The connected factory

Glass Times reports on how innovation is making fabricators smarter and giving installers access to a more integrated service.

Manufacturing is in the midst of a technological renaissance that is transforming systems and processes in production, and creating the connected factory.

The theory is that the expanded power of the web should be exploited to link machines, sensors, computers, and people to deliver more information, better monitoring, data collection, processing, and analysis. The insights that it delivers should bring about better products and better service to the customer, as well as delivering efficiencies in house.

“Systems and processes have to be focussed,” Roberto Canassa, director of IT at Emplas, said. “If you improve things operationally and at the right touch-points with the customer, then you deliver the right customer experience.

“My role is to drive, with others, continuous improvement throughout Emplas’s operations but to do so through systems and processes.”

Roberto entered the window industry in 1998 when he joined Cambrian Windows, heading up its operation before its acquisition by the Masco Group.

“We took Cambrian from 400 to 3,500 windows a week in just four years, and we did it through systems and processes,” Roberto said.

Emplas’ has been an early-adopter of technology. It launched its online ordering system and Window Designer in 2013 and its new Door Designer early in 2015. Accessed via the manufacturer’s online portal (or EVA, the Emplas Virtual Assistant) launched in April last year, installers can log-on from any PC, laptop, tablet or mobile phone, to access a secure quoting and order processing system.

It has also recently launched its new composite door designer, which exploits First Degree Systems’ app-based Fengo technology. This allows installers to build doors with the consumer independently of an internet connection.

Customers can also track IGU orders through a tie-in with the barcode tracking system offered by its glass supplier, Pilkington, in addition to order tracking through its own production process.

This means that almost two-thirds of its trade customers are now opting to place orders online.

Behind the scenes, Emplas has spent the best part of a £1 million on the latest cutting, drilling and routing technology, which means that the fabricator can consistently work within a 0.1mm tolerance.

This has been accompanied by an additional £2 million investment on its new factory extension, extending Emplas’ operational footprint by a third, with a further £1 million investment in machinery scheduled for October this year.

Emplas has also committed to six-figure spends on cloud technologies and networking infrastructures underpinned by investment on the ground in its six-strong IT team, plus three dedicated software programmers.

“We have improved our ordering systems, so that we can deliver greater flexibility to our customers but we are also investing in connecting those systems so that they talk to each other more effectively and deliver a better service to our customers,” Roberto said.

Its investment in IT infrastructure also played a central part in Emplas’s launch of Optima last summer, which was preceded by the introduction of a new stock control module.

The system, which features a six chamber outer-frame and five chamber sash, achieves U-values as low as 0.8W/m2K and an A++ WER.

“Optima is a very good system, and it allows us to manufacture a very high quality window, but introducing a new system represents a host of potential challenges around stock holding, which could have impacted on service,” Roberto said.

“Our new stock module, which was developed with the purchasing team, supported us through the introduction of Optima, minimising the impact on the customer.

“In monitoring and controlling our stock levels more effectively we can make better use of it, which ultimately allows us to deliver better service to our customers, improving our efficiency and competitiveness.”