Raising the Bar on Polishing
Glastender builds bar equipment faster thanks to AM Machinery, Autopulit.
Walk into any fine restaurant or bar and the things you notice are obvious: expensive décor, fine china, cloth linens and an extensive wine list.
What is often overlooked—the workhorse of many great establishments—is the equipment behind the bar that keeps drinks and ice cold and the glasses and silverware clean and spotless.
No one notices the sink, unless perhaps, you are Mark Norris from Glastender, the Saginaw, Michigan-based manufacturer of a full line of underbar equipment, including underbar sinks, glass washers, cocktail stations, back bar refrigeration and complete beer systems.
Norris is vice president of operations for the family-owned firm, which was founded in 1969 by Jon Hall, who invented the world’s first automatic rotary glass washer that saved space and eliminated wasted steps for bartenders running dirty glasses back and forth to the kitchen or hand-washing them one by one.
Nearly all of Glastender’s high-end commercial food service products are made from stainless steel. The units are laser cut or punched from stainless steel sheets, deburred, bent, welded, finished, assembled and then shipped out the door for the next happy hour to begin.
“It’s a very extended process that some people never realize goes into a piece of equipment like that,” Norris says. “It takes time, but our customers always seem to want things very quickly, because our products are often the final items that go into a new restaurant or bar.”
That puts Glastender on a time crunch, something that happens constantly at its factory but often can’t be rushed because of the hands-on craftsmanship of welders and assemblers who put all of the pieces together perfectly before the entire bar package gets shipped.
In the past, the grinding operators would spend several hours on a three- or four-bowl sink section to knock down the edges and smooth out the welding seams. But Norris went looking for a speedier alternative and found one.
“We were robotically welding the underbar sinks, and then hand grinding them to get the finish we wanted,” he says. “That was taking about 40 to 45 minutes for each bowl, and when you have three or four of them, it cost us a lot of money in labor.”
The bowls are stamped out from a piece of sheet metal, then a top wrap is formed and the two are welded together. From there, the assembly is welded into a work service, which could be a sink section or portable bar.
Thus began the process of sanding and grinding the numerous welds to get a clean finish. The unit was put into a vertical machining center to help clean up the service even more, and although the result was a shiny new underbar unit, the considerable time spent was eating into production schedules and margins.
“We just came to the conclusion that we needed to get better at this,” Norris says.
The search for an automated sanding, grinding and finishing system was part of an overall plan by Glastender to automate its entire process to ensure consistent quality, improve safety, save money and speed up production, in order to meet customer installation dates.
Norris admits that his production system for finishing was not in the best shape 15 to 18 years ago. There were no standards on processes, no scheduling systems and no formal plans in place to streamline operations or provide quick turnaround to customers wanting products as fast as possible.
Glastender revolutionized its manufacturing approach when it eliminated departmentalization of employees by skill set, and grouped them, instead, into product teams. A group of employees would take products through the entire process of deburring, bending, welding, finishing, assembling and shipping in order to experience the processes as a team, and thus be able to identify improvements along the way.
So the refrigeration team worked one product line, the glass washers another, the underbar team another, and down the line. As the teams got to know and understand the overall processes, efficiencies began to materialize, including a better way to sand and grind the welds.
“We punch or laser cut about 28,000 parts a week, and we don’t set anything on a shelf, we are just-in-time,” Norris says. “Four days after a sheet of stainless is delivered from our automated raw material warehouse, those parts are in our shipping department in the form of fully assembled product ready to ship to the customer.”
But Norris wanted to speed up production without jeopardizing employee safety, a serious priority for Glastender. In fact, in 2014, the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration once again recognized Glastender for excellence in workplace safety and health, a distinction the company has received annually since 2011.
“They have created a culture where protecting workers is a top priority,” says MIOSHA Director Martha Yoder, “They recognize that a safe workplace provides the foundation for a productive workplace.” She says Glastender’s facility has an excellent system in place, incorporating each of the award’s requirements: hazard anticipation and detection; hazard prevention and control; planning and evaluation; administration and supervision; safety and health training; management leadership; and employee participation.