Manufacturer marks opening of product incubator, micro-factory
Venice-based PGT Innovations' new iLab is a two-building, 24,500-square-foot facility.
Business Observer Staff
| 6:00 a.m. October 18, 2019
“Welcome to the iLab Factory! Where the imagined becomes reality.”
Those were the words handwritten in black ink on a whiteboard inside PGT Innovations' new iLab.
The Venice-based window and door manufacturer, with $698 million in revenue last year, recently held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the iLab, a product incubator and micro-factory that aims to help the company launch innovative products into the market quickly.
Vice President of Engineering Dean Ruark tells Coffee Talk the innovation process will start in the engineering lab at the facility. “We have very hands-on designers,” he says.
Ruark says the genesis of the iLab idea was formed in late 2017. “We called it ‘Project Napkin,’” he says. “A few of us were sitting in the cafeteria and said, ‘What if a customer had a sketch on a napkin of something they wanted? What if we could bring it to reality?’”
The iLab, he says, was envisioned as a home base where those ideas could become a reality if they were the right fit for the company. “I want our engineers to take calculated risks and listen to customers,” Ruark says. “If it fails, that’s okay. Many will be successes.”
When a two-building, 24,500-square-foot facility that was formerly home to a fountain-making operation became available, PGT acquired it and did renovations, tailoring it for its own use as the iLab.
Despite PGT's size as one of the region's largest employers, Ruark says it wanted the iLab to have a “startup company feel.”
The facility shows off examples of PGT technology, from a door with a smart lock to a bottom-rolling bi-fold door. It also emphasizes innovation through patent drawings hanging on the wall of PGT creations and other inventions. An engineering lab gives the company’s innovators a place to experiment with new products and features. Product concepts can be manufactured on site, too.
One of the biggest features inside the lobby of the iLab is a multilayer glass display showing the force of Hurricane Hugo. Ruark says, “It reminds us every day of the products we make and what we protect.”