Clear leap: Colonial Glass makes giant changes to production procedure, policy and image
People used to come to Colonial Mirror & Glass Corp., look at the machinery and joke that it was like visiting a museum, says Zachary Weiner, president. Now, the shop barely resembles the past in terms of layout and machinery.
“With the exception of a polishing machine and the existing oven, we’ve replaced or moved around every single piece of equipment in the shop,” Weiner says. “It’s a dramatic evolutionary leap.”
The foundation of the giant leap: new machines and a partnership. The day after Labor Day, the company turned on its second tempering oven, a customized system based on the Tamglass SuperConvection Batch-Type Horizontal Flat Glass Tempering System With Convection. The oven was part of the company’s $2 million expansion and upgrade. The upgrade also included a state-of-the-art Bottero CNC jumbo cutting table, a Bottero Lami Cutting machine, a TopDrill vertical hole and notch system, and a coal generation machine.
The partnership is with C.R. Laurence of Los Angeles. In the first week of October, Colonial partnered with CRL, one of its suppliers, to sell only CRL hardware unless quoted otherwise.
“All Colonial doors will now have CRL shoes,” says John Rotchford, Colonial’s operations manager.
Since its inception in 1929, Colonial has made progressive steps to keep up with the times. The company entered the tempered glass business in 1979 by purchasing a computer controlled glass tempering furnace. Before that, it used to manufacture mirrors, and process and distribute flat glass from domestic and foreign manufacturers.
“In 1979, we were the only glass shop in town,” says Marie Staub, a sales manager who’s been with the company for 18 years. “Now we have three in our backyard. There’s a lot of competition, and technology has a lot to do with it. The price of tempered glass has gone down, financing is fabulous, so anybody can go into the business. And our competition can do it cheaper because they are non-union, and faster because they don’t have our solid work ethic.”
Weiner agrees. “The behavior patterns in market segments have not changed significantly over the years, other than an overall demand for higher quality and strict on-time performance,” he says. “This is a direct result of increased competition, primarily since the availability of less expensive fabrication equipment from China. It has been a challenge to compete with the recent crop of small non-union tempering shops that enjoy somewhat unfair financial benefits.”
To compete with the non-union shops, Colonial is attempting to change the mindset of its employees.
“In January 2004, we introduced the employee-of-the-month honor based on attendance, ability and attitude,” Rotchford says. “This is a precursor to performance-based compensation. In the union environment, the employees know you have to break a rule in order to lose a job. But we want them to get used to getting rewarded for performance and for improved attendance.”
Production boards in the cutting, polishing, drilling and tempering sections of the shop measure tack time or how many pieces a worker produces per minute.
“Employees are taking this very well,” Rotchford says. “It started off as a competition and made the employees a part of the improvement processes. Now they know every 30 minutes how they are doing, not every month.”
Production hours also have changed. “We used to have two divisions and one or 11⁄2 shifts,” Staub says. “Now we have three shifts running 24 hours a days. The way we do business has changed. Five years ago, the third generation—Zachary and Dana [Weiner Bello, vice president]—came into place and took the company up to the next level.”
The only way to go was up, Weiner says. Glass production of the past was an art form, he says. Talented craftsmen were skilled in glass cutting, hand polishing, beveling and mitering. “As the glass industry evolved, craftsmen gave way to automation,” Weiner says. “Modern glass fabrication requires a skill set of mathematics, including basic geometry and trigonometry, and blueprint reading.”
To keep pace, Colonial embraced the lean enterprise model in 2002 and transformed from a traditional batch-and-queue production facility with one glass thickness production a day to a flexible system in which each thickness was tempered daily. Consequently, Colonial’s on-time performance percentage rate and production capacity increased significantly during the past four years.
“We put twice as much glass out,” Rotchford says. “We were averaging 30 to 35 orders a day. In 2006, we are averaging 55 orders a day. In addition, the number of pieces per order has also increased between 15 percent and 20 percent.”
The big change
The idea of the recent expansion and upgrade stemmed in 2004, Weiner says. “We went to our top customers and asked what they wanted to see in the shop,” he says. “They said they wanted us to produce insulating glass and better quality shower doors.”
Accordingly, “we have a new shower door production cell with the TopDrill system integrated with our smaller CNC cutting table and one of the three inline polishing machines. Glass in this cell can now be cut, polished, drilled and notched with minimal movement and handling.”
Last year, Colonial also introduced two product lines: InsulSteel insulating glass units and SafetySteel security glass. The new products join the company’s three existing lines: GlasSteel Tempered Glass, GlasSteel Tempered Doors and GlasSteel Shower Doors. In the next three to six months, Weiner expects to offer spandrel glass.
