Contract office furniture company overcomes obstacles of starting own veneering operation.

 

For the 19 years CCN International has been in existence, veneered panels have been essential to its products and ultimately its success.

The Geneva, NY-based company, founded in 1985, prides itself on its seamlessly matched veneer leaves that are used on its high-end contract office furniture. "We literally specify every veneer that goes on a product," says Dick Conoyer, co-founder, president and CEO. "One of the things CCN is known for is matching the grain perfectly."

CCN uses "architectural grade," hand-matched veneers on its products. Conoyer says achieving that level of quality is a time-consuming, highly skilled process of slicing logs with quality cathedral- and flame-shaped arcs. It is a level that would require the company to expand its knowledge of veneers and the equipment required to produce them.

 

CCN International

Geneva, NY
Founded in 1985 in Rochester, NY, CCN International manufactures high-end, veneered contract office furniture, such as credenzas, desks and tables. One of the company's trademarks is the quality of its "architectural grade" veneers, which are hand-selected to ensure proper grain matching. CCN employs 110 people, 90 of which work in the manufacturing plant, a former Nabisco factory measuring 100,000 square feet. Last year, CCN received Chain of Custody certification from the Forest Stewardship Council. CCN International ranked 79th in Wood & Wood Products' 2002 Wood 100 with $10.2 million in sales for 2001.

Three Keys to Success

1. Doing its own veneer layups gives more control over the product, and allows for the possibility of selling to other manufacturers in the future.

 

2. The shop floor layout has been reorganized to provide more storage of veneer panels. Future layout options are being explored as well.

3. Tracking and inventory of products becomes easier and more storage options are available with the introduction of 3-D barcodes.

 

To help reach that level, CCN employs a veneer inspector who chooses veneers based on its quality and grain patterns. "The veneer inspector is critical to our operation and the use of the veneers," Conoyer says. CCN works with many wood species from cherry and maple to exotics like bird's-eye maple and sapele mahogany.

This inspection process is so rigorous that CCN rejects nearly half of the veneers it receives in its strive for perfection.

CCN's products have become so sought after that even in a down economy, the company was able to contract office furniture from companies like Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson.

"Even in these economic times, there are companies that will pay for our furniture because they want that quality," Conoyer adds. More CCN furniture can also be seen in the corporate offices of Ford, Kodak and Bausch & Lomb.

Wanting More

Up until fall of last year, CCN purchased veneer panels from several veneer suppliers. The company would specify the flitches it wanted to use in the veneers and the supplier would lay them up. Once the veneers returned from the supplier, CCN would trim the panels to their final size, machine them for joining or attachment of hardware, while making sure the flitches remained balanced and in sequence.

 

Veneered conference tables have become part of CCN International's specialty. The tables can be custom built to incorporate multimedia accessories risers, which are shown as the black squares on the tabletop.

"CCN was highly adept at further matching veneer leaves once they arrived at our factory," Conoyer says. "But the actual lay up of the veneer leaves, or flitches as they are sometimes called, to create panels used in fabricating our furniture was left to our veneer suppliers, who were set up to do it."

For as long as CCN has been in business there has been a desire to do its own veneer lay ups instead of outsourcing. Last year, that desire finally came to fruition as CCN purchased new and used equipment to do its own lay ups.

Conoyer calls CCN's move to process its own veneers the biggest event in the company's production history since moving in 1986 into a 100,000-square-foot expanded manufacturing facility, which was once a Nabisco bakery.

While much of the decision was a cost-saving move to cut down on waste, Conoyer says that was not the real reason for making the decision. "Delivery is critical in this industry and by doing our own lay ups we can get the product to people much faster." He adds it used to take four weeks for panels to arrive at the shop.

But not only does the in-house veneering operation cut down on delivery times, it also allows CCN to oversee all aspects of production. With the amount of perfection CCN strives for, total control helps save time and money.

"You have to try to have more control over your products. We wanted to have 100 percent control of the finished product," Conoyer says.

But the reality of the new venture had CCN concerned.

Needing More

Laying up veneers takes more than just a wing and a prayer; it takes equipment.

 

This Crofton line conference table and wall unit are shown in quarter-sawn white oak with CCN's Ellis Oak finish.

