Investing despite uncertainty: A look inside two glass industry factories
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of touring two glass industry plants in Minnesota: the Cardinal CG location in Northfield and the Erdman Automation facility in Princeton. The plants provide very different services to the industry: Cardinal offers coating, high-volume cutting and tempering services; and Erdman produces a variety of machines for window manufacturers and IG fabricators. However, they are similarly impressive in their skill, service level and ability to address the challenges of a still-lackluster economy through investment and diversification.
Vern Volkert, plant superintendent, served as tour guide for the Cardinal CG plant, held as part of the Window and Door Manufacturers Association Technical Conference, June 26-28, in Bloomington, Minn. (We couldn’t take photos during the tour, but Cardinal has a nice video of the plant on their web site—click “Cardinal Plant Tours” in the menu; the CG plant tour begins at 6:57.)
While the facility is not operating at full capacity—it employs between 150 and 160 at its max, and currently has about 90 to 100 workers—the company has taken strides to improve and update its equipment, and ready itself for an evolving industry. An impressive recent addition is the company’s new coater. After two years of preparation, Cardinal recently brought online a second coating machine that was designed specifically for the solar market, allowing it to diversify into a new business segment. As the company waits for solar to pick up, it is running residential products on the state-of-the-art line.
In an additional move to face economic challenges with innovation, Cardinal has started making its own equipment. The Northfield plant is already using some Cardinal washers.
North 90 miles, officials at the Erdman Automation facility are also relying on innovation and diversification to thrive and even grow in the current economy. The company, which primarily served the window and door market in 2006, is now serving the curtain wall, insulating glass and solar industries as well. Erdman is also expanding geographically. “In the early years, we were just in the United States,” says Jim Tibesar, sales manager. “Now we’re in Canada, South America, China and Europe. We recently started working with a customer in Barbados.” Tibesar led the tour, along with Paul VanKempen, general manager; Michael Schmidt, IG sales specialist; and Jessica Erdman, marketing manager.
The company has made investments in its own machinery, including the purchase of an advanced bridge mill machine. And, Erdman has made investments in its product line to serve advancements in the industry, such as its secondary sealant applicator for triple-glazed IGUs, and its machinery products for solar. Below is a video from Erdman demonstrating its Solar Frame Assembly Station.
Devlin is senior editor for Glass Magazine. Write her at email@example.com.