Will 2024 be the year fenestration embraces the future?

Tony Palmer
Tony Palmer

Tony Palmer, head of sales at Edgetech, makes the case for greater automation as the sector faces chronic skills shortages.

Automation will help our industry make more products, more efficiently, to higher standards, and tackle the skills shortage.

At the moment, we’re still very manual – especially compared to sectors like automotive. But in the decade ahead, I think that will change – and we’re starting to see it already.

British fenestration has been through an extremely turbulent time in recent years. Companies have been hit by materials shortages, price rises, and difficulties recruiting.

That’s required them to achieve more with less – less time, less materials and less people.

More units in less time

Faced with those challenges, it’s unsurprising that it’s led to more and more IGU manufacturers embracing automation.

Over the last year, we’ve been approached by a significant number of businesses interested in shifting to automated spacer application.

An automated line allows manufacturers to produce more units in less time, to a higher standard, with fewer personnel, saving them money and improving their profit margins.

We estimate it will cut costs by tens of thousands of pounds every year, increase output by 18%, and require less than half the number of operators.

Tackling the skills gap

However, automation isn’t about replacing people with machines. When we speak to customers who’ve adopted automated lines, they say one of the biggest benefits is that it’s allowed them to redeploy their existing staff.

By automating the most repetitive tasks, it’s allowed them to use their workforce more effectively, focusing on long-term innovation and improvement.

That said – there’s no question that UK manufacturers are struggling to recruit qualified people.

A report commissioned by WorldSkills UK in collaboration with BAE Systems argued that ‘persistent skills gaps are preventing the UK from becoming a global leader in advanced manufacturing.’

It found that 57% of British manufacturers are struggling to access skilled employees, 55% are experiencing shortages in advanced manufacturing skills, while 61% are having the same trouble with traditional skills like fabrication, welding and mechanical engineering.

If those trends continue, it looks inevitable that automation will have to play a greater role in the way glass and glazing operates.

Decades of excellent performance

Most IGU manufacturers might currently operate manual or semi-automatic lines, but that doesn’t mean automation is new to the sector.

A number of early adopters embraced the technology in the early to mid-2000s, and have greatly benefitted from the efficiency gains and cost reductions they’ve delivered.

Today, those machines are reaching the end of their natural service life, and the companies that bought them are now reinvesting.

But the fact they provided 20 years of excellent performance – and the fact manufacturers are willing to buy newer models – shows the long-term value those automated lines have provided.

Refurbished machinery

There’s no question that acquiring a fully automated spacer application line is a serious investment.

We estimate that a new automated line becomes cost-effective when manufacturers are making over 2,500 units per week.

But there are many companies making fewer frames who could nevertheless benefit hugely from automation.

So, what’s the solution? Refurbished equipment.

Enjoy the benefits for less

When companies who’ve already invested in automation decide to upgrade their equipment, their existing machinery can be refurbished, tested to ensure it continues to operate to an excellent standard, then sold on – at a significantly lower cost.

Refurbished equipment offers IGU manufacturers the chance to enjoy all the benefits of automation for less.

For manufacturers making over 1,500 units a week, taking the refurbished route is an extremely viable way of supercharging their production capacity, and making units more quickly and efficiently than ever before.

Speak to the experts

As ever, if you’re interested in learning more, we’d be delighted to hear from you – don’t hesitate to get in touch.