Is your flat glass company fit for the future?

Be successful in a demanding industry

As a glass processor or insulated glass manufacturer, you produce high-quality flat glass products that have to be delivered quickly. Product variety and performance are increasing, yet the lot sizes are usually small: thus we talk about demanding variant production, frequently with lot size one. You've got a handle on this. But is that a sufficient prerequisite for solid business?

 

Difficult market

However, despite the high performance of your products, despite ever more complex designs, despite constant demand, your margins are low. Even for high-end products, excess capacities, cheap imports, a lack of skilled labor, and declining prices are causing sales prices to drop constantly and decreasing contribution margins. Although the industry is actually quite satisfied with demand, the companies are under massive price pressure and regard themselves as being subjected to dangerous predatory competition.

You have to take action against these challenges in order to make your company fit for the future. For despite all of its problems, you are working on a vital, exciting market that also offers outstanding opportunities. That's why we have compiled some recommendations for you below.

 

Do the most important thing first!

  • Optimize processes
  • Minimize costs
  • Increase productivity
  • Deliver top quality
  • Offer the best service

If you can get a grip on these five entrepreneurial requirements, you can actually lean back and relax; but of course that's not so easy. Still:

All five of these challenges require automation – topics of burning importance for every manufacturer, for nearly everybody needs to take some action when it comes to automating their business. And when you want to automate consistently, this only makes sense if you examine the topics digitalization and Industry 4.0.

 

Today, automated processes are highly digitalized processes. Without consistent digitalization, you won't be able to remain on the market for long.

Even if you don't want to hear the words anymore: view the digital transformation as an opportunity! Thanks to digitalized flows, you will optimize your processes at many points in your company. This begins with order processing and materials management, continues in many parts of production, ensures orderly flows in shipping, and enables easy and reliable delivery processes. Digitalization reduces your material and labor costs significantly and increases your productivity. And it enables you to take the necessary automation steps.

Read in a GLASSWELT interview with A+W CEO Peter Dixen how digitalization will affect companies in the flat glass industry in the next few years.

GLASWELT interview Peter Dixen


Now we will present the successful business models of two medium-sized companies; business models that would not have been possible without consistent digitalization.

What automation is not

Automation does not mean that robots do the jobs at every company and that you should have your entire machine park replaced with state-of-the-art systems. Instead, it means that you make your production processes part of an innovation network with your software partners and machine suppliers so that these processes are intelligent, efficient, and cost-effective. For it's clear that entirely without highly-digitalized machine technology and networked software solutions, Industry 4.0 would never work. But in the end, you decide the extent to which you automate and digitalize the processes in your Smart Factory, how many tons of steels and which intelligent software you need for this. Here are some tips for you.

1. Industry 4.0 is more than just production optimization

It begins in the commercial area and includes all digital communication with customers, suppliers, and partners.

This is one of the most important prerequisites for creating a true "Smart Factory." Anyone who dreams of self-controlled production while stacks of faxed orders - frequently requiring time-consuming clarifications on the telephone - still determine the course of everyday business won't be able to make the leap. And order processing will become a bottleneck.

The digitalization of quotations, POs, and orders between market partners is the highest priority. It confronts customers' changed purchasing habits in their private lives. You order online around the clock, and increasingly on mobile devices. Why not in the commercial sector too?

Many innovative companies in the glass and window industry understand this and have started to construct webshops for mobile online ordering. For online ordering via webshop offers customers the greatest flexibility, mobility, and time savings. They do not need any installed ordering software or an office terminal, but rather only a mobile end user device on which they can use a Web browser. With his end user, the user can play through product variants, prices, and other options on-site and create correct quotations, for he is always working with current data in the producer's ERP system: products, prices, conditions – everything fits.


Joel Rosenqvist, CEO Osby Glas

"Our customers“ explains Joel, an enthusiastic webshop user, "cannot make any more entry errors when placing online orders – that which can be ordered can also be built. The entire order is subjected to a restriction check based on master data stored in A+W Business. The customer transmits a technically correct complete order to us. There are no questions and time-consuming clarifications by telephone or email. This is how we can achieve much greater efficiency in the entire order process."


2. Digital warehouse and ordering: materials management 4.0

Unfortunately this is how things still work at many companies: an employee, armed with paper and pen, wanders through the warehouse and checks whether the materials required for an important order are in stock. If something is missing, the employee has to go back to the office, where he places an order – usually manually via telephone, email or fax. Valuable time is lost, meaning that the delivery dates might not be confirmed.

Digital material and warehouse management should therefore be fixed components of your company's software, and it's especially important they are used consistently! Each exotic stockplate, every package of spacers, each drum of adhesive; in short everything that you need to process an order must be known in the system!

