Building on an affinity with change

Claire Tyrrell of Business News

A windows manufacturer is chasing greater market share by overhauling its operations.

Affinity Windows general manager Rachel Hartwig is adamant that businesses can turn things around during difficult times.

Ms Hartwig stepped into her role at the BGC Australia subsidiary when the residential construction industry was coming off a long downturn and grappling with the impacts of the pandemic. She started with Affinity Windows in July 2020, just weeks after the industry was thrown a lifeline in the form of government stimulus for homebuilders. Ms Hartwig was brought in to oversee the company’s shift from its headquarters in Canning Vale, where the business had been since 1977, to its current Jandakot factory.

Rachel Hartwig
General Manager
(Photo: David Henry)

As she explained, the move involved more than simply relocating. “We’ve completely transformed our business from inside out,” Ms Hartwig told Business News.

Affinity Windows completed its move in September 2021 while dealing with what Ms Hartwig described as a “tsunami of volume” and navigating pressures around COVID. Workers moved to the new facility in stages, as different parts of the production line were updated. Ms Hartwig, Affinity Windows manufacturing manager Wade Bodley, and sales and estimating manager Brendan O’Shea helped oversee the company’s expansion. The fit-out of the new Jandakot headquarters included a new showroom, which was named small showroom of the year at the recent 2022 Australian Windows & Glass Association awards.

“When it comes to improving a business… once you deal with the obvious the next step is to set goals and continue making small improvements,” Ms Hartwig said. “I think as a business we can… really reflect on how well we managed this big move during the busy building stimulus period… with no incident or disruption to our customers.”

The window manufacturer has predominantly made windows for BGC Australia but is growing its market share as the construction giant prepares for sale and as part of Affinity’s rebrand.

Brendan O’shea (left), Rachel Hartwig and Wade Bodley in front of the new CNC machine
(Photo: David Henry)

During the past two years, Affinity Windows has modernised its equipment, increased its warehouse footprint from 6,000 square metres to 9,000sqm and upped its headcount from 120 to 145.

The company introduced Western Australia’s first large-scale computer numerical controlled automatic cutting line in a bid to streamline its services. This investment has reduced the need for workers on cutting lines, with two people now required to process the same volume of work as eight people would on an older machine. Ms Hartwig explained the CNC device enabled large volumes of window frames to be produced safely via enterprise resource planning (ERP) technology.

“One of our technology investments is an ERP estimating system, which integrates with the equipment and machinery on the factory floor, [which] improves quoting accuracy, speed and production lead times,” she said.

Ms Hartwig said the company also moved to a just-in-time approach and to a lean manufacturing model, which meant an emphasis on improving productivity while reducing waste.

“Having 40 per cent more manufacturing facility footprint with an optimised layout means we have greater capacity to deliver products to the WA market,” she said. “If you make better use of your manufacturing space, and have the right flow, you can achieve greater output.”

A worker operates one of the company’s old saw machines
(Photo: David Henry)

Affinity Windows rolled out these changes during the past two years in a bid to boost its volume, from about 2,500 home build starts per year to close to 5,000, as it expands to work with other residential builders. Ms Hartwig said the company was now set up to meet market demand, with capacity to manufacture enough windows for 25 house lots per day. “We are continually evaluating incoming work demand, which is aligned to headcount [and] we adjust as is required,” she said. “We also cross-train our factory staff to help relieve bottlenecks in each department; this means we can be more agile as work in one area increases while another area may be quiet.”

In addition, Affinity is expanding to the commercial building sector and the renovation space. Ms Hartwig said diversifying into other sectors aligned with the company’s long-term strategy to respond to market fluctuations. “How we are preparing is by having a realistic expectation about what’s ahead in the next 12 to 24 months,” she said.

Ms Hartwig said while WA’s construction market was in the rare position of having high activity in both commercial and residential, the sectors were often counter cyclical. “The reason for setting up commercial really well is for that purpose, so when residential starts to cool down we’ve got plenty of work in commercial; it’s having that two-cycle strategy,” she said. Ms Hartwig said the multi residential market was largely supplied by imported windows, but her company was seeking to capture a portion of that market.

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The industry took a hit earlier this year when Modern Glass closed its doors after 75 years of operation. The Maddington-based supplier, which cited staff shortages, cost increases and stock constraints for its decision to cease trading, was importing glass for Affinity Windows prior to its closure in June. At the time, Ms Hartwig told Business News Affinity Windows could adjust to the change by working with other suppliers and streamlining its model. “It allows us to further implement our plans around standardising product sizes and having a smarter supply chain,” she said in June. “Part of what has helped us manage this is we have more than one supplier; we haven’t run out of glass.”

More recently, Ms Hartwig said the business was increasingly using glass that had been cut-to-size before being shipped to the factory. This reduced the need for thirdparty suppliers. “We encourage builders to think about standardisation in their designs,” she said. “With standardisation of window sizes, we are able to optimise production and see benefits with stock availability and cost.”

As part of a way to navigate cost pressures in the industry, Ms Hartwig said Affinity Windows was exploring the use of rise-and-fall provisions in its contracts. “We evaluate all risks when negotiating new contracted work,” she said. “We understand the industry is experiencing a number of challenges and there are factors that can change our own environment very quickly, so it’s important we balance out risk. “Using rise and fall is just one of the mechanisms that can be used to help reduce risk.”

Affinity has rolled out a range of products in preparation for recent changes to the National Construction Code, which will require higher sustainability standards in new home builds. “Sustainability has become a greater priority for homebuyers with environmentally friendly features, such as energy efficiency [being] a
popular choice,” Ms Hartwig said. “We know that consumers need ways to lower their energy costs for heating and cooling, and windows are a big contributor. “We work with designers and architects to improve thermal efficiency in their home designs.”

In addition to its Jandakot headquarters, Affinity Windows also runs a small operation in Bunbury.

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