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Crestline Windows let quality shine through.

Extensive planning of productivity and quality control programs, as well as state-of-the-art CNC machinery, allowed Crestline to get its new Mosinee, Wis., plant to operate at peak efficiency within six weeks of opening.

When Wausau, Wis.-based SNE Enterprises Inc. decided to consolidate its window operations from five area plants to one central location, the company had one goal that each employee must strive for: total customer satisfaction. To help its 800 employees attain excellence, the nation's fourth largest window and door manufacturer implemented a three-pronged strategy.

After deciding to locate a new plant 20 miles south of Wausau, Wis., in Mosinee, Wis., the company turned to its employees for design and planning advice before plant construction began. Second, the company implemented three separate quality control programs when the plant opened and finally, it installed advanced machinery and manufacturing processes to assist employees.

The strategies worked. Not only did Crestline turn a profit in last year's tough economy when many other manufacturers suffered losses, but the company also did not miss a single customer order during the start-up of its new facility. Today, the 660,000-square-foot plant manufactures and ships more than 15,000 windows weekly under the home improvement center-targeted Crestline and the millwork/ specialist-targeted Vetter brand names. The company also retained one of its original smaller plants in Stevens Point, Wis., 20 miles south of Mosinee, to perform specialty window operations such as arch shaping and laminating.

Open door policy

"We have an excellent working relationship with our employees and with the Union of Carpenters and Jointers," said Ken Fabel, director of manufacturing. Employee feedback was an integral part in the design of the new plant because company president James Sardo stressed that a total quality culture includes direct employee involvement.

"Every area had direct input with the plant design engineers, including supervisors and hourly workers," said Dan Nordgren, manager of manufacturing and engineering. Employee input paid off, because only six weeks after the plant's opening in January 1991, the plant was operating at 100 percent efficiency.

Quality control is of vital concern, because Crestline offers a 10-year warranty on all of its products. After bringing the new plant on line, the company also started conducting Total Quality Culture seminars that stress the value of quality to employees. The two-day seminars require every employee, from secretaries to CEOs, to undergo intensive awareness building/training programs that instill worker pride in the finished product. "It's a great program," said Kathy Dahlke, creative services manager. "It allows hourly employees to rub elbows with upper management and exchange ideas on how we can make the best products possible."

Shutting out defects

In addition to the seminars, the company added three quality control programs in the new plant: Value Added Manufacturing, Statistical Process Control and Just-In-Time inventory control. These programs were designed to be ongoing forms of guaranteeing customer satisfaction as well as speeding up the manufacturing process. "With these programs, the company has placed so much power in the hands of its employees that if any employee thinks there is a compromise in product quality, they can shut the line down until action is taken to correct the problem," said Nordgren.

The VAM, or Value Added Manufacturing concept, allows employees in the subassembly area to work in cellular work areas. Employees are cross-trained on machines so that they are able to perform different operations on other machines. If a tenoner operator finishes running one batch of parts, the worker may move on to a different machine to perform drilling or routing operations on the tenoned parts.

"The program allows workers to perform three operations," said Fabel. "It breaks up the monotony of working the same job on an assembly line, allows them to control different quality aspects and add more value-added features to the part instead of the part sitting on the factory floor and waiting for its next machining operation," said Fabel.

Operating hand-in-hand with VAM is SPC, or Statistical Process Control, which is a quality control operation that defines the limit of processing and maintains within those processing limits. For example, a moulder is running at a certain feed speed while producing a part that has a caliper tolerance of 0.005 inch to 0.010 inch. If the operator takes a 0.005-inch reading at 11 a.m. but gets a 0.008-inch. reading at 2 p.m., the machine will probably produce a part that is out of tolerance by 6 p.m. and will need to be adjusted.

"The SPC is a good way to tell us where something is affecting the process, whether it is the machine or the operator and it helps us learn the characteristics of each individual machine," said Nordgren. SPC also gives maintenance crews a few hours to gather the specific parts needed for the repair.

The company also uses Just-In-Time inventory to control which parts need to be manufactured, which parts need to be sent to other facilities and how much finished product is to be shipped to millworkers or home improvement centers. Using a bar coding system that was specifically designed for the new plant, Fabel said, "We now know what we have to produce. Before we built this plant, we used to have seven to eight weeks of raw glass inventory on hand. Now we probably have a week's worth." Although the plant only manufacturers around 60 percent of Crestline's finished products, it serves as the window parts distribution center for all other area plants.

Looking inside

The temperature- and humidity-controlled plant uses kiln-dried ponderosa pine in all of its wood construction. The question of future supply of raw material has Fabel concerned. "Right now the availability of raw material is good, but prices have increased forty to fifty percent. Wood quality has decreased because the smaller logs being harvested have more defects. As an alternative, we're looking at laminated products and other options," he said.