With optimal configuration, minimum inventories can be stored in your materials management. If a material runs low, your software sounds the alarm and triggers – if you want things to work this way – the necessary re-orders. Of course the prerequisite is that all employees take advantage of the digital materials management. This means that all inputs and outputs have to be booked consistently and stored in the system. With a well-configured barcode solution, this is no problem. Only this way can your digital warehouse management ensure that all required parts are available all the time.

In particular, good materials management as provided by the A+W Business and A+W Enterprise systems, has to be incorporated completely into your order processing system. This means that you can't confirm a delivery date if you haven't already gotten the "OK" from materials management. If your system is configured correctly, the system will automatically query the warehouse system before an order is confirmed and it can be scheduled for production in production planning.

Networking with suppliers - of course your company has to be networked internally across the boards for this kind of automated warehouse and procurement management – otherwise real-time information about the material and procurement situation isn't available.

However, incorporation of suppliers into this networking is becoming ever more important on the path to Industry 4.0. Here, to simplify order communication, digital platforms for the communication and provision of critical information must be created – for in the end, all partners in the supply chain have to be networked digitally.

Thus it is conceivable that in the future, your procurement system will quickly compare various suppliers' ability to deliver and react to the current situation all by itself. With "materials management 4.0" you not only reliably secure your flexibility and ability to deliver, you also save a lot of unproductive work, for your colleague who goes through the warehouse with order papers and a pen can do more useful things in this time.

3. Production optimization always begins in cutting

If the flows aren't right here, you'll quickly note this with the downstream technologies, or – in the worst-case scenario – in shipping.

Cutting is where the initially contradictory requirements "best possible material yield" and "manufacturing in the desired sequence" meet. It's best to achieve these goals by introducing an automatic online sorting system controlled by intelligent software – that is, the lites are fed into the insulated glass line touch-free and in the correct sequence; other machines are operated via harp racks that are also filled automatically. These intelligent sorting solutions are not just worthwhile for large companies; in the meantime, more and more medium-sized companies are using them as well.

You're networking cutting intelligently with the downstream technologies and with shipping: this can be done with automation as we knew it previously, and beyond that and it's an important step toward Industry 4.0 – machines, software products, and people communicate constantly with one another. If you automate your cutting consistently, you're not just optimizing your processes across production, you're also reducing your material and labor costs and increasing productivity, which means that you can cut, sort, and process more glass with fewer employees in the same amount of time. Automating cutting also results in increased quality thanks to less manual handling – your glass is cut, stored, and transported for further processing as gently as possible. In the end, this is the key to better customer service, for automation in cutting is an excellent prerequisite for shorter delivery times – at least if you don't do anything wrong in the processes down the line.

Take a look at our insulated glass customers' software-controlled production processes and see how comprehensive automation optimizes all of production.

Custom-tailored solutions

These don't always have to involve an online sorting system. The most popular automatic compact storage system for your jumbos speeds up cutting optimization. And with the use of intelligent optimization solutions in interplay with residual plate management systems (e.g. HEGLA Remaster) you can make your processes more fluid and conserve valuable material. Automation solutions have to be custom-tailored for your company! Talk to your software partner and machine supplier.

4. The only paper that your production process needs is the barcode label

This way, you can work faster and better. Replace paper with scanners and clear monitors / production terminals.

Employee scans the barcode of the products for production data collection.

It must be possible to call up the location and production status of each lite at all times. For this you need a PDC system (plant data collection) with lite tracing / tracking. Only with well-organized PDC with barcode registration and clear production screens can lites be traced continuously (tracking), identified with certainty, their sequence changed, responses to customer inquiries about production status provided reliably, etc. And only then will the sight of workers re-measuring lites and carrying them from one A rack to another and back with furrowed brow be largely a thing of the past. From this come completely new possibilities, which have an immediate effect on your production:

Example for IGU manufacturers: with modern, complex lite constructions, especially the increasing share of triple IGUs, workers on the line need clear visual information – it's expensive if a lite is installed incorrectly in an IG unit and this mistaken production is even delivered this way! Comprehensive PDC combined with clear production monitors increases security and displays coating positions and reference edges reliably for workers on the IG line.

Example of bad lites: in case of breakage or damage, it is possible to use PDC to identify the bad lites quickly and with certainty. Since everything it networked, setting up a functional breakage pool is child's play: the broken lite is 'read broken' at the appropriate workstation, the lite data is transferred in real time to cutting, and incorporated into the ongoing or next possible optimization. Generally, the remake can still be delivered with the intended route, or at least soon thereafter. This is how you can increase delivery reliability and customer satisfaction.

Thomas Knott, IT manager at Glas Schöninger:

"A+W Barcode Tracking has taken our entire production organization to a new performance level. Only with it are we in a position to truly organize ourselves efficiently without long information paths, complicated inquiries, and time-consuming re-makes. Previously, an employee frequently had to search racks for hours in order to find a sheet if he was not sure whether or not it had been produced yet. Today, he looks it up in the system and that's all."

