Getting Nimble: What to Keep, What to Outsource

Summer’s just around the corner—and that means busy season is approaching for commercial door and window manufacturers.

However, to some customers that I’ve spoken with throughout the past few months, the busy season never really stopped, with winter bringing in more business than is typical. And as we look ahead, this year’s “busy season” might be busier than ever. Continuing growth in nonresidential building construction could bring up to 4.5 percent annual growth in the industry, according to one report. I’ve seen and felt that optimism recently.

An increase in volume brings greater complexity. More orders, more materials, and greater coordination among suppliers to get quality products out the door. Lead times get longer—something we’re already seeing in the commercial space, and a problem that could intensify if we’re not ready to meet the challenge. Not to mention our ongoing battle against a skilled labor shortage.

What’s Possible In-House? There are a few ways I see commercial door and window makers staying ahead in this environment, and the first is putting an emphasis on in-house capabilities. That isn’t to say that bringing new capabilities in-house is the answer—in a variety of cases, the opposite is true. But manufacturers should think about what, how and why different capabilities make sense to outsource versus accomplish in-house.

Consider a scenario where a manufacturer is outsourcing laminated glass from a supplier and bringing it in-house to insulate before shipping the completed units out to a customer. That may in fact be the most efficient process for the manufacturer to accomplish this; they’re getting a laminated product they trust and can more closely monitor quality and consistency when insulating the finished unit. For a different manufacturer, it may make more sense to have that supplier insulate the unit, too. It depends on the business, and where the highest value lies. And it’s something that’s worth closely investigating.

Consider a third scenario. A window manufacturer outsources its IG, but demand is spiking—as we anticipate might happen this summer. The manufacturer can compensate with more IG from its supplier, or it can handle overflow with in-house capabilities. Quality and consistency are, of course, critical here, and making sure your in-house insulating capabilities and equipment are on par with outsourced IG must be a part of such a strategy. But it can be worth the investment for the right manufacturer.

An Investment for the Future. Speaking of investments, businesses across the commercial glass space may take the opportunity afforded by a growing market to look into equipment upgrades. Automated equipment for all parts of the glass and window manufacturing process can help an organization boost its efficiencies, allocate labor strategically, and offer consistent quality through all projects.

All of those qualities—efficiency, labor maximization, and consistency—are going to be important in the coming months. And the organizations that act confidently and strategically on all three fronts have the most to gain.

 Joe Erb is a commercial sales specialist at Quanex Building Products.