One Canadian window and door manufacturer, Sunview Patio Doors (now called Novatech), transformed production into a lean manufacturing model with Industry 4.0 technology. Previously, the company was moving the material manually and with tow-motors (forklifts). Automating the process required a flexible and efficient solution that would help transition production to the lean manufacturing model. This was necessary to increase safety and keep up with evolving market demands, which required lower price points, faster delivery times and more customizable products.
Sunview needed a flexible and efficient solution to a complex logistical problem: ensure the right materials were delivered to the right spot at the right time and find a safer option to replace the tow-motors.
As the window and door industry was evolving, the need for a lean manufacturing model was becoming more critical in order to remain competitive. Every single option that a customer selected when designing their product had to be accounted for in the manufacturing process, which was very difficult to manage with an organic factory layout and manual material movement. Globalization and improved access to worldwide travel resulted in increased consumer expectations for similar designs to those seen in, for example, Italian villas. These new trends drove a need for innovation.
“In this business, you have to be able to make something different tomorrow without it costing you an arm and a leg to adjust,” says Tony Margiotta, president of Sunview.
While addressing the need for flexibility and efficiency was the main priority, the company also valued safety and wanted to find a more optimal solution than adding more tow-motors on the factory floor.
“It’s very easy to become complacent when you deal with something repetitive every day,” says Kurt Oberparleiter, vice president of operations for Sunview. “Tow-motors can be extremely dangerous for this reason – they are stronger than a car, driving around within inches of people, which obviously impacts safety.”
Sunview Patio Doors has more than 40 years of experience. The company has solved one of the industry’s top challenges: meeting customers’ increased demands for faster and better service while providing an option for product customization. The ability to adopt digital technology allows Sunview to satisfy customers and compete globally in the marketplace.
Efficiency is key to Sunview’s success, which is evident in its ability to manufacture 70,000 to 80,000 units annually. This success can be attributed to the new leadership team that took over the business in 2008 and focused efforts on increasing productivity in operations. The new team knew there was room for improvement, namely around infrastructure and efficiency, and started to look into industrial automation.
Meanwhile, the industry was beginning to undergo significant changes. Windows and patio doors were no longer a standard size, thickness and material. There were now endless options when it came to glass, price points, size and overall aesthetic.
Customers began to expect customized options, but the manufacturing facility at Sunview was not set up to operate that way. The company knew that in order to be successful moving forward, it needed to move to a flexible manufacturing model.
“Anytime you acquire a new customer, they want something slightly different from the last,” Margiotta explains. “Our customers are educated, they have done the research and they know what they want.”
When customers expect flexibility in product design that translates into moving things around a lot in the factory, which is a complex logistical issue that Sunview successfully solved with cutting-edge technology.
The best solution
When it came to choosing the best solution to address the problems of safety and meeting customers’ growing demands, the leadership team at Sunview considered many options. They initially looked at automated guided vehicles (AGVs), but found limitations that ultimately proved to be insurmountable. AGVs rely on guidance devices such as magnetic tape, beacons, barcodes or predefined laser paths that allow the AGV to travel on fixed paths in a controlled space. In some cases, AGVs cannot operate around humans, which was simply not an option for Sunview.
“In our case, that magnetic strip would probably be cut on day one, or someone would put something in front of the sign posts stopping the entire operation,” Oberparleiter says.
An autonomous mobile robot (AMR) solution from Otto Motors provided Sunview the flexibility, reliability and safety benefits required.
“Otto filled a niche that was incredibly tough to do,” Oberparleiter explains. “I didn’t even think it was possible. It runs like a bus. The vehicle drives around objects that are put in its way and fulfills a need that a human, quite frankly, couldn’t do.”
Adapting to changes
That’s because the AMR utilizes laser-based perception and artificial intelligence to dynamically move through facilities. Otto combines the benefits of manual labor, conveyors and AGVs to provide the most advanced method of material transport.
Onboard sensors and software allow the AMR to understand its environment and adapt to changes in real time. This includes detecting and avoiding people, obstacles and equipment, which ensures a facility’s operation isn’t impacted by obstacles in the aisleways.
The response from customers and prospects that tour the factory and see Otto in action has been incredible. “The factory sells for us,” Oberparleiter says. “It awes people who come to see it. It helps our sales organization close deals because people see it and immediately understand that Sunview is a forwardthinking, innovative company, and they want to do business with us.”
Implementing the AMR was a seamless process that quickly produced positive results. After implementation, Sunview was able to reach an ROI after only 16 months and shift employees to higher valuedadded roles. The team at Sunview worked with an integration company to develop design criteria to quickly get Otto up and running. Overall, it has allowed Sunview to standardize processes, improving the entire flow of the plant while continuing to meet customer demand.
“Otto delivers material to the right place, at the right time,” Oberparleiter concludes. “It’s the first type of material handling equipment that has a 100 percent safety rate. We haven’t had a single incident and it’s been over a year.”