Precisely in shipping, where finished products from the various departments and various IG lines are combined and must be loaded correctly, identification and registration via bar code reading is enormously helpful. Since all PDC information is reported back to the commercial system, the employees in order processing can always provide customers with an answer to the question "where is my lite?" – the specification of the order number or other identifying data is enough. Modern scanning systems with smart devices as end user devices such as the A+W Smart Companion make scanning easier in production and in the warehouse and also offer infoterminal functions.

A+W Smart Companion: Scan smarter with smartphones.

 

The Norwegian glass finisher Rakvaag is networked with comprehensive PDC – each employee and the management team always have access to all necessary information.

 

5. Optimize shipping and delivery

Well-established production control with a high degree of automation ensures that each lite is produced by the delivery date and is then available for packing and shipping. Now you only have to ensure that the lites are available on the customer's site precisely on the delivery date.

Many flat glass companies have complex packaging and shipping logistics that keep employees on their toes. In addition to complex route planning, the optimized loading of transport vehicles with regard to dimensions, packing types, and glass locations is a challenge. The most efficient and cost-effective optimization and control of an extensive fleet requires a lot of experience and flexibility, not to mention smooth delivery with clean documentation.

The good news: even logistics can be automated! Clever software solutions handle many tasks that were previously performed by hand. You simplify all shipping processes, speed them up, and make them more secure: shipping is also becoming a component of Glass Industry 4.0. Initially, these systems organize the loading and distributed transport racks and boxes optimally across cargo spaces – in the best case, with graphic support. If necessary, this can even mean that other vehicles are used for maximum utilization of transport capacities on short notice, of course always taking into consideration the route planning.

Logistics optimization takes into consideration route limitations (e.g. bridge height or permissible vehicle weight) and traffic information; the system determines the optimal route with the optimal sequence of delivery points. Deviating delivery addresses can also be considered, as can specific time and date promises made to customers. The weight to be delivered is distributed across the trucks so that each delivery station must be visited just once – and so the most appropriate truck is always selected for the route. Required unloading technologies such as on-board cranes are also considered.

And delivery itself is also supported. On the one hand, the shipping department can export the route data to the navigation system; on the other hand, with sophisticated systems, the driver can use a delivery app on a smartphone to book the delivery and report it back to the ERP system A+W Business. There, the dispatch manager can monitor the delivery of the route online and react directly to reports such as "Sheet 0815 broken."

This way, the supplier frequently saves several days and in many cases can deliver the reproduced lite the next working day. The driver also has the opportunity to photograph the delivery with a smartphone (e.g., recording where, in what condition). The picture remains in the system and serves as additional proof of proper delivery, if necessary, documenting deviating delivery points and irregularities, such as damage, etc.

When the customer confirms correct delivery, invoicing can be initiated immediately – and so more time and money is saved. The system also supports the delivery and pick-up of additional racks and it can thus be integrated completely into route optimization. 

6. Network all company areas with comprehensive industry software

From the order process to all of production, on through to delivery logistics.

An employee sits at the computer and works with the software across all company processes from the ordering process to delivery logistics.

Automation, digitalization, production optimization ... we have presented you with a few "construction sites" on which many companies in the flat glass industry are working today. And we have shown that all of this, from the automation of cutting to production to shipping and your service quality can be optimized. However, this requires comprehensive control; if you are working consistently on an integrated platform, that is, with completely networked corporate software.

There are still insulated glass companies that use a collection of software solutions from different providers, but luckily there are fewer and fewer of these – for the isolated solutions are dying out. And the number of corporate groups that are using a different software solution in location A than in locations B and C is declining.


Network all company divisions with a consistent industry software Graphics

At nearly all producers, the basic ERP and production software solutions including cut optimization, which address the core areas of corporate software, come from the same producer. Third-party solutions are available for interconnected modules and add-ons, for example in delivery logistics and for webshops.

Here, we advise caution: even if the software apparently does the same thing and costs less, in the end, this can be expensive. It makes a big difference whether the software for online ordering is integrated seamlessly into your existing order entry or has to be "docked" via an interface. The same applies for delivery logistics solutions: you can only achieve secure integration with your technical and commercial systems if you work together with "your" software partner. Interfaces to third-party systems always conceal potential risks.

With a comprehensive systems, all of your information is available in real time exactly where you need it. Order data is entered just once and made available automatically to all participating company areas. CNC machines should not be programmed in production, but rather controlled online – and this also is only possible with completely integrated solutions. Also consider what we said about materials management: materials management must know in seconds which parts are required – and be able to react similarly quickly and appropriately according to the situation. You can only make the smart factory a reality with a completely networked, intelligent software suite!

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