CNC Technology Brightens Solar's Window & Door Horizons
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Pine Grove, PA-based Solar Innovations Inc. custom designs and engineers doors, windows, greenhouses and other glazed structures. The privately held company employs 140 team members at its 225,000 square foot corporate office, its manufacturing facility and in field installation crews.

Greg Header, president, and Darren Coder, VP of installation, started Solar Innovations in 1998.

The company’s main business in its early days was structures and skylights, but as time passed, Solar Innovations began producing doors and windows for independent sale or incorporation into their glazed structures. The company expects to ship between $20 million and $30 million in 2014, and serves niche markets that include horticultural greenhouses, residential/hobby greenhouses, operable walls, and operable/retractable roofs.

“Solar Innovations’ product line has been developed to fulfill product and customer needs,” says Melissa Reinhart, marketing manager. “Solar Innovations’ first doors and windows were created to ensure a reliable and functional supply of products was available for inclusion in our products.

“As time went on and Solar Innovations’ notoriety spread, we became the ‘go to’ company for challenging projects and serving customers unique demands. Some of our most innovative products have been derived from a customer’s request.”

The company offers its products internationally, but mainly in North America. Because of Solar Innovations’ product mix, its strongest markets are in the Northeast U.S. and on tropical islands. The company expects its export sales for 2014 to be slightly above 5% of total sales, much of it due to large international projects.

Solar Innovations has seen a huge increase in demand for big doors.

“This might seem like something 10’ tall to the non-door production market, but when we say big doors we mean doors 15-20’ high,” says Reinhart. “This might be for a single unit, like a pivot style front door, or for an entire operable wall, which can be challenging.

“That’s why Solar maintains an in-house engineering team. Solar’s engineers know our products, their capabilities, and understand the codes that apply to them. We can even provide stamped drawings if our customers require them for permitting.”

Because of the custom nature of its products and the precision machining required, Solar Innovations tries to complete as many operations as possible in-house. Pull handles, hinges, door catches, trolleys, bearings, and more are manufactured by the company itself to ensure exact specifications are met.

“Since each unit is mocked up in our facility before shipping, it is also convenient to manufacture hardware in-house as we can make any custom parts with ease while we are looking at the final product mocked up,” says Reinhart.

Solar Innovations also places a strong focus on living and working green. The company says it makes environmentally sound choices from product inception, to testing, to production, to shipping, to installation, and during each of the processes which occurs in the background.

“Solar’s LEED Gold Certified corporate office and manufacturing facility is proudly 85% off the grid and 98% landfill free,” says Reinhart. “We also have solar thermal hot water and heating for several of our greenhouses.”

Incorporating New Technology

Keeping up with technology that strengthen its products and processes is important to the company. Reinhart says that Solar Innovations’ ERP system (enterprise resource planning, business management software) is one of its most valuable investments.

Solar Innovations also utilizes machining centers from Scm and others, which provide the ability to handle linear aluminum, wood, hardware, and hinges in-house. Finishing lines for both powder and liquid paint allow for a high level of customization at competitive prices.

“Technology is very important to our overall production both at the machine and process levels,” Reinhart says. “In the future, Solar plans to focus on more up front automation of planning for automated programming/costing and bill of material during the production phases.

“Solar believes that in today’s business environment, as well as with today’s labor force, efficient, reliable, affordable machinery will be key to companies maintaining their competitive edge in the growing global economy.”

The company has redesigned its workstations more than once to accommodate its changing product lines. The incorporation of finishing equipment at Solar Innovations’ facility has aided in the completion of several large projects in a more timely manner and with greater quality controls. Automation, plus enhancements in process and production, will be essential to Solar maintaining its success into the future Reinhart says, though manual work still has its place.

“Because of the custom nature of our products, Solar still completes a reasonable amount of work by hand,” says Reinhart. “Recently, our wood finishing systems have been upgraded with the inclusion/implementation of automated sanding, finishing, and multi-coat sealer and stain equipment.”

Solar Innovations uses an Accord 30FX CNC Router from Scm Group. The company spent time researching available options and visited the same equipment in use at Scm’s Georgia facility. After viewing the product in action and assessing the capabilities, company history, and product lead time, Solar Innovations chose Scm for its machining needs.

“We had a few large projects come up that required us to be able to machine specialty wood shades out of architectural glue laminates, and we looked for various machines based on their speed, flexibility, and everything else,” says Greg Header, president.

“This machinery has provided Solar with the capability to functionally produce wood products for the architectural glazing industry,” says Reinhart. “This has enabled us to produce prototypes for design and testing purposes.”

Header says Solar Innovations brings in pre-sized architectural glue laminates, whether they be oak, cherry, sapele, or other species, in raw lengths. “We will plane, mould them down, cut them to length, and then put them in the Scm,” he says. “We’ll have the Scm pre-programmed for all of the mortise and tenon joints, fastening holes, clips that will go on, and any other grooves that are required.”

Support after the purchase was another factor in Solar Innovations’ choice of Scm. Reinhart says that although the company’s internal team is proficient with troubleshooting equipment, it was imperative that Solar Innovations have good product support and after-the-sale service from its suppliers.

“When a machine is down, we always like things better, faster, and quicker, but considering the fact that Scm is an Italian company with a base in America, I find them to be above the curve,” says Header.

“Knowing where to get parts, and who our ‘go-to’ contact would be for basic equipment info makes all the difference in our ability to operate and service the product,” says Reinhart. “Having a reliable U.S. office available to us helped to finalize the purchase of the Accord 30FX CNC Router as well.”

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