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Trends in Door Manufacturing Driven by Market Demand
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CARMEL, Indiana--April 30, 2004
 
As the pace of construction cycles gets faster and faster, it's true more than ever that time is money. With tighter margins, tougher competition and higher costs, design/build firms need to shave job cycles as thin as possible. As a result, contract hardware distributors have less time to respond to a contractor's needs. To help meet these needs, door manufacturers have had to redesign their manufacturing processes and look for ways to reduce their lead time in order to meet the market's demand.
 
Tightening the Cycle
 
In the world of commerce, "just in time" has become the norm. Design/build firms are watching their margins and looking to minimize the costs of buying and storing the materials for a job. They recognize that it is smart business for them to match the progress payments they receive as closely as possible to their cash outflows for materials. This gives the contract hardware distributor less time to process an order and get the materials to the jobsite.
 
Door manufacturers also feel the pressure as their lead times continue to compress. They are responding in two distinct areas. In engineering, detailing and order entry, they are turning heavily to information technology (IT). In the manufacturing process itself, they are relying more and more on automation techniques.
 
In the past, the time required to produce a custom door and frame order was split about evenly between engineering and manufacturing. As lead times have shrunk, most of the available time is now needed for production, so manufacturers have looked toward automating more of the front-end processes and tying them to manufacturing as seamlessly as possible. The eventual goal is to use the same information systems that enter an order to communicate with the machine tools and automated processes that produce steel doors and frames.
 
IT offers the potential to eliminate duplication and reduce the up-front time before an order goes into production. Once the system learns and catalogues all the necessary information for a job, it is available to all parties in the fulfillment chain on an as-needed basis. Each can search for and extract only the information that is relevant to his or her needs. As IT systems continue to grow, they will bring benefits to everyone from the design/build firm through the contract hardware distributor to the manufacturer and contractor.
 
Within the production process itself, manufacturers have been making time-saving improvements for some time. Ten or fifteen years ago, lead times for custom doors and frames averaged eight to twelve weeks from receipt of order to shipment. Today, the time to ship the same products has shrunk to 10 days or less. Previously, manufacturers used a batch system in which they tried to maximize the efficiency of their equipment by grouping all similar items that required a given operation. For example, they would try to produce all the 18 gage doors that were due within a week at the same time. If the doors were scattered among 300 different customer orders, the manufacturing operations for those doors were completed but the rest of the items on the orders may not have been. Today, the focus is on producing all the items on a customer's order and getting it on its way to the field.
 
This is possible in large part because of the flexible production equipment used today, which requires less special tooling and is more easily programmed to handle a variety of parts or operations.
 
Where Is It Heading?
 
It's not unforeseeable that, within five or ten years, the architect or designer, distributor and manufacturer will all communicate seamlessly from specifications through orders. As it is, there is still too much redundancy in the detailing and entering the information for an opening. After an architect or designer determines the requirements for the opening and transfers that information to the architectural drawings, the distributor has to do takeoffs and re-catalog the information in a different format. When it is ordered, it is written up in still another format for order entry and most likely yet another for manufacturing.
 
Some software programs now provide a way to manage the specifications through the first part of the process. They help reduce errors and save time by eliminating useless duplication of effort. As they expand further into the order entry process and then into the manufacturing sphere, these improvements will continue. Likewise, the numerically controlled production equipment now in use is driven directly by data developed in engineering. Instead of just designing a door or frame with AutoCad, manufacturers are utilizing full CAD-CAM capabilities to minimize the time between engineering and manufacturing as well as the chance for errors.
 
Beyond these areas, the next emphasis may be on packaging and shipping. As optimum efficiencies are squeezed out of each step of the process, manufacturers will continue to look for other areas where they can achieve greater efficiencies and continue to increase the overall velocity of their business.
 
These trends will help distributors optimize their processes as well. As they partner with manufacturers that have expedited their lead times, distributors will be able to close more jobs. With construction cycles becoming more and more compressed, the large jobs often are won based on who can get the material to the jobsite when the contractor needs it. Furthermore, the time saved as jobs move more quickly through the process can then be used to grow the business instead of re-entering information and fixing errors.
 
The bottom line is that tighter time frames can be better for the bottom line. The faster jobs move through the manufacturer and the distributor, the more efficiently they use their invested capital, and the better their ROI looks at the end of the day.