Stevens Makes a Case for Mass Customization

By Karen Koenig | Posted: 07/04/2011 12:00AM

 

Stevens Industries’ Casework division manufactures laminated and veneered casegoods for the educational and healthcare markets. LEED compliant, Stevens’ panels are certified under SCS and CPA environmental programs. Stevens also offers FSC-certified products and is certified as an AWI premium-grade manufacturer of casegoods. Above: Cullman High School, Alabama Whoever claimed large panel processors and/or high production casegoods manufacturers couldn’t handle the demands of custom work, hadn’t met Stevens Industries.

The Teutopolis, IL-based company helps define the term “mass customization,” both in its role as an OEM supplier of laminated panels and components to companies in the office furniture, store fixture, cabinet and closet industries, and as a manufacturer of laminate and veneer casework for the educational and healthcare markets. Stevens President Todd Wegman says the combined strengths of the company’s two divisions enable it to provide all of the wood-based production for the job.

“Our goal is to be a value partner — to be the best solution for the customer,” he adds.

Vertically integrated, Stevens produces the panels and components for its casework in-house; the company also has the capability to fabricate solid surface material. Pictured is a reception desk manufactured for the Samuel S. Gaines school in Florida. “Our commercial casework product line offers over 18,000 models, including dimension variants and custom designs,” says Randy Thoele, vice president of operations. “Due to this large variation in product, we produce very little stock in our lean manufacturing process.”

On average, Stevens produces 600 to 650 cabinets per day, plus an additional 12,000 to 15,000 component parts. Business ramps up in the summer months due to the cyclical nature of some of its business segments, such as the educational market.

Wegman says the company’s ability to mass produce customized products gives it an advantage over foreign companies when competing for jobs. However, he is quick to add, “We are seeing new competition from U.S. companies that have had to develop custom capabilities because they faced foreign competition.”

Being a vertically integrated company though gives Stevens an advantage over competitors, Wegman says. “With the ‘Stevens Advantage,’ we can provide customers with an efficient turnkey system: panels, cabinetry, countertops, millwork — one-off as well as standard sizes — from a one-stop source,” he adds.

Stevens has undergone a long, lean journey to reach this point of success. Chuck Stevens founded the company in 1956 to produce face-frame cabinetry. Within the next decade, Stevens Cabinet would add commercial fixtures and laminate casework for schools to its offerings.

A turning point for the company came in 1980, when Stevens began producing high volume melamine panels and components for office furniture and fixture companies. From there, Stevens expanded its capabilities, leading to, among other innovations, the creation of TotMate early learning/child care furniture (1986) and a movement into custom fixtures and Millwork Solutions (1996).

Throughout its history, Stevens has maximized its production for mass customization while adding capabilities through lean manufacturing initiatives. “Our lean initiatives have added capacity by eliminating waste, material handling and non-value added activities. We have also standardized our processes to reduce variation without losing flexibility,” Thoele says.

As part of the company’s lean initiatives, Stevens continually looks for ways to improve and add capabilities throughout its entire production process, including the assembly area. Value-Added Products
Among the new innovations is the StevensWood Collection of textured laminate. Twelve new colors and two realistic textures have been added this year, bringing the total to 60 colors and six textures. “We’re always looking for ways to bring something new to the market. This can be used in any industry,” Wegman says.

StevensWood and other laminated panels are produced inside the 430,000-square-foot facility, which is shared with the Casework division. The company has three melamine press lines, two Wemhoner and a Bürkle, along with a Bürkle hot press for laying up high pressure laminates and veneers. Also in the cell is a Homag direct former and IMA postformer.

The panels are cut-to-size on one of five saws: Stevens has two Holzma angular saws as well as a Giben and two Holzma single beam saws. Nearby are two IMA double-sided combination edgebanders plus a Homag and seven IMA single-sided banders. From there, panels are shipped to customers or sent to other cells for processing into casework for the company’s own lines of educational and healthcare products.

The company is utilizing value stream mapping, Kaizen events and Standard Work in order to optimize production while reducing waste in the operation, Thoele says. Currently used are Shoda and Heian CNC routers, along with Biesse CNC point-to-points, edgebanders and Biesse and Weeke throughfeed drills. Five Koch dowel insertion machines also are used in the case construction process.

Using barcodes, products are married up for assembly. Stevens uses multiple assembly lines, rather than the standard one long one, which has helped speed the process, Thoele says. “Our manufacturing lead time, from lamination to assembly, is three to four days.”

As as part of its quality control initiatives, Stevens has a fully functional lab for checking laminating run times, cure levels, postformability, scratch resistance and more. “We like to test the product how it will be used in the market,” Wegman says. The company’s relationships with vendors also gives them access to Stevens’ lab for testing products, he adds.


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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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