2022 is here. And it’s shaping up to be a significant year for the fenestration industry.
The challenges we dealt with in 2021 are obvious to anyone reading this. But demand remains high, and looks to do so throughout the next year. It means we’ll have to continue fighting to do right by our customers and meet some converging new trends. Here’s what to be on the lookout for:
Everyone becomes a logistics pro
I won’t write much on the supply crisis—everyone knows it’s happening and is feeling it every day—but there has been one positive influence it’s essentially forced upon most of the fenestration industry: Everyone is laser-focused on efficient production.
Success in today’s environment is all about optimizing your inventory and understanding what you’re capable of producing with what you have. You may have considered yourself an organized operation before the supply crisis hit, but today, it’s likely you’ve forged a better understanding of exactly how much raw material you use daily. You’re probably more critical of your manufacturing process and are less tolerant of waste. And I bet you have a more specific idea of how much you can produce in a given day to meet the demands of your customers.
These are all good qualities for forward-thinking, service-oriented manufacturers to have. And continuously identifying new ways to improve efficiency on your plant floor is a good way to stay ahead of the competition no matter the market conditions. As such, I expect to see many manufacturers looking at new ways to boost efficiency and stay competitive in a changing marketplace.
Speaking of efficiency …
No one is too small for automation
It’s been well understood that high-speed automatic equipment can help improve the efficiency of insulating glass (IG) production for a while now. Perhaps less recognized, however, is how the benefits of automation can translate to a manufacturing operation of any size.
An automatic line can help you increase production and better predict how many units you can produce during a shift. It can also help you better predict waste. Taken together, these things can grant you a much clearer picture of how much raw material you’re likely to use throughout a given day. Quality consistently can also be greatly improved via automatic precision in assembly.
Comparatively, manual IG assembly is far less predictable, especially considering labor fluctuations. What happens if your best assembler calls in sick? Suddenly your scrap rate might spike because unit quality has been compromised, or you might be down on expected production numbers.
So, while it is true that high-speed automation is ideal for high volume production, the benefits are growing increasingly clear for midsize operations as well, especially when forecasted over the longer term. You could be paid back in quality and labor benefits, rather than just increased production. A consultation with your spacer supplier may be able to help you identify and execute upon the potential high-speed lines represent.
We’re on a collision course with energy efficiency
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is expected to finalize its ENERGY STAR Version 7.0 criteria in early 2022, and it could have some massive implications for window manufacturers who wish to market their products under the trusted ENERGY STAR name into the future.
New performance criteria for the Northern Zone (which includes the largest portion of the U.S.) would require a 0.22 U-factor or better and a solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC) of 0.17 or higher. My colleague Doug Hauck broke down what’s necessary to hit those kinds of figures earlier this year for DWM magazine:
While the 0.22 base for U-factor is out of reach for a double-pane IGU, it’s possible to meet the SHGC equivalencies with certain configurations. However, it is very difficult and will likely involve premium low-E on two surfaces, foam-filled high-performance vinyl frames, true warm-edge spacers and gas filling. In my research, the more likely scenarios to hit the requirements would be one of the following: standard triples and argon, thin-glass triples and krypton or hybrid vacuum insulating glass (VIG).
The modeling seems to indicate that under the currently proposed Version 7.0 criteria many manufacturers will need to go through a significant redesign to continue using the ENERGY STAR label.
Not only will many window manufacturers need to rethink system designs, but they’ll need to do so while considering in-demand aesthetics and at a cost that customers are willing to pay. It won’t be an easy balance to strike, but it will be a necessary one.
Manufacturers will also need to merge the right high-performance window and door technologies in the right combinations to achieve outstanding performance to meet tomorrow’s standards. And for many smaller and mid-sized operations, it’s not always a given that the kind of resources to do so exist in house. If you don’t have a salaried engineer on staff, for example, redesigning a key product line to satisfy the ENERGY STAR requirements might pose some challenges. Collaborating with a reliable supplier who can help you identify avenues to achieve the necessary performance targets may be a necessity.
At Quanex, we’re here to help. Our teams are ready to help you decipher new energy requirements, evaluate your current window systems and identify the best pathway to achieve what is needed without breaking the bank. Get in touch with us when you’re ready to learn more.