The plant receives its wood cut from Crestline's rough mill plants on the West Coast or as cut stock from outside vendors. Parts are then machined on one of 10 Mattison four-head moulders. After moulding, parts that require tenoning are sent to the plant's workhorse, a Jenkins 14-spindle CNC tenoner. "This machine can cut up to 200 different profiles and has a changeover time of 12 minutes," said Ted Strong, manufacturing engineer.

Depending on their applications, frame parts are finished either on two Binks spray guns that apply a top coat stain or are dip coated in DAP wood preservative or white latex paint from a EAC dipping station. Parts are then dried in a natural gas-fired oven.

Frame assembly for windows is performed after Aqua-Crylic siliconized acrylic sealant is applied to joints to protect frames from wind and water penetration. Sash pieces are placed in either Systematix or Carlson computerized frame clamps that are equipped with Senco pneumatic staplers or Spotnail and Hitachi pneumatic nail guns. "The clamps have been programmed for different window frame sizes, and all the operator has to do is punch the window model number in and the machine sets itself up," said Strong. Depending on the frame, a variety of nail and staple sizes are used.

The frames then receive silicone glazing from a Besin auto-glazing system that holds the glass to the frame. Many of the glass inserts are argon-filled double pane windows which, according to Fabel, were pioneered by Crestline. Argon gas-filled windows are superior to normal double pane windows because of argon's insulating properties. Heavier than air and invisible, argon does not distort the view through a window and when combined with an ultra-thin silver coating on the glass, offers increased insulating properties. Pane edges are treated with polyurethane sealer, and final mating of the window to the frame is completed when acrylic sealant is applied through Aro pneumatic regulators and glazing strips are installed.

The windows are shipped through one of the company's 55 loading docks. Fabel estimated that 15,000 to 20,000 units are shipped weekly, with aluminum clad windows making up 60 percent of the shipments and the remaining 40 percent being of solid wood design. "We think the future trend for windows will be the maintenance-free designs, like aluminum or vinyl clad. Customers shopping for windows today want to put a window in and forget about it," said Fabel.

What's on the horizon

With major markets already established in the Midwest and Northeast United States, the company plans to expand its market to Canada now that tariffs are being eliminated by the Free Trade Agreement. However, instead of building a plant in Canada, the company has purchased additional land around the Mosinee plant for future expansion. "We have enough space to expand our plant to over 1 million square feet," said Fabel. "We've experienced continued growth, and housing starts, which is one of our industry's major indicators, are up so business should stay strong. "

Although not specific with what type of machinery would be added in the event of expansion, Fabel said, "Rather than eliminate operators, we would buy equipment that takes out human error. That way, the employee is not replaced, but the machinery speeds up the operation and gives that employee the tools to produce a higher quality product."

And Fabel said expansion, quality- minded workers and the right machinery can keep Crestline on top in a very competitive market. "We feel we can remain a state-of-the-art facility because we've been able to incorporate world-class manufacturing," he said.


Crestline got its name in 1959, but the company's roots go back 100 years.

* In 1892, Harris Brothers Lumber Co. was founded in Chicago. The company specialized in lumber and building materials pioneering pre-cut and pre-fab housing, schools and garages. Attorney Robert Lincoln, son of President Abraham Lincoln, was retained to incorporate the company.

* In 1933, prominent architect Frank Lloyd Wright hired Harris Bros. to furnish all millwork and furniture for his personal residence.

* In 1946, Harris Brothers purchased Silbernagel Millwork Co. of Wausau, Wis. In 1951, the name was changed to Silcrest Millwork Co.

* In 1959, the company's name was changed to Crestline Millwork Co. The company discontinued its line of standard millwork to concentrate on manufacturing only windows and doors.

* In 1964, Crestline developed a standard 10-working-day delivery schedule for its wood windows and doors and used its own fleet of company trucks. The company pioneered shipping in truckload quantities instead of the common railroad carload.

* In 1968, factory finishes on doors and windows were offered as a standard feature.

* In 1974, the company's name was changed to Harris Crestline Co.

* In October 1981, the Harris family sold Crestline and its subsidiaries to Sentry Insurance, a mutual company with a building products division and headquarters in Stevens Point, Wis. Sentry had previously acquired Vetter Mfg., a window and door manufacturer that had been founded in Stevens Point in 1892. Sentry combined the companies under the SNE Corp. name and centralized operations in Wausau, Wis.

* In 1987, SNE Corp. was sold by Sentry to LaSalle Capital Investment Group and the name was changed to SNE Enterprises Limited Partnership. In December 1987, the company purchased Kenergy Corp. of Orlando, Fla., a manufacturer of skylights.

* In March 1989, SNE was acquired by Ply-Gem Industries and today is the ninth operating subsidiary of Ply-Gem.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Vance Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:includes related article on the history of SNE Enterprises Inc.; plant management at SNE Enterprises Inc.
Author:Derning, Sean
Publication:Wood & Wood Products
Date:Jul 1, 1992
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