In response to a post recently published on DGB, Leon Day, MD of Universal Arches, adds to the debate and looks at lead times from the perspective of a supplier.

The latest blog by Double Glazing Blogger entitled ‘How’s Your Leadtime Looking?’ has inspired me to look at the implications on the product supply chain in further detail. While PVCu window manufacturing is generally highly automated in this industry, conversely at Universal Arches each of our complex shapes is manufactured by hand, much like the skills employed in the timber joinery sector.

Given the fact that we supply the vast majority of both fabricators and installers with products, with literally customers in the thousands, I would suggest at times we have a unique and unbiased view of our entire industry. Over the last few decades lead times have come down not only for standard white PVCu frames, but for glass, conservatory roofs and also the products manufactured from the shaped frame sector, which have come down in half.

If installation companies have a 4-6 week or even longer order book, then we have to question as to why the general supply chain works on a 7-10 day lead time, some as low as 5. The timber sector often works on a 6-10 week lead time, but we cannot align ourselves to such timelines, the short-termism is now ingrained in our working culture and the pressure is also on fabricators to stock an increased range of foils and wood grains, to satisfy the industry supply standards.

So what happens from the point of deposit on a retail sit, to installation day and subsequent payment? Product specifications are finalised and jobs are planned fairly accurately in terms of installation day. Yet product orders in the industry are often left to the week prior to installation, which for us hand making each individual frame can cause bottlenecks in production, though our ISO 9001:2000 keeps everything in check consistently and to the utmost standard.

If the industry as a whole worked to longer lead times, then surely then we could smooth out the peaks and troughs and operate far more efficiently. Queries further down the supply chain could be dealt with early and there would also be far fewer last minute issues that would need resolving. At the sharp end when an installation company offers a starting date to the consumer, then any subsequent delays would be greatly minimised.

From a manufacturing perspective this would in turn allow for less overtime, lower costs and a positive impact on quality, service and deliveries. The reason cannot be purely down to order processing and administration, but perhaps down to a second survey once the base is down on a conservatory for example or indeed and more likely, for cash flow purposes.

If we consider the process in ordering a new car for just a moment. Within the showroom the final specification of the car and price will be agreed and often this will now be sent electronically to the factory for manufacture. A build date will be quickly established with an estimated delivery date some weeks or indeed months further down the line. For the car manufacturer they can implement their production planning with far greater efficiencies as they are able to ascertain demand in terms of weeks and months. Alas for the glazing industry we work in hours and days.

For those PVCu window fabricators with highly automated cutting and machining centres, short lead times are not really an issue with both slick manufacturing and a UK wide delivery fleet to fulfil the order. But when the product sold becomes ever more complex in terms of manufacturing demands and I’m certainly including the shaped frame sector, short lead times require organisation and meticulous production planning.

With over 20 years in the sector we’ve pretty much mastered the quality led production planning process for hand made frames and our KPI’s as a business are unrivalled in the sector. But have we just created an unnecessary 7-10 day benchmark for all orders, when installation lead times can reach 4-6 weeks or even longer for larger installation projects? It’s certainly a point for debate.

Leon Day

Managing Director

Universal Arches

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