Mastercraft Wood Products’ Fast & Furious Startup

By Karen Koenig | Posted: 01/09/2009 12:00AM

 

Experience pays off for this Texas-based cabinetmaker, producing 900 cabinets per day in its first year of operation.

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MasterCraft Wood Products offers a wide variety of face-frame and frameless cabinetry, to meet any price point. The company specializes in wood and laminated kitchen cabinetry and countertops for the multi-family residential market.

MasterCraft Wood Products is not your typical startup. In slightly less than a year, the company zoomed from zero production to approximately 900 cabinets a day, with a second line already in place, ready to achieve a total capacity of 2,000.

The brainchild of Gene Ponder, founder and former president of Republic Industries, Marshall, TX-based MasterCraft Wood Products offers mass-customized kitchen cabinetry targeted to the multi-family residential market.

“I had thought about retiring, but was bored stiff in six months,” Ponder says of his time after leaving Republic. “I decided to get back into the business and started MasterCraft.”

The original plan for MasterCraft Wood Products was to manufacture doors and components. However, Ponder says, when the opportunity arose for him to once again manufacture cabinetry, he jumped at the chance for a new start.

After almost 50 years of experience in the cabinet industry Ponder says he had definitive ideas regarding the plant layout, manufacturing process and distribution of the product.

“I wanted to build a new factory and lay it out properly, with the right flow and equipment,” he says. Stretching over an 80-acre lot, the 250,000-square-foot (total) state-of-the-art facility hosts dedicated buildings for the company’s turnkey production.

“We’re totally integrated,” Ponder says. The company has two press lines for laminating flat panels and membrane pressing. In addition to manufacturing all its own doors, drawers and cabinet cases, MasterCraft also produces postformed countertops. “We must deliver complete and on-time, and to do that, we must control our own destiny,” Ponder says.

MasterCraft Wood Products uses a core builder in the manufacturing process for countertops. The company offers a Euro edge, 180 degree and waterfall edges, as well as custom square edge tops.

Mission: Perfection

MasterCraft’s mission statement is an ambitious one: Perfection. However, Ponder says, the experience of the management team — more than 300 years combined — and of the employees, should make it achievable.

“Customers know us, and know of our experience,” he says. “They’re looking for what we offer, and we’re able to give them what they want.”

A participating member of the Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Assn.’s Environmental Stewardship Program, MasterCraft offers a wide variety of framed and frameless cabinet door styles, including: Shaker, mitered rail, beveled inner rail, rigid thermofoil and slab. The environmentally friendly cabinets are available in a large selection of colors and species, ranging from domestics such as maple and poplar, to exotics such as European beech, which it purchases from Pollmeier. “European beech is growing in popularity and has such a low waste factor that it is very economical,” Ponder adds.

With the selection available, the company’s products can cover all price points. As a service to customers, MasterCraft also offers customization on large jobs, typically 250 or more apartments. According to Ponder, the company is able to produce a quality product at a quick turnaround by utilizing a combination of high technology and lean manufacturing techniques throughout the production cycle.

“Our definition of perfection is when the customer gets a good product, on time and complete,” he says.

The heart of the operation, this overview of the case construction area shows the CNC machining line with twin-table, nested-based manufacturing.

Technology Is Key

Technology, Ponder says, has been key in his company’s ability to blend mass customization of manufacturing at the different price points.

It starts in the rough mill area, where a combination of dedicated and CNC machines process the kiln-dried lumber. Using a computerized board grading system, the lumber is sent to a Mereen-Johnson ripsaw station, where it is cut to length for the different components. Any offal from the optimizing process is run through one of the multiple Weinig moulders to generate mouldings and trim for internal use. Excess waste is hogged at each station, and the sawdust sold as potting soil filler.

In another area of the building, lumber for the face-frame doors is run through Dimter crosscut saws, then to the Omga T2005 machines for optimized defect cutting, before being moulded on the Weinig moulders. Taylor glue/clamps are used to process the lumber into solid wood doors, with the arch doors then machined on an Accu-Systems ADM. Prior to finishing, the doors are surface sanded with Timesavers sanders.

