Getting Production in Sync

Concepts in Millwork has changed over to four new panel processing machines with integrated software to greatly reduce changeover and set-up times.

By Bernadette Freund

     
Concepts in Millwork
Colorado Springs, CO

Concepts in Millwork is a $4-million-a-year company that produces everything from architectural millwork and store fixtures to casework and solid surfacing. The company does business throughout Colorado and has plans to gain business outside of the state.

Three Keys
1. Four new panel processing machines with integrated and bar coding system software have allowed Concepts in Millwork the ability to streamline its operations and produce parts three times faster than three years ago.
2. The company can process over 2,000 different types of material in 50 different categories. This includes materials from veneers and plastic laminates to metal laminates and steel products.
3. The company also has automated veneering and laminating operations; this operation includes an automatic spray gluing machine, heat tunnel, indexing rollers and a pinch roller all in one continuous line.

 
   
     

Change comes in many ways. For Concepts in Millwork of Colorado Springs, CO, it has come in the form of integrated machinery.

The 23-year-old company stands at 30,000 square feet of plant space with 48 employees at the foot of the mighty Rocky Mountains. It produces a wide range of products from high-end architectural millwork, plastic laminate products, and veneered wall panel systems to store fixtures and casework.

This diverse mix of projects requires an expertise to work with a broad range of materials. The company works with particleboard, MDF, veneered core plywood, veneered wood, plastic laminates, melamine, metal products and solid surfacing.

Bob Silcott, owner and president, says the company has 50 different categories of materials, which breaks out to 2,000 specific materials.

“We really do use any type of material depending on what the project demands,” says Scott Robinson, vice-president of operations. “Everything we do is custom. This means we could be laying up particleboard this morning and then veneered wood and plastic laminates this afternoon.”

The company’s decision to remain so diverse with its products and materials drives its need for flexible and integrated machinery. In late 2000, Concepts in Millwork began planning for the changeover to more integrated panel processing machinery as well as information interfacing to replace its older equipment.

     
 
Concepts in Millwork manufactures everything from high-end architectural millwork to store fixtures and casework in a variety of materials. The lobby, above, at the Park Suite Hotel Stellar Plaza in Denver, CO, has standing and running trim in Corian solid surface.  
     

It had invested in computerized equipment prior to three years ago, but needed to readdress its production capabilities to more effectively manufacture its diverse product range.“We used to have to set up all of the machines manually, which in detailed projects could take an hour or more,” Robinson says. “With the diversity of our projects, we could not keep taking all of that time to set up every time a different material or job came down the line.”

Enter Increased Efficiency
In January 2002, a new way of processing panels entered Concepts in Millwork’s door. The company’s new integrated machinery includes a Holzma HPP 82 Optimat panel saw, Homag edgebander, Weeke BEK 100 boring and dowel machine and Weeke Optimat BP 140 machining center, all with Cut Rite software and from Stiles Machinery.

Before the introduction of this new equipment and software, workers would have to individually program jobs for each machine and then make sure the instructions got there. They could also only program one job at a time.

“The computerized equipment we had was working well,” Silcott says. “The software was really the negative because the machines just did not work together. Now all of the software carries over from machine to machine.”

The company has three programmers to handle the programming of project drawings. Each project and step is entered by the production department. Jobs are downloaded to the various pieces of equipment using a common programming language made possible by the Cut Rite software.

“The interesting thing about the software is the elimination of steps,” Robinson says. “For instance, if we are building a cabinet, the programmers will write the code. Then the saw information will go to the saw and the machining center information goes to the machining center. Workers are not sending code to each machine specifically as they used to. The program is entered once and it goes to each machine itself.”

Cracking the Code
The machines “talk” to each other via a bar code system. This system allows workers to simply swipe a bar code label with a hand-held wand. Then all of the machining information is called up on the specific machine.

“When we download a job to the plant and the product is built then the bar code stickers are already labeled,” Silcott says. “They are sent out here via the interactive software. The label comes off of a machine at our panel saw. It has a ‘tracking number’ or bar code that tracks material, labor and overhead for each project and each individual piece has a project number with a subset number for the specific piece.”

The New Setup
Raw, laminated and veneered panels are rolled over on carts to the Holzma panel saw.

“The first panel saw we had could only remember up to 10 items so this panel saw is very different,” Silcott says. “We used to have to take the time to lay every piece up on a table saw and now this makes such a difference in the processing time.”

As soon as the pieces and parts are cut from the panels, the operator puts on the bar code label which tells the other machines everything from what type of piece it will ultimately be to how wide and long it is, what color it is and whether or not it should get edgebanding.

The Weeke automatic boring and dowel insertion machine, panel saw and CNC machining center all use the bar code scanner. As far as the edgebander goes, the process is standardized and does not have the bar code scanner.

