Taking heritage VS, into the future
Quickslide has invested £1.71million into a new, bespoke Schirmer machining centre. Glass Times editor, Luke Wood, visits the company’s Brighouse based HQ to find out more about how the new machine is helping to revolutionise production of the company’s vertical sliding window range.
Whenever I talk to someone who has been in the industry for any length of time, and ask them what are the most significant changes they have seen during their career, the increased use of automation in window and door factories is always right at the top of the list.
I have been around many fabrication facilities over the years, and typically there is always some new – and very expensive – machinery taking pride of place in the factory floor, designed to improve throughput of product while delivering exceptionally high standards of quality.
And the same could be said of Quickslide’s latest investment at its Brighouse HQ. The manufacturer has recently installed a new, state-of-the-art Schirmer machining centre, equipment that promises to set even higher standards for its vertical sliding window offer.
All of which is great, but is it really that different to the new machines being commissioned by other fabricators around the country?
Well, yes it is actually and for several key reasons. For starters there is the sheer size of Quickslide’s investment, which at £1.71million, brings the amount that the company has spent on infrastructure since February 2022, to £2.7million.
With a footprint of 4,120ft2 it is twice as big as Quickslide’s existing Schirmer machining centre. It took three days to be delivered from Germany and two months to install, including software and training, and it meant the 150,000ft2 factory had to be completely reorganised in order to accommodate it – including taking the difficult decision to remove IGU production, which is now outsourced.
Perhaps more importantly though, is the fact that this Schirmer is entirely bespoke to Quickslide, with the most obvious upgrade being a parallel line dedicated to steel reinforcement that works in perfect harmony with the machining centre.
To demonstrate just how big an impact this has had on Quickslide’s VS production, my tour of the factory includes an opportunity to get ‘hands on’ with the manual tasks that the new machine has made obsolete.
Even for the time served fabricators on the factory floor, it’s a relatively laborious process, one that is now taken care of with much greater speed, but also with vastly improved tolerances.
And while the new Schirmer currently doesn’t completely eliminate the requirement for traditional, manual production of Quickslide’s VS range, the company has plans to bring in an additional phase of investment in the near future that will introduce even more advanced levels of automation.
Ben Weber, Quickslide’s managing director, said: “A vertical sliding window is complex, perhaps more so than any other type of window frame. It has always required precision manufacturing, and this equipment now allows us to bring a lot of the preparatory processes online, enabling us to produce consistent quality and output all the time.
“Quickslide was certainly pioneering in the development of the affordable replacement vertical sliding sash window and as such we have continually developed and improved the authenticity of our frames over the last 20 years. This is vitally important for an audience that places a great deal of emphasis on historical accuracy, whilst the windows must also comply with the latest Building Regulations and performance standards. The Schirmer allows us to deal with all these factors, improving quality whilst boosting throughput and therefore lowering lead times.
“I once calculated – or attempted to calculate – the number of VS design configurations that we offer and without including bespoke colour-bonding we’re looking at more than a trillion,” continued Ben. “Our designs and options are ever more complex and the Schirmer means we can do all of these configurations without adding to the lead time with the confidence that we have mastered the art of getting it right, fast and every time. I believe that we already offer the fastest VS lead time in the industry but can do so whilst also offering the greatest choice of design and specification options.
“Better material utilisation on steel reinforcement has already been achieved with the switch to 6m lengths rather than cut sizes with steel optimisation directly matching profile optimisation of profiles, which is better than 96% plus. We have also trialled the use of RCM [recycled composite material] reinforcement and it works very well. The RCM is around 35% of the cost of steel, is sustainable, is as effective and runs through the saw as usual and suitable for windows on the smaller size without compromising on performance or quality. The flexibility of the Schirmer allows us to trial and experiment freely.
“Labour reduction has been achieved by removing our reinforcing station,” he adds. “Critically, this is not the primary reason that we introduced the saw, but less reliance upon recruiting and training high quality staff is a key consideration these days.”
That last point by Ben is an important one, because while Quickslide has invested massively in automation – and in an equally impressive IT and software set-up that includes bar code scanning at every workstation, through to quality control and onto its delivery fleet – people remain very much at the heart of the business.
Nurturing talent and generating a platform of opportunity for employees at all levels of the organisation is a key part of the company ethos.
That is matched by Quickslide’s commitment to its customers, as the company’s chairman, Adrian Barraclough, explains: “There are businesses out there that will try to grow by actively targeting a competitor’s customers, but that creates a very negative situation. Will that competitor come back at us? Will that new customer be encouraged to continue switching suppliers?
“It’s a far more positive, and more efficient, solution to help our customers grow, which is why we have invested so heavily in our Trade Partner programme and in our service.
“We have a team of five in our in-house IT and R&D department and that’s been instrumental in helping us to implement the changes on the factory floor and also with our deliveries,” continued Adrian.
“Customers get a text message to say that their delivery is on the way and to provide them with an ETA, and because those products are scanned onto the van or lorry, the driver has to scan them all off as well, which means peace of mind that there’s nothing missing.
“There’s no paperwork, there’s less chance of anything getting lost – we’ve designed it to be fool proof. Ultimately, the main driver of all our recent investment has been in improving customer service.
“As a result we work closely with our Trade Partners but we also look closely at any potential new customers who might enquire about the Partnership,” explains Adrian. “If, for example, they’re only interested in cheap prices, then that’s not what we’re about, we would recommend that they partner with another supplier.”
Ben Weber concludes: “The length of time that it takes to produce a VS window now compared to 15 years ago has reduced significantly, and with our new Schirmer we are setting new standards for quality and complexity whilst further improving lead times, and doing much to at least stabilise costs, despite the pressures everyone is experiencing.
“We’re here for the long term and by re-investing we’re automatically strengthening our trade partners and our future growth as supply partners. We were voted Fabricator of the Year in the 2022 G-Awards which was recognition of our commitment to excellence and to improve our status as one of the market-leading fabricators for heritage-style PVC-U vertical sliding frames.
“This is further proof of our long-term commitment to doing things how we believe they should be done.”