Best way to order glass: Learn from Viracon’s Six Sigma project

By Seth Madole
September 1, 2006

Glass provides many benefits in solar energy performance as well as aesthetics. To that end, numerous combinations of substrate colors, coating types, glass thicknesses, heat treatments, spandrel colors, silk-screen patterns, interlayers and air spacers are available in the marketplace today from a wide range of suppliers.
Top 4 missing components on purchase orders. Source: Viracon Inc.
This complexity could pose a challenge when its time to order glass for a project. An average glass makeup could potentially introduce more than a dozen opportunities for omitting important information. As with any material, failure to order the correct product could lead to costly errors and loss of valuable time and profits.

To define and reduce variations in the key process areas for ordering glass products, a team of experts at Viracon used Six Sigma management tools and methodology to map out the process.

A multistep process
The team discovered that the process to order glass begins at the glass sample selection and approval phase completed by the architect. During this phase, the glass type is selected and the information is then forwarded to the contractor and then to the supplier. This information passes through multiple hands, making many people part of the glass-ordering process. Therefore, careful attention should be taken in confirming the glass-makeup description. Documentation and approval sign-off that confirms the glass makeup for ordering purposes is ideal. This documentation could be in the form of the physical glass sample that was selected or a copy of the tag from that approved sample. This will provide additional reassurance that the correct product will be supplied.

Ask yourself: What is the necessary information required to order glass? Aside from the obvious, such as glass-makeup components, glass size and delivery off-load equipment also will be needed. A good supplier will want to know all of the critical product and project information upfront. A recent study conducted by Viracon of 600 randomly selected purchase orders revealed that the most commonly overlooked information includes glazing method, wind load, complete glass makeup, delivery details and packaging requirements.

In many cases, an architect, contract glazier or glass-shop owner may not even realize that all of these items will be necessary upfront. For example, the glazing method and wind load are very important to identify since they both will be used to calculate the required amount of silicone contact for insulating glass units.

The Six Sigma team, called the Purchase Order Review-Six Sigma team, observed variations in purchase order formats; some handwritten, some faxed, some e-mailed, some include certain product or project details and some do not. It was apparent that handwritten formats could pose an increased opportunity for misinterpretation due to individual writing styles. Of the purchase-order documents reviewed in the study, handwritten numbers illustrating size or quantity, along with poor-quality fax transmissions, posed more situations that required salespeople to question illegible or difficult-to-interpret numbers.
Order makeup checklist
To reduce variation and assist in making the process easier, the Six Sigma team developed a makeup-checklist tool and a standard order template tool. The checklist tool, shown at right, identifies all possible components of glass makeup, and the order template complements the checklist while being user friendly and offering consistency in the process. These tools have proven to be beneficial for those who have elected to use them. Results of a pilot study, conducted with 30 customers of varying sizes, showed   61 percent complete and accurate information received prior to using a standard format, to 93 percent using the standard order template tool.

Sign on to best practices
No matter if you are reading this as the supplier, the purchaser or the designer and specifier of glass, your role in adhering to best practices becomes extremely important to the success in ordering and processing the correct final product. Working together from the beginning to the end of the process will ensure accuracy and efficiency, and maintain valuable profits for all parties involved.

If you are interested in learning more or would like to obtain any of the tools mentioned above, Viracon would be happy to assist. Please call  800/533-2080 or visit



The author is inside sales manager for Viracon in Owatonna, Minn., 800/533-0482, ext. 3727,