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Growing a Window Manufacturing Business with Automation

Posted on Jan 27, 2017
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Case Study: Featuring SIW Impact Windows & Wakefield Equipment 

“We started with a small operation, about 2,000 square feet and 3 employees. Today we are a 40,000 square foot operation and we have 72 employees.” –Abe Lopez, Co-Owner, SIW Impact Windows

Windows have been a family affair for Abdiel (Abe) Lopez since 1985. He began working in the family window business in 1990, and in 2002 he and his wife, Yida, opened SIW Impact Windows, a boutique window manufacturing company. SIW resides in Delray Beach, Florida, an area known for its often cantankerous weather.

The company is unique in a number of ways. They manufacture, distribute, sell, service, and install windows. They are a “one-stop shop” as described by their co-founder, Abe. But most importantly, they are built to endure Mother Nature. All of the window products produced by SIW are made within the impact rating specifications for South Florida. That’s to say they can stand the test of most inclement weather including high-speed winds and torrential downpours. “We build windows for the South Florida market. Our windows are rigid for hurricanes,” explains Abe. Even SIW’s paint is specially formulated to endure the saltiest coastal environments.

 

When Abe and Yida first started, they simply wanted to make a better window. Abe had been an installer for many years and dealt with the inherent difficulties of installing poor quality windows that were not the right sizes. Abe became frustrated dealing with windows that were shoddily made. So he decided to start making his own windows using heavier aluminum, quality components, and built to last.

The whole company was designed around one window. It all started with one window. Abe and his team received such tremendous feedback about the very first window that it catapulted the business forward into what it is today. Today their entire product line is designed around that first window.

Before Abe opened up shop he spent a great deal of time researching the window manufacturing process. One of the huge problem areas he noticed was all of the inefficiencies around cutting. He witnessed countless guys using tape measures and marking with pencils. “I realized that that’s not the right way of doing things,” says Abe. While researching various manufacturing processes Abe decided to look into how things were being done in Europe. “The European factories are the leaders when it comes to automation. They run factories with a small number of personnel, and they are very accurate. And systems like TigerStops are found in these factories. That’s why its important that we in the United States start using machinery like TigerStops that make us faster, more accurate, and more competitive in business,” says Abe.

So Abe decided to get a TigerStop, an automated fence through Wakefield Equipment, a distributor located in Cleveland, Ohio. Abe’s first experience with TigerStop was immediately positive. Owen Cleary, Co-Owner of Wakefield, was helpful in demonstrating how the equipment worked. And Wakefield proved to be a great partner due to their tremendous customer service and great stock of TigerStop equipment, parts, and accessories. Their online store makes life easy for their customers and they do an incredible job representing TigerStop.

“When we first got our TigerStop we were able to start cutting accurately. We eliminated waste in our production line. It’s obviously why we have so many TigerStops today. We use TigerStops throughout our entire manufacturing process. We use it to cut our extrusions, we use it for glass tops, and for our punches that have to be very accurate. Every corner we can put a TigerStop, we will put a TigerStop. That’s how efficient we find them to be,” explains Abe.

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Having so many TigerStops has allowed SIW windows to continue to offer custom sizes to its diverse clientele. “We are a boutique so we have a lot of different sizes. There’s not just one standard stock that we make 150 of. Each window is different. Each window is individual. Each part is a special size. So that’s why TigerStop works out really nicely for us. Every time we punch in a number the TigerStop moves and the cut is accurate. It saves time and saves money. Labor wise, it’s easy to train really quickly. The new employees feel comfortable using the machine and feel like they know what they are doing. They can come to work and actually start working the first day. ”

“We used to find guys, they’d come in here, and believe it or not they wouldn’t know how to use a tape measure. There were so many errors. And prior to using TigerStops even the guys who knew how to read tape measures had difficulties. They would spend a great deal of time checking and rechecking work. And if the final part was cut inaccurately, they would have to measure again and recut. “Once we got a TigerStop we just taught them how to punch in the numbers and they were able to make an accurate cut,” says Abe.

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What’s even cooler is that once employees learn how to use the shop’s TigerStops, they can easily teach new employees how to run the cutoff or punching station without involving upper management or shop foremen. We spoke to Chris McDonald, Production Manager, who attested to this fact. “I don’t need to get involved, they are very straightforward to use.”

The larger SIW became, and the more demand increased for their windows, the more they realized they needed to be able to cut and punch window components fast and accurately to keep up. “The more we expanded, the more we needed them [TigerStops],”explains Chris. “Basically every part we cut is cut utilizing TigerStop. And every part we punch is punched utilizing TigerStop. TigerStop just makes life easier,” says Chris. In order to keep up with demand SIW had to automate more of their processes, not just saws, but punches too. TigerStop allowed SIW to grow their business in that they no longer needed to waste time and money cutting, they could focus their attention on other departments and expansion.

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“We bought our first TigerStop about nine years ago, Today we have, probably 13 or 14 of them. And believe it or not, the first one is still working for us,” explains Abe. “It’s not a big investment. Once you buy your first TigerStop you will learn that you cannot live without it.” Abe finds that the greatest benefit from his TigerStops is speed. "We get things done more quickly, accurately, and with less waste.”

Abe and Yida are proud owners of a thriving business that they built from the ground up. Together the two have grown the operation over 20 times its original size. “We started with a small operation, about 2,000 square feet and 3 employees. Today we are a 40,000 square foot operation and we have 72 employees.” Forget hurricanes, the future is looking bright and sunshiney for these two and SIW Impact Windows.

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