This Northern California cabinet door manufacturer prepares for its 10th anniversary by investing $7 million in a new plant and equipment.

Welcome to Gilroy, "garlic capital of the world" and home to California Kitchen Cabinet Door's new 120,000-square-foot manufacturing plant.

While the plant's location will not be appearing any time soon in this quaint San Jose-area city's tourism guide, California Door president and CEO Ed Rossi hopes it will be the next best thing since garlic bread. To this end, Rossi has bankrolled $7 million for purchasing, refurbishing and equipping the Gilroy facility. Included is a hefty investment in new technology for manufacturing five-piece cabinet doors plus a thermal foil pressing line featuring the first automatic trimming device of its kind in North America. (See sidebar.)

"Our goal is to get 20 years out of this plant, while achieving more output without hiring more people," Rossi said. "To make this happen means having good quality equipment manned by good quality people. I think we're on the right track on both counts."

$14 Million and Growing

California Door, which recently moved all production and business operations from Morgan Hill to Gilroy, is a wholesale manufacturer of doors and drawer fronts supplying about 3,000 custom cabinet shops, plus some "big guys" such as Hillstom Cabinets and Amberwood Cabinets. The company has nine salespeople and operates its own fleet of 10 trucks to service West Coast customers. Traditional five-piece solid wood doors represent about 85 percent of total door sales. The remaining 15 percent of its door business is represented by rigid thermal foil doors.

RTF Opens New Doors of Opportunity

FOR HIS FIRST FIVE years in business, Ed Rossi, president and CEO of California Door, was content to specialize in the manufacture of five-piece solid wood cabinet doors and drawer fronts. That all changed in 1993 when he invested $750,000 on a panel saw, a Komo CNC router and a Burkle membrane-less press to produce 3-D rigid thermal foil MDF doors.

"I was the last major player to get into RTF doors. But once I decided to do it, I jumped in whole hog," Rossi said.

Last year, in gearing up to move into the company's new Gilroy facility, Rossi purchased a 75-foot-long fully automated thermal foil line from IMA-European Woodworking Machinery. The press line, which was on display at IMA-European's booth during the Anaheim Woodworking Fair last summer, features an elevator-type uncoiling system holding up to 10 rolls of thermoplastic foils for quick color changeovers. It also has North America's first Multitrimmer, which automates the trimming of excess foils from the overlayed part.

New RTF Production Overview

For its RTF products, California Door mainly uses 3/4-inch-thick twice-refined MDF from Plum Creek that has Panolam thermal-fused melamine on one side. The 5-foot by 9-foot panels are cut-to-size into one-piece doors and drawer fronts on a Homag Espa�±a panel saw and then profile routed on one of two Komo CNC five-axis machining centers.

Helmetin water-based contact cement is applied to the raw side and edges of the MDF parts with Binks spraying equipment and placed on carts to dry. Two employees then place the parts, glue-side up, onto a loading conveyor. A sheet of foil (usually from Renolit or Kasei) is blanketed over the parts from one of the uncoiling system's rolls.

Upon being shuttled into the membrane-less Burkle press, a vacuum pulls the foil tight to the surface of the profiled substrate and the glue is reactivated by heat to bond the two together. The full load of foiled parts exits the press and is flipped 180 degrees so that all backing boards can be removed. The parts are shuttled into the Multitrimmer which scans each part's location and dimensions into a computer. The computer instructs the CNC trimming head where to cut out excess vinyl between each finished piece.

The parts exit the trimmer and are carted off to a quality control area where any excess glue is sanded off.

The press is currently operating on one shift, pressing up to 1,000 a day. "We can probably press up to 2,500 a days on a two-shift basis," Rossi said. "RTF doors are an important and growing part of our business, but I don't think it will ever be more than 20 percent of our business."

-- Rich Christianson

Rossi, a self-described "shop guy" in high school, cut his teeth in the cabinet door manufacturing business immediately after graduating. He landed a job with the Cabinet Door Co. and worked his way up the company ladder, ultimately overseeing plant operations, including helping coordinate three plant expansions.

In 1988, at the age of 30, Rossi left the Cabinet Door Co. to found California Door. "After 13 years of working for someone else I decided I wanted to do my own thing," Rossi said.

Manufacturing traditional cope-and-stick, five-piece solid wood cabinet doors, California Door achieved $1 million in sales in its first year of business and reached $5 million in 1992. Then the bottom fell out of the California real estate market.

The economic slump caused company sales to stagnate in 1993 and 1994 at which point Rossi plotted two important courses of action. First, he decided to expand California Door's market beyond Northern California to encompass all of California, plus Oregon, Washington, Nevada and Arizona. Second, Rossi purchased equipment to add rigid thermal foil cabinet doors to the product mix. As a result of these two business moves, and an improved economy, company sales picked up dramatically, hitting $8 million in 1996 and more than $14 million in 1997.

