Volume 7 Issue 3 March 2006
A Company to Bank On
Gossen Counts on Cellular PVC as the Window Option of the Future
by Alan B. Goldberg
Options to wood are not new. Vinyl remains a popular choice, particularly because of its maintenance-free feature. But vinyl, like wood, is a very mature product and, according to Robert Simon, industrial market manager for Gossen Corp., the market is looking for an alternative.
75 Years of Service
For more than seven decades, Gossen has thrived on innovation and creativity, according to company history. Its founder, Martin Gossen, established a small business in 1928, on the current site in Milwaukee, Wis., after he invented the first spring-loaded window sash-balance which eliminated a counter balancing weight for opening and closing a window. A turning point in the company’s history occurred in the 1960s with the next generation of the Gossen family. The founder’s son, John, transformed the company into a manufacturer. With the sash business gone, he purchased an extruder and started making weatherstrip. In the mid-1960s, after hearing about cellular polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which was being produced in Europe, he brought a chemist to the country to help start an operation. Innovative like his father, he developed a process for extrusion through the “free expansion” of PVC in which the raw material expands when exposed to air. The first product was interior decorative cellular PVC to go with paneling. It was so successful, the family sold the company to U.S. Gypsum in 1973. Twelve years later, Gypsum sold the Gossen business to Georgia-based Coastal Mouldings, a manufacturer of wood trim products for construction. Coincidentally, since 1985, the company has nearly tripled in size. Coastal has since been absorbed into the company, which is independently owned by Jeff Butterfield. Gossen employs approximately 300 people at three facilities, totaling 300,000 square feet: its headquarters and main manufacturing plant in Milwaukee; a distribution center five miles away; and a new manufacturing facility in Cartersville, Ga., that was built in 2004. Previously, manufacturing was done at a Coastal plant nearby. Today, according to the company, it extrudes more than 40 million pounds of PVC a year. Sales for 2005 were $50 million.
The Appeal of Cellular PVC
Describing the benefits of cellular PVC over wood and vinyl, Simon says it can be fabricated just like wood but it offers a longer life cycle.
“You can saw it, drill it, rout it, machine it, paint it, glue it and nail it. The difference is that, unlike wood, it won’t rot. It can also be welded like traditional vinyl, but it has a stronger weld,” says Simon.
He points out that one of the most appealing features to manufacturers is that it can be machined on the same equipment used for wood so there is no need for a major capital investment. Cellular PVC has the same screw and nail-holding power as Ponderosa Pine. It is easy to bend, using a hot air convection oven, which makes it suitable for creating round top, circle, elliptical, oval and octagon-shaped windows.
Cellular PVC also performs better than wood. According to company literature, it insulates 60-percent better than wood, 214 percent better than rigid vinyl and it will not absorb moisture.
“Nothing outperforms cellular PVC as it relates to protecting the edge of the glass [the weakest point],” says Brian Emanuel, senior product/sales engineer.
He explains that it has filled the need for profiles and trim, particularly where exposure to moisture is a problem for wood. He says that cellular PVC was first developed for molding and trim and then it grew into window and door components and eventually an entire profile.
Another appeal is with colors. The company offers five different colors from capstock although there are no limitations to color. Components can be painted using off the shelf exterior acrylic latex paint.
“We give manufacturers a good alternative in a ‘me-too’ market,” adds Simon.
In-house tooling capabilities is one factor that makes Gossen unique.
“Tooling is where we excel in technology,” says Fred Ihlenfeld, plant manager.
He says the company has the latest equipment in electrodialysis machines (EDM) and CNC.
Made by Charmilles Technologies, the EDM cuts parts out of a solid block of steel to form the extrusion die, which is the first stage in the tool-making process. Alongside the EDM’s in the tooling room are programmable CNC milling units, similar to those used in door and window operations. Made by Miltronics, they cut the steel, or profile, that will be extruded.
“By making our own tools, we have so much more latitude and control over how we operate,” adds Ihlenfeld.
A team of tool and die designers, working from specifications, modifies software to accommodate each order. Emanuel points out that with the latest 3D CAD design software, the company can make substantial improvements in common design and manufacturing processes.
“We can design, fabricate, model, assemble and validate all of the components in our window and door systems before we ever make a tool,” he says.
Emanuel explains that once customer specifications have been established, the company is able to deliver a complete billing of materials showing a drawing of every part needed to make its window system.
The company considers itself unique with another in-house operation. By doing its own compounding, Gossen is able to customize and alter formulations as needed, explains Bob Simon, vice president of sales and marketing.
“With this technical advantage, we can respond quickly to orders without relying on an outside source,” he says.
Ihlenfeld points out that “manufacturers will ask us to build proprietary tooling because they want a certain look. Nobody wants something off-the-shelf.”
He explains that while there may be countless numbers of formulations, no two profiles will have the same formulation.
“By changing the formulation and modifying compounds, we can pass many of the tests for heat deflection, UV, weathering, absorption and for color,” says Ihlenfeld.
One Batch at a Time
The company’s batch processing is unlike traditional or hollow vinyl extrusion.
“We don’t just dump material into the extruder. Each batch is custom formulated to a customer’s specifications and there is a cooling process as part of the operation,” adds Ihlenfeld.
Single-screw extruders are set up in lines to do dual extrusions. The company uses both free foam (blows outward) and celuka (blows inward around a mandrel) processes. Presently, there are 26 extruders at the Milwaukee plant and 28 in Cartersville.
“We started there [in Cartersville] with eight lines plus our door jamb lamination and machining department. That plant now has 28,” says Bob Simon.
The extruders are manufactured by Davis Standard. According to Ihlenfeld, the manufacturer’s reputation for reliability was a key factor in selecting them. Although maintenance and support are often key issues with machinery suppliers, that is not necessarily the case with Gossen.
“We pretty much handle our own maintenance,” says Ihlenfeld. “With a full-time, skilled crew and the capability we have inside, it is highly unusual for us to require outside help,” says Ihlenfeld.
Both manufacturing facilities operate on a 24-hour-a-day, seven day-a-week schedule.
A lot of resources are used on testing products for customers, according to Bob Simon.
NFRC test results of a replacement window fabricated with the company’s components showed that the cellular PVC frame was 144 percent more thermally efficient than a standard vinyl frame and the cellular sash was 55 percent more thermally efficient. The tests were performed by ETC Laboratories.
“We know that we have to do this [testing] if we are going to satisfy the builders, remodelers and architects in North America,” says Bob Simon.
For safety and training, the company follows OSHA guidelines. Based on company policy, everyone goes through formal training sessions, regardless of their position.
The company takes pride in its management structure.
“We work as a team rather than taking a traditional hierarchical approach. We are big believers in the open management style even though there are no specific managers to each department,” adds Bob Simon.
Gossen sees a very bright future with its cellular PVC. But there are challenges, such as the rising cost of energy and raw materials and imports of components. On the other hand, globalization could present opportunities outside of the United States, in Russia and the Balkans.
“We’re selling to 80 percent of the top manufacturers, and we expect our products to be the first choice of architects and builders in North America,” says Bob Simon.
With a forecast of 14 percent growth for 2006, it’s no wonder that Gossen is banking on cellular PVC as an option for the future.
Alan Goldberg is a contributing writer for DWM. He has 31 years of experience in the insulating glass industry.
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