At Simonton Window's fabrication facility in McAlester, 90 miles south of Tulsa, officials marvel at the increased demand for vinyl profiles for the window market. The 202,000-square-foot McAlester site transforms 100,000 feet of vinyl lineals per day into window and door systems.
The demand for vinyl has pushed Simonton of Parkersburg, W.Va., to expand at McAlester, adding two new production lines in April and 40 employees for a total of 450 workers. In February, officials moved the firm's Vacaville, Calif., fabrication plant to a 195,000-square-foot site to gear up for growth.
``There are times when we pull vinyl right off the truck and put it on the line,'' said Chris Randall, quality manager for the McAlester site, in a June 1 interview at the location. ``We have a one-week turnaround on a vinyl window. We're [located] throughout the country to meet that one-week lead time.''
Officials of the privately held firm are mum about growth in extrusion at its Simex division in Parkersburg. That division feeds all of the firm's fabrication facilities, including McAlester, which has been open since 2002.
But Simonton is bent on staying ahead of the game as a niche player providing 100 percent custom windows in a market where international competition and outsourcing are creeping in.
``That's one of the things we tell our employees - that we'll never go south of the border, we'll never outsource,'' said Steve Fairfield, general manager of the McAlester site.
The window sector was a bright spot for profile extruders in 2004, despite being a mature market. According to an analysis of extruders that serve the window market, 2005 means additional growth.
Expansions are justified by increasing business, said Bill Uhl, president of MarkeTact Consulting LLC of Centerville, Ohio, whose firm specializes in the fenestration and building products industries.
High historic levels of housing starts are driving higher volume for all window suppliers, Uhl said in a May 31 e-mail.
``The advantage for vinyl windows is their usage in starter homes through midprice homes, which account for the majority of starts,'' Uhl said. ``Builders are designing with more windows and mulled units in conjunction with high ceilings and open floor plans to achieve the `spacious feeling' without significantly adding floor space.''
In addition, homeowners have money for home improvements by tapping into increased equity in their properties from rising market values, Uhl said, and the market has been boosted by the healthy level of existing home sales.
``Since major home-improvement expenditures are made within the first two years of homeownership, high resale rates are driving up demand for windows and doors,'' Uhl said. ``This should continue, barring a significant rise in mortgage rates.''
According to the American Architectural Manufacturers Association and the Window and Door Manufacturers Association, vinyl window market share continued to grow in 2004, by 11.7 percent in terms of shipments. Vinyl windows were particularly strong in the new-construction market. Fiberglass and other composites remain a small but quickly growing portion of the overall market. From 2003-04, fiberglass grew by nearly 30 percent.
The Washington-based National Association of Home Builders predicts strong activity in the remodeling market during 2005.
``We saw solid growth in the first quarter of this year and continued positive momentum into the next quarter,'' Dave Seiders, that group's chief economist, said in a May 24 news release. ``Calls for bids, amounts of work committed and backlogs of remodeling jobs are all up, leading us to expect continued healthy growth over the balance of 2005.''
The plastics industry is seeing the optimism, with investments by companies like Milgard Windows of Tacoma, Wash., which is spending $36 million for its second North American extrusion plant, to be built in Surprise, Ariz.
Veka Inc. of Fombell, Pa., is constructing its fifth extrusion site, in Terrell, Texas.
Chelsea Building Products Inc. of Oakmont, Pa., acquired a profile extrusion line from Krauss-Maffei Corp. in May.
Hans Spijkerman, president and chief executive officer of Chelsea, said by telephone June 6 that the company grew about 10 percent last year in terms of sales; this year, officials project growth of 15 percent.
In addition to standard vinyl, its extrusion line from Krauss-Maffei can process composite material and cellular PVC. The firm's capital focus in 2005 will be continued investment in flexible and high-speed extrusion lines.
Silver Line Building Products Corp. of North Brunswick, N.J., finalized an order for five dual and two single downstream lines from Custom Downstream Systems Inc. of Lachine, Quebec.
``I don't think the announcements are done,'' said Kurt Waldhauer, president and chief executive officer of extruder maker American Maplan Corp. of McPherson, Kan. ``We'll see some additional capacity added in major extrusion houses this year. Overall, the profile business is going to be a good business.''
The firm is working on an extruder expressly designed for the profile market, marrying Maplan technology with that of sister firm Battenfeld Extrusionstechnik GmbH of Bad Oeynhausen, Germany. Waldhauer said the machine will be released commercially in the third quarter.
Extruder Mikron Industries Inc. of Kent, Wash., has plans in place for capacity upgrades at its headquarters facility, at Winnebago, Ill., and in Richmond, Ky.
Part of the expansion will increase capacity for composite window profiles and coverings, said Richard Morgan, Mikron's marketing director.
Beyond extrusion, other firms have announced expansions in fabrication.
Alside Inc. of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, announced earlier this year its plans to open a 200,000-square-foot fabrication site in Yuma, Ariz.
According to Associated Materials Inc.'s 2004 annual report, vinyl windows have gained acceptance in the new-construction market for several reasons: builders and home buyers recognize vinyl's favorable attributes and lifetime cost advantages; local building codes require more energy-efficient windows; and national manufacturers are increasing their development and promotion of vinyl windows.
Still, not all plastics-related firms serving the window sector are expanding.
ThermoView Industries Inc. of Louisville, Ky., has suspended all development of its Compozit window, a product for the replacement segment extruded from composite ABS through a joint venture with Royal Group Technologies Ltd. of Woodbridge, Ontario.
Officials in 2002 had announced plans to shift from vinyl to composite ABS. During the past year, officials said, material prices have increased seven times, resulting in a greater than 100 percent rise in material costs.
``Going forward into the rest of 2005, we will address gross profit margin,'' Charles Smith, ThermoView's chief executive officer, said during a May 24 conference call announcing first-quarter results.
``We are currently ... implementing product pricing as a tool to combat the effect of these increasing costs,'' Smith said. ``The cost pressures affecting Thermoview's operations are impacting our entire industry as well as the broader economy.''