung door and window makers. As with vinyl extrusions, it may be beneficial to seek out a supplier who can provide custom made screens in order to sidestep sourcing woes.

Making screens involves frame cutting, punching corners, frame assembly and applying screen mesh, with each of these distinct processes often involving a different skilled worker. It’s hard work and it has the potential to become a major headache if it isn’t all performed efficiently and consistently. Because a complete window system can’t leave your shop floor without a screen, your ability to maximize production necessarily relies upon the number of screens you can make in a given day. Let’s say you’re making 600 windows per day, but can only manage to make 500 screens for those windows. That means you can only ship 500 orders out the door to your customers. If screens are creating an artificial cap on your production in this way, it might be time to rethink your strategy. After all, you make money on providing high-value, high-performance doors and windows—not on the screens that come with them.

This blog is from Door and Window Market [DWM] magazine's free e-newsletter that covers the latest door and window industry news. Click HERE to sign up—there is no charge. Interested in a deeper dive? Free subscriptions to [DWM] magazine in print or digital format are available. Subscribe at no charge HERE.

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