“If we’re going to make all our own components, we have to be versatile,” Ponder says.

Another building houses the manufacturing of the company’s five-piece doors. There, lumber is run through Weinig moulders then further processed on Friulmac and Celaschi tenoners, Unique, Voorwood and Fletcher machines. A Carlson Pro Max clamps and pins the components into place. In order to ensure a quality finish, the doors are run through a black light to check for excess glue prior to sanding on the Costa & Grissom sanders.

Raised panel doors are also a specialty of MasterCraft. The company processes veneer in-house, using a Kuper stitcher and Ruckle guillotine. Meanwhile, a Heian twin-table, nested-based router shapes and routes the panels before they are membrane pressed on the Wemhoner. The company’s thermofoil doors are processed similarly, with the MDF panels machined on a Northwood CNC router then membrane pressed on a Wemhoner, followed by processing on a Gottschild automated trimmer which trims and buffs the back side of the doors.

A fully integrated company, MasterCraft also lays up its particleboard in-house, using Monco hot melt laminators for laminating both sides of the 5-foot by 12-foot sheets. According to Ponder, the company lays up an estimated three to four truckloads a day.

The heart of the operation though, Ponder says, is the case construction area. As with all other areas of the plant, technology plays a key role as twin-table Homag Profiline BOF CNC machining centers, run in conjunction with Weeke Optimats, perform optimized machining on 5-foot by 12-foot sheets.

“The whole sheet can be machined in approximately four minutes,” Ponder says, including routing, boring, cutting and dadoing.

Machining the European cabinets involves panels cut on an angular Holzma saw, then drilled and edgebanded using Weeke and Homag machines.

MasterCraft Wood Products uses a core builder in the manufacturing process for countertops. The company offers a Euro edge, 180 degree and waterfall edges, as well as custom square edge tops.

Prior to assembly, the individual components are finished on the company’s state-of-the-art, 100-percent water-based UV flatline finishing system for applying stain, sealer and topcoat. Environmentally friendly, it is composed of a series of Sorbini, Giardina, Superfici and Cefla application systems and dryers, used in conjunction with Costa sanders. Approximately 350 feet in length, the S-curve design allows the company to minimize the number of employees needed on the line. “The industry has come so far compared to when I started,” Ponder says of the finishing technology.

Although only one line is currently used at this time, MasterCraft has already invested in a second line for future capacity.

Maintaining Quality Control

Quality control is very important, with checks run throughout the entire machining process and assembly. The company has one assembly line for the face-frame cabinets, with a second available if needed. A separate line is used for assembling the frameless cabinets. A variety of machines, including Koch and Gannomat drill and dowel inserters, and Comil and Doucet clamps, are used in the process.

In addition to being a turnkey operation, what also sets MasterCraft apart from competitors is its production of countertops. After panels are cut to size on the Holzma panel saw, they are processed on a Midwest Automation core builder line which notches and scores the panels in a single operation. The contoured endsplashes are machined on a Weeke, while Midwest Automation Signature postforming saws stations perform miter cutting, alongside an Edgetech CTS 730 countertop saw. IMA, Brandt and Fletcher machines are on hand for postforming and edgebanding.

To meet customer needs, MasterCraft offers three edges: the new Euro edge, a waterfall edge and a 180 degree edge, as well as custom square edge tops.

“Even though we’re a price point company, we’ve listened to the designers and consumers on what they want,” Ponder says. That, he adds, and the experience and dedication of his employees, has been the secret to his success.

 

About the Author

Karen Koenig

Karen M. Koenig has more than 25 years of experience in the woodworking industry, including visits to wood products manufacturing facilities throughout North America, Europe and Asia. As Editor-in-Chief of Woodworking Network magazine (formerly Wood & Wood Products), Karen’s primary responsibilities include spearheading the writing, editing and coordinating of the editorial content of the publication, along with the Red Book resource guide and the Red Book online source and supply directory (RedBookOnline.com). She is also a frequent contributor to other Woodworking Network online and print media. She can be reached at kkoenig@woodworkingnetwork.com or Google+.

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