All Colonial products are certified by the Safety Glazing Certification Council of Sackets Harbor, N.Y.
The company currently operates two CNC cutting tables with an automated numerically controlled rack system and a laminated glass cutting bridge; three polishing machines and a new shape polisher/ beveler; two drilling stations with a vertical numerically controlled hole and notch machine; two tempering ovens capable of tempering, heat strengthening glass from 1⁄8-inch to 3⁄4-inch and up to 96 inches by 168 inches, and using convection technology for coated glass products such as low-emissivity.
With the addition of the new machines, the company has reduced the number of workers from 10 to eight in the cutting department and from 10 to six in the drilling department. It has redeployed them to the new tempering oven and to other parts of the shop, Rotchford says.
“There was an adjustment period as office staff learned new ways to handle customers and workers had to relearn how to make glass,” Weiner says.
The first wave of cleanup in 2000 resulted in a huge resistance from the workers, Rotchford says. “We removed toaster ovens, fridges and hot plates from behind the machines,” he says. “And we made them a new lunchroom instead. We used employee feedback to improve the project.”
Managers were let go in 2002 and 2003, Rotchford says. “The first would not accept any changes,” he says. “The second could not work in a lean environment. We sacrifice yield on glass for customer satisfaction, apparent efficiency for effectiveness. In the overall scheme, it’s more profitable. We compete on service rather than on price. We don’t claim to be the cheapest shop out there, but we’re on time all the time.”
The lean manufacturing techniques paid off. Rotchford says Colonial doubled its revenue from 2003 to 2005.
The biggest strength of the company might also be its biggest weakness, Rotchford says.
“We have a name and established reputation in the local industry, and that’s also a weakness because Colonial used to be a small-time outfit,” he says. “Our main competitors are J.E. Berkowitz L.P. [of Westville, N.J.] and OldCastle Glass [headquartered in Santa Monica, Calif.]. But no one would consider Colonial for, say, a 50-shower-door project for an apartment complex. Those are the bread-and-butter projects you drool on. People knew when Colonial’s oven went down, they were dead in the water. Now we have two ovens. We’re getting better at it, but it’s incredibly difficult to change your customers’ mindset about a company.
“The company used to focus on how best not to break a machine. Now we focus on customer service,” Rotchford says. “We had to take the ‘Brooklyn’ out of ‘Colonial.’ ”
Jeff Blinder, president of S & J Entrance and Window Specialists Inc., Farmingdale, N.Y., considers Colonial’s biggest strength to be the people. “They seem to be family-oriented” he says. “When need be I can pretty much speak to one of the family, like Dana, who goes out of her way to help. I may not always like what I hear, but it’s the truth.”
The other strength is the capacity in the location, Rotchford says. “Nobody has our capacity in the tri-state area; we’re dead in the center, in Brooklyn,” he says.
Blinder benefits from Colonial’s location. “They deliver to my shop, some times twice a day, and always with two men on the truck, which means they offload without my men’s help,” he says.
S&J has been buying heavy tempered glass and glass doors from Colonial for the past eight years.
The location also works as a weakness, however, in terms of resources.
“It’s challenging to get a qualified work force to come to work in Brooklyn,” Rotchford says. “So, we’re training people. We have work instructions posted at every machine. They focus on system requirements and quality requirements. Each one is about a page long, and if you follow the instructions, there shouldn’t be a problem. If a customer finds a defect, it means five people didn’t do their jobs.”
As part of strategic planning and in an effort to be a one-stop shop for glass, as of January 2006 the company began operating under the name Colonial Glass Solutions.
“We no longer manufacture mirrors, so we dropped mirror from the company name,” Weiner says.
The next “evolutionary leap” for Colonial will be producing insulating glass, Weiner says. “Most of the preparation we’ve already made will be used for producing the insulating units,” Rotchford says. “Eighty percent of the purchases made will be used to manufacture IGs, and we expect to start production in six months to a year.”
The company plans to replace the older, 20-year-old oven in about a year to 18 months. “We will get a larger oven capable of handling jumbo glass,” Rotchford says.
Colonial Glass Solutions
Manufactures and distributes flat glass products, tempered and non-tempered, including laminated, wire, frosted, patterned and insulating glass, as well as shelving and custom fabricated glass
Top managers: Zachary Weiner, president; George Weiner, chief executive officer; Dana Weiner Bello, vice president; Marie Staub, sales manager; John Rotchford, operations manager
Location: One, 43,000 square feet
Products: Fabricates and tempers flat glass and glass door products with associated hardware, insulating glass units and disaster-resistant/ security glass
Annual sales: $10 million
Connections: 35 Kent Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11211, 718/388-7667, fax 718/388-3457, www.colonialglass.com.