Is your flat glass company ready 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 lot sizes are usually small, thus, we talk about demanding variant production frequently with a lot size of 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, ever more complex designs, and constant demand, your margins are low. Even for high-end products, excess capacities, cheap imports, a lack of skilled labor, and declining prices are all causing sale prices to drop constantly and decrease margins. Although the industry is actually quite satisfied with current demand, companies experience pricing pressure and subjected to predatory competition.

You have to take action against these challenges in order to prepare your company for the future. Despite all of its problems, you are working in 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 focus your energy on new ways to grow your business.

All five of these challenges require automation—topic 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 of digitalizationand Industry 4.0.

 

Today, automated processes are highly digitalized processes. Digitalization is the future of manufacturing. Without digitalization, you won't be able to remain in 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 can 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. It even 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 let’s examine two 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 or that you should have your entire manufacturing facility replaced with state-of-the-art systems. Instead, it means that you make your production processes part of an innovative network with your software partners and machine suppliers so that these processes are intelligent, efficient, and cost effective. It’s clear that without highly-digitalized machine technology and networked software solutions, Industry 4.0 would not meet its true potential. To meet this potential, you decide the extent to which you automate and digitalize the processes in your Smart Factory, such as how many tons of steels and which intelligent software you need. 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, dealers, 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 still determine the course of everyday business won't be able to make this leap. That is when order processing becomes a bottleneck making the digitalization of quotations, POs, and orders between market partners is of highest priority.

By not adapting to this new way of business, you are not adapting to your customers' changed purchasing habits. Customers order online around the clock, increasingly on mobile devices. Why can’t this happen in the commercial sector, too?

 

Many innovative companies in the glass and window industry understand this and have developed ecommerce sites with mobile online ordering functionality. Online ordering via an ecommerce sites offers customers flexibility, mobility, and time savings. They do not need any installed ordering software or an office terminal, only a mobile end user device on which they can use a Web browser.

With this, the end user can play through different scenarios including product variants, prices, and other options on the website, thus creating the correct quotations because the end user is always working with current data in the producer's ERP system: products, prices, conditions. That means everything fits!


Joel Rosenqvist, CEO Osby Glas

"Our customers“ explains Joel, an enthusiastic ecommerce 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 (an A+W ERP system,). 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 goes back to the office and 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 that 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 system. 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 system. 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. In this way, you can ensure that your digital warehouse management has all the required parts available at the right time.

In particular, good materials management as provided by A+W Business and A+W Enterprise ERP 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 scheduled for production in production planning.

Networking with suppliers means real-time information across all systems including warehouse and procurement are possible. Without this real-time information and internal networking across the company, this kind of automation is not possible.

Incorporation of suppliers into this network 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 because 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; more and more medium-sized companies are using them as well.

They intelligently link cutting to size with downstream technologies and shipping. This goes beyond automation as we know it today and is an important step towards Industry 4.0—machines, software products, and people constantly communicate with each other. If you automate your cutting consistently, you are not just optimizing your processes across production, you are also reducing your material and labor costs, while increasing productivity. That 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 because 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.

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

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 combination 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 (plant data collection) system 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. This results in completely new possibilities, which have an immediate effect on your production:

Example for IGU manufacturers: Modern, complex lite construction requires workers have clear visual information because it's expensive if a lite is installed incorrectly in an IG unit and even more expensive if a production mistake is delivered this way! Comprehensive PDC combined with clear production monitors increases security, displays coating positions, and references 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 is networked, setting up a functional breakage pool is child's play. For example, 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 remakes. 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 barcode 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’s my lite?" by using just the order number or other identifying data. Modern scanning systems with smart devices as end user devices, such as the A+W Smart Companion, make scanning easier in production and the warehouse, while also offering infoterminal functionality.

 

Smart Companion: Cleverer 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 ready for packing and shipping. Now you only have to ensure that the lites are available at 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 transportation 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, meaning shipping is also becoming a component of Glass Industry 4.0. Initially, these systems organized the loading and distributed transported racks and boxes optimallybacross cargo spaces - in the best case, with graphic support. If necessary, this can even mean that other vehicles are used for maximum utilization of transportation 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. Additionally, the shipping department can export the route data to the navigation system. With such sophisticated systems, the driver can use a delivery app on a smartphone to book the delivery and report it back to the A+W Business ERP system. 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, thus saving more time and money. 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.

Automation, digitalization, and 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 cutting automation to production to shipping and your service quality can be optimized.

However, this requires comprehensive control of the entire process, where you are working consistently on an integrated platform with completely networked corporate software. There are still insulated glass companies that use a collection of software solutions from different providers, but these isolated solutions are becoming fewer. In the same vein, the number of corporate groups using different software solutions in different locations is also decreasing. The need for a more cohesive ERP solution is more apparent as the world becomes more digitally connected.

At nearly all producers, the basic ERP software and production software solutions, including cut optimization, which addresses 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 ecommerce solutions.


Network all company divisions with a consistent industry software Graphics

With a comprehensive system, 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 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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