Now, with the Gilroy plant fully up and running, Rossi said he sees sales of $20 million within the company's grasp. Achieving this sales mark would be a phenomenal way to cap off the company's 10th year in business, an anniversary it celebrates this May.

"Being the biggest has never been my goal," Rossi said. "What I've always wanted is to have a company that constantly strives to do it better than anyone else. By keeping our focus strictly on making cabinet doors and drawer fronts we've been able to keep customers satisfied and build on our client base. We've put the pedal to the metal the last couple of years and this new plant is one of the results."

Inside the Gilroy Plant

When sales exploded in 1996, it quickly became obvious that California Door's 40,000-square-foot facility in Morgan Hill would become a bottleneck to future growth. To keep pace with increased orders, a second production shift was added, but the writing was on the wall. More space was in order.

"Late in 1996 I began to explore moving the operation to a bigger facility," Rossi said. "Being in Silicon Valley, it would have been too expensive to expand or build a bigger plant in Morgan Hill."

Rossi's site selection search led him to Gilroy, located about 15 minutes south of Morgan Hill. There he purchased 10 acres of land occupied by a 120,000-square-foot warehouse last used by a garlic distributor.

"When I first came to check this place out, strings of garlic were literally hanging from all of the rafters," Rossi said. "The building reeked of garlic for weeks after the warehouse moved out."

It is impossible to tell that California Door's new home was once a garlic warehouse following the extensive plastering, tiling, plumbing, electrical, ducting and other interior and exterior renovation that has been done to transform it into a high-production cabinet door manufacturing plant. Rossi's younger brother Dino and father Joe helped design the new facility's layout.

Rossi said he spent about $3.5 million for the building, property and renovation. Then he turned around and invested another $3.5 million on new equipment, some of which performed service at Morgan Hill before being relocated to Gilroy.

Major equipment purchased within the last year includes:

  • A massive Torit-Day dust collector with a capacity of 70,000 cfm. Rossi said it is the largest single-system dust collection unit ever installed by the company.
  • Three Torit-Day down-draft booths for capturing sawdust generated by portable sanding operations.
  • A computerized Mereen-Johnson rip-saw with a jumping blade for initial sizing of lumber used for stiles and rails.
  • Twelve Industrial Woodworking cut-off saws, each outfitted with the TigerStop automatic cut-off stop and programmable pusher from Precision Automation.
  • An Omga double mitre saw.
  • Two new Martin jointers and 12 Martin spindle shapers from Eric Reibling and Klor Machinery used for manufacturing solid wood door components.
  • Two Voorwood automatic shaper /sanders.
  • A James L. Taylor panel clamp and a Taylor door clamp, which doubles the company's assembly capacity because it already had one of each at Morgan Hill.
  • A sanding line consisting of two 52-inch AEM twin-pad orbital sanders for final finish sanding of all doors.
  • Some 2,000 lineal feet of gravity roller conveyors.
  • A Homag EspaÃ?±a panel saw from Altendorf America, Div. of Stiles Machinery.
  • A second Komo CNC twin-table, five-axis, six-head machining center used in the production of one-piece RTF doors.
  • The fully-automated thermal foil laminating line described in greater detail in sidebar.

Custom Manufacturing

Unfinished solid wood doors and drawer fronts are California Door's bread and butter. The company's two workshifts combine to produce 4,000 to 5,000 units a day.

The more than 120 solid wood designs available are summarized in a 40-page catalog. "Everything we manufacture is sized to individual customer specifications," Rossi said. "One customer might order a mitered white oak raised panel door at 213Ã?Â?8 inches wide and the next might order the same door 1/4-inch bigger or smaller."

Accommodating these diverse size requirements, within tight turn-around times of five to 10 days, puts a premium on having machines that offer quick changeover times. In addition, downtime for tooling changes is reduced through the extensive use of diamond tooling mainly purchased from Gladu and Lach.

Smooth Transition

Rossi credited his 140 employees for helping make the recent plant relocation a smooth one. Major machines were moved from Morgan Hill to Gilroy over weekends to minimize production stalls. "I can't say enough about how hard everyone worked to keep up with our orders," Rossi said. "Because of their efforts, we didn't skip a beat."

While much of the woodworking industry moans about finding and keeping good workers, Rossi said he knows he must be doing something right because he has had little turnover. In fact, he said that his entire workforce has followed California Door to its new home.

"I think it is very important to take care of your employees such as offering them full medical and dental benefits and a 401K program," Rossi said. The new plant also includes several creature comforts for workers including an employee lunchroom an outdoor patio with picnic tables, a basketball court, and men's and women's locker rooms.

Apparently word has gotten out that California Door is a pretty good place to work. Rossi said he received several hundred applications for a handful of positions that opened up with the expansion.

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