I find plant tours fascinating. Over the past 20 years, I have seen millwork, steel fabrication and a window manufacturing and visited several case goods (furniture) and upholstery plants as well throughout MN, WI and NC. Technology is changing by the day and it is amazing how science really partners up with craftsmanship and ingenuity to make a better product.
John and I recently toured and took classes the Marvin Windows factory in Warroad, MN and it was great to meet the people behind the product. It is a company where you can tell they have a passion for what they do and an appreciation for their employees and community. Warroad is remote with a population of about 2000 people. It is located approx. 6 miles from Canada in northern Minnesota, so we traveled via the Marvin commuter jet and were there in just a little over an hour. The Marvin plant in Warroad is 45 acres and 7 buildings large! The plant in Warroad total 2 million square feet…….not a small place to see!
I found it really interesting that they now use camera technology to cull through their wood at Marvin (something that was added in the last year). It takes pictures of the different sides of the board and determines where to cut for optimization of the lumber for parts. They use approx. 90% of the wood for Marvin window parts and 100% of the waste is reutilized. The sawdust heats the boilers that heats the plant (and it is almost balmy in there…which is good for the wood). The remaining wood chips get sent up over the RR tracks to a neighboring farm/business that packages and sells for farm animal bedding, etc. Overall, I got the sense that they make environmentally responsible choices in their manufacturing. This is something that probably many people do not know.
Marvin’s extruded aluminum on their full line windows is something that sets them apart from the competition. After seeing the craftsmanship in person, I have a greater appreciation for how they cut this 1.2 mil extruded aluminum (very hard and thick metal)…sometimes with several profile cuts and compound angles to make elaborate grid patterns. For example, envision the gothic style grilles where all those arching (compound) angles meet up. Those are all hand fit and trimmed (I noticed this role is typically by women who are very detailed). On the simulated divided lite windows (SDLs) – the interior grids line up with the exterior grids…and once adhered to the glass…that (3M) adhesive they use will not move again. They have one chance to get it lined up!
The lines were fascinating as well. It is a mix of old and new, where new CNC’s work adjacent to machines made in the 1960’s (many of them now partnered with computers). Each window has so many different attributes that make up its unique specifications. Each window is so completely custom with all the color options, size, hardware and various interior and exterior options.
It was great to review all the things that Marvin is capable of. They ship their product world-wide (orders were there heading to Ireland and New Zealand) and have done some noteworthy signature / custom projects (like Washington Hall, Notre Dame and Soaring Osprey House in Flathead Lake, MT ). They have the ability to cater to a very custom request. They seem like they are on top of the trends…as they now stock species other than pine for window interiors (like black walnut, cherry, character grade Sadro Macho, etc.). Their new glass sliding doors that are up to 12’ high and slide into a section of wall make you feel like Alice in Wonderland and will be a nice alternative to the increasingly popular Nana walls.
Marvin Integrity Windows are the more value-priced window line that is targeted to new and mid-range homes. They use “Ultrex” instead of the extruded aluminum and they are not made at the Marvin plant in Warroad. Due to labor shortages in Warroad, this 404,000 square foot facility in Fargo, ND. At the time of our tour, they were just a few days away from some news on their new “All-Ultrex” window, which will compete extremely well with the vinyl window market. An appealing feature is that the Ultrex has less movement and better color retention then vinyl. It now comes in six colors…including black! I look forward to using them!
Overall, I left with a better understanding and appreciation for the product and the people behind it. Marvin really makes a quality window and stands behind it with good service. I respect their commitment to their employees, community and the environment.
Understanding their history helped me to realize their worldwide reputation as an innovator, progressive manufacturer and industry leader…and nice that they are right here in MN [insert MN-proud nod here]).
I have included just a few pics of the small plane we took. It was the smallest plane I have been on and we left early on the 1st morning when it was sleeting out. It only took less than 2 hours from parking my vehicle at MSP Airport to be in the classroom in Warroad with a stop at the hotel included. We returned the following afternoon a few hours early due to an impending snow storm. I have also included a (cell phone) classroom photo showing an older window (left) replicated with a Marvin casement to look like a double hung (which is sometimes done to meet egress requirements) and an Integrity Double Hung. No cameras are allowed within the plant itself, so I have very few pics.
Sidebar: Murphy Bros. has finished hundreds of windows from Marvin over the past 27 years. A few months ago, our finishing bays were filled with cabinetry (made by our cabinet-maker) going up to a Marvin private residence cabin in Canada. We feel rather honored that our finishing shop and cabinet-maker was selected to do this work. It looks to be a beautiful home.