“What we do at the edgebander does not require bar coding because we do not have as many different colors or types of edgebanding like we do other materials,” says Silcott. “Therefore, it is not cost effective to bar code there.”

     
 
The lab station for C.M.G.M. Stanford University in Palo Alto, CA, is an example of the company’s casework abilities. The stations are prefinished in rift white oak veneer.  
     

The company’s single-sided Homag edgebander has a profile station. The profile station is used for cabinet parts after the pieces come off of the panel saw. The company has only two standard profiles, therefore, it does not need a separate profile machine.

The addition of a Doucet automatic return conveyor has eliminated the company’s need for a second operator. Once one side of the panel is edgebanded the conveyor returns it to the operator who turns the panel to edgeband the other side or stacks it.

Panels can also be taken to the Weeke automatic boring and dowel insertion machine or the Weeke CNC machining center; each machine can be operated using bar codes. The operator using the boring and doweling machine scans the code and the machine sets up automatically from the bar code information. The worker then loads cut-to-size panels on the machine. The entire process is done in a few minutes.

The panels also have the option of heading to the CNC machining center. Once again, the bar code on the panel is swiped; the panel is laid on the machine table; the machine sets up; and the processing begins. This process that sounds so simple now can save the company hours upon hours especially with detailed projects, which means more time to work on other projects, Robinson says.

“If we have a long veneered panel and we need to do detailed work such as plow reveals to make the panel look like it is made up of different ‘bricks,’ the machine would have been set up manually before,” Robinson says. “For a veneered panel with 164 inch of tolerance, the operator would have spent a couple of hours setting the machining center up as well as calibrating and programming it.

“Now all of that is done in the office beforehand,” he says. “The bar code is swiped and the machine sets up all of the stops and everything. The operator has to do very little except call it up, put the part on and run it.”

The new panel processing equipment has even allowed the company to take on additional business. Now the managers will have the machining center, edgebander, panel saw and automatic boring and doweling machine run on a night shift.

Looking Ahead Further
Concepts in Millworks has even larger changes in mind for the future. It hopes to buy and move into a new building in the next couple of years. It will then reposition its whole process structure to increase processing speed by 10 percent, Silcott says.

Currently, the Midwest Automation automatic gluing machine sits in a separate room with the receiving area. Panels must be moved from there on carts into the other room to the panel saw. The pieces then must be moved to the right for edgebanding or around to the automatic boring and doweling machine or the CNC machining center.

“When we get our new building, it will have one room for processing,” Silcott says. “The automatic gluing machine will be at the beginning of the line. Then panels will go directly on a roller conveyor system to the panel saw. After that the panels could be pushed to either the right or left depending on if they need to go to the edgebander or the automatic boring and doweling machine. It will be pushed to the CNC machining center next, be processed, put onto conveyors and then moved off at the assembly department. At the end of the line all of the custom stuff will be to one side and everything else to the other.”

Another of Silcott’s goals is to help put the company in an even stronger position before his retirement in the next couple of years.

“I think we are in a better posture to be successful in the next 10 to 20 years than we ever have been before,” Silcott says. “We have spent the money on the equipment and soon we will be moving into a new building. I think everybody here that is in a position of responsibility is pretty mature and ready for the challenge.”

Creating Solid Bonds

Concepts in Millwork lays up its own panels as part of its panel processing operation. The company has a Midwest Automation automatic spray gluing machine to lay up HPL phenolic laminate and veneers.

The glue line has a camera which assesses the wood board and automatically adjusts the guns for the size of the board or laminate and backer sheet. Then the machine only sprays the area that needs coverage and shuts off when it gets past the board.

Operators periodically run a piece of cardboard through the glue spraying machine to calculate the difference in weight prior to applying the glue and after. This glue weight divided by the square footage of the cardboard surface will be reviewed to insure the grams of glue per square foot meets the standard.

“The workers first weigh the cardboard by itself and then with the glue on the sheets,” says Bob Silcott, president and owner. “They also weigh the amount of glue. This way no glue is wasted and a perfect bond is created.”

The laminate sheets come through the machine first and are sprayed with a contact adhesive glue and then the particleboard follows. Then they hit the heat tunnel. After the tunnel, a laminate sheet is moved on top of a set of indexing rollers and the particleboard sits below the indexing rollers.

The two are rolled toward the pinch roller together so the roller squares them. Then the Midwest Automation pinch roller pinches them together. The company does not need a cold press or otherwise because the contact adhesive creates a strong enough bond.

“This process is actually a very quick one,” Silcott says. “One thing about our gluing machine is that it probably only runs about 15 hours a week because it produces so much for us in such a short period of time.”

— Bernadette Freund