Case Window and Door follows the principles of materials science to make high-end custom windows that are not only attractive, but surpass many of the national standards for construction and durability.

 

The great room window wall of this Garrison, NY, residence is 66 feet wide and 18 feet tall, with true muntins in the Gothic style. The observatory at the top features curved glass windows.

Photo credit: Christopher Lovi

Case Window and Door might not be the biggest window and door manufacturer around, but it has some big ideas. Situated in the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution, this Green Island, NY-based company designs and builds high-performance, attractive windows and doors, while adhering to the principles of materials science.

“We are very bound by materials science in what we do here,” says Russell Brooks, principal and co-founder. Materials science, he explains, concerns the characteristics and uses of various materials, such as wood, glass and metals, in certain areas of science and engineering. “A thorough understanding of materials science is key to our success.”

“Materials science plays an important role in relating the desired properties and relative properties on any material we use, be it of organic or non-organic matter, to any given application,” says Gerhard Loeffel, principal and co-founder. “For example, I analyze wood based on species, specific weight, volumetric movement and moisture content for lamination and its intended use. It is equally important to know the compatibility and performance criteria of all materials, like wood, metals, glass, adhesives, finishes and caulks.”

This thorough understanding means employees have to be knowledgeable on a broad number of factors. Once installed, the windows and doors are subject to a wide range of environmental factors, such as: wood shrinkage; differences between indoor and outdoor heat and humidity; rain, snow, strong winds, etc.; chemical agents, such as pollution and cleansers; biological agents like fungus; and long-term everyday use.

With this knowledge in place, the company is able to construct a product that will not only withstand these punishments, but continue to function properly throughout its lifetime.

The company’s adherence to materials science and its mindset for design comes from the European system of manufacturing windows and doors. Literature from the company attributes its lineage to the master windowmakers of Europe. This includes everything from elements of the shop’s design to use of the metric system.

“We use all metric in the shop,” says Loeffel. Loeffel, a German Master Windowmaker, is continuing a family tradition of fine European windowmaking (see sidebar on page 46). “The first thing employees have to learn is how to read the metric tape measure.”

“In Europe, wood window and door manufacturing, and almost all woodworking, is a real science,” Brooks explains.

This door has been tested to withstand hurricane-strength impacts. Click to view a video of hurricane impact testing.

Quality Counts

When dealing with high-end projects, quality has to be second to none. This means the company takes extra care in such things as finishing, hardware, testing and installation. To ensure each piece is free of errors or defects, the company has a rigorous quality control system in place.

“When it leaves (the factory) I want to know it’s right 150 percent,” says Loeffel.

At each step throughout the production process, pieces are inspected for damage and defects. Instead of patching or repairing small defects, such as tearouts, a new piece will be made to replace it.

“No tearouts go out,” remarks Brooks. “That’s because we take pride in what we do, and because the industry has evolved that way. In the U.S., windows are about being pretty.”

The Case System effectively combines “pretty” with functionality and durability. Because many of the company’s windows and doors are installed in mountainous or costal regions, they must be able to withstand all sorts of inclement weather.

According to Brooks, most of the windows are constructed using a three-ply lamination and include hidden channels to protect against extreme weather conditions. Gasketing is fitted to the entire perimeter of the window and a number of other features help to protect the wood and finish.

The windows and doors are tested to the unified air, water and structural standards. According to Brooks, Case’s windows and doors exceed the most stringent standards for air, water, structural and hurricane.

Once the windows have been completed and have been shipped to their final destination, Loeffel says he will travel to the construction site and show the contractor how to properly install the product.

“The amount of service we provide to both the architect and the contractor is sometimes overwhelming,” he adds.

This large window in the finishing area not only enables the employees to inspect the windows and doors in natural light, it also provides a more motivating atmosphere for the employees to work in.

Old World Ideas, New World Production

Production at Case is an amalgam of ideas and techniques from Europe and the United States.

The building, for example, is designed in the European style, with large windows throughout the production area and a window wall in the finishing and assembly area. The windows, which total 4,000 square feet of glass, let in fresh air and natural light.

Both Brooks and Loeffel joke that other woodworking shops in the area refer to their facility as the “country club.”

However, Loeffel says the natural light and the view improves employee morale, adding that a proper work environment is needed for a quality product to be made.

In addition to the natural light, the 40,000-square-foot production area features radiant heat and year-round humidity control, thereby maintaining steady moisture content in all the wood going through the shop.

Lumber is purchased based on each project and comes into the shop already ripped to width. Employees use Whirlwind and Panhans saws to cut the boards, and a Polzer laminating press is used to produce the three-layer laminates for the windows and doors.

About a year ago, the company purchased an SCM Routech 240 CNC machining center, which is used to complete most of the work on each piece. The machine allows Case to consolidate many operations, while only using one employee.

Loeffel says it is important to educate the core employees, therefore training is an ongoing process.

“The more they cross-train, the more they understand how what they do is put to use,” he adds.

Software is another crucial component of the technology used in production. Alpha Cam and Autodesk are used in product design and 3E production software is used to take the job from the quote and design process to production. Case even uses the software to create a layout of how the product is to be loaded into the truck for shipment.

“I’m a firm believer in more technology on the production floor,” says Loeffel. “We feed the machine with information from the 3E software, where orders go from sales to the SCM machine.”

Each piece receives a three-coat finish before the hardware is installed and the final product is staged for shipping. With an average of two to three large projects in production at any one time, the company keeps busy.

Projects flow through the U-shaped facility from machining to finishing to assembly and staging.

“Right now we have a very nice backlog,” says Brooks. “The biggest challenge for Gerhard and me is to keep a flow that doesn’t have big holes in it because of the size of the projects.”

Building a Case for Better Windows

Brooks says he and Loeffel met in the late 1980s at a trade show. In the years following, the two collaborated on a couple of large-scale, multi million dollar projects in New York. Seeing the amount of opportunities available for high-end windows and doors, the two decided to go into business together.

“We started the business thinking we were simply going to make very high performance windows for people who would like better windows in their homes,” explains Brooks. “When I read the business plan that I originally submitted, I laugh.”

“When Russ originally started peddling our business plan he was laughed at,” says Loeffel.

“Thirteen banks threw me out,” remarks Brooks. “They said nobody built houses like that. [However,] there’s been this explosion in the last five years or so of these estates, these very, very large homes, and it’s not just in a couple of places.”

“I think we’re still in the growing stage,” Loeffel remarks.

“We feel we’re at a point now where we’d like to make people more aware of what we do, that we engineer products to performance levels that are unheard of and still have the look of furniture,” Brooks adds.

Click above for another hurricane test demonstration.

 

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