CCN International got lucky when it went to market for the machinery it needed for the veneer operation. An entire plant's worth of equipment was being liquidated by a veneer manufacturer. CCN purchased a Tagliabue guillotine, Italpresse press - both purchased during the sale - and a brand new Fisher-R++ckle splicer. Also later added to the mix were a DMC widebelt sander, a SCMI rip saw, a Busellato CNC machining center from Delmac Machinery Group and a Mikron moulder.

Fitting this new equipment into a 100,000-square-foot facility was no easy task; in fact, it turned out to be the hardest. Conoyer says the shop floor layout had to be reorganized in order to utilize empty space and make room for the veneering equipment. Room also had to be made for the flitches that CCN now orders.

Because the company used to order slightly more than what was required for a job, the excess had to be sold or trashed, creating additional space for storage of veneers. Now, two rooms have been emptied at the plant so the veneers can be stored. Each room now has a humidification system and curtains to help keep them at the correct humidity. The veneer production is located in a small spot next to one of those rooms.

The company is currently working to put a flatline conveyor system through the facility. Conoyer says the system should be done in August or September of this year. As of the end of May, Bob Poworoznek, CCN's director of process engineering, reported he has developed three layout schemes from which to choose.

VP Steps Up to Challenge

One of CCN's biggest concerns was staring it in the face once the equipment was purchased: Who was going to work the equipment? Because the suppliers had always provided the veneers, virtually no shop attendant knew exactly how to run the equipment, let alone produce the panels.

That is when Vice President Mike Hryzak stepped up.

He took it upon himself to learn which veneers to buy - and how to do so - how to work the new machinery CCN had to purchase, how to match the woodgrains and how to lay it up.

Hryzak did not just do all that on his own; however, much of it did turn out that way. In addition to assistance from Poworoznek, he consulted industry trade publications and even had help from the company's veneer suppliers. Conoyer says CCN's primary veneer suppliers helped train the workers because the company will continue to do business with those suppliers.

 

The Poche line was awarded Best of NeoCon 2001. This wall unit is shown in quarter-sawn makore and ash with ash pinstripes featuring a natural finish.

For about six weeks, Hryzak and Poworoznek processed veneers into panels, but this was no practice session.

"We jumped right into production," he says. "We were committed to making the veneers, so we did."

Hryzak adds that the veneered panels he produced were used on the furniture CCN sold during the initial veneering operation.

After those six weeks of training, Hryzak stepped aside when CCN hired six workers to take over the job. But Hryzak did not wash his hands of the process.

He helped train the workers, once he got the hang of the machinery.

"We are certainly looking for improvements, always. We are 95 percent through the learning curve," he says.

When asked if he could still hack it with the guys now working with the veneers, he replies: "Absolutely. Actually, I was thinking about going back there right now and doing something."

He says what is most satisfying is, "You get to watch other people develop their skills and improve what they know. These people that make us go."

The Payoff

Conoyer says he cannot say for certain exactly how much the company has saved since starting its own veneer layups several months ago. However, he says since starting the operation, production has quadrupled. "The problem with that is having more to do," he says, adding he is happy to have such a problem.

About two weeks are being cut off of the lead time due to the internal processes, which includes all the new machinery and the six workers that produce the veneers. "We are able to provide a better quality product quicker," Hryzak says. "We are dealing with a culture that wants everything right now. We could theoretically start the project tomorrow for them."

The economic risks of buying equipment and hiring more employees has played out well for CCN.

"It was a risk because it occurred in a down economy," Conoyer says. "But now, as we get busier, we are able to react much quicker. The timing turned out good [considering the economy is slowly improving]."

CCN recently finished a $700,000 contract for DTE.

For those looking to produce their own veneer layups and reach such levels, Hryzak offers a bit of advice.

"Just get ready to devote a lot of time and energy," he says with a laugh.

 


In the Works

 

With the veneer operations taking off, CCN International has implemented some new programs to help increase efficiencies.

Because the veneer operations require so much detail and care to match grain patterns, the company is also considering selling the veneers it produces. However, Hryzak says that it is on the back burner because, at the moment, 100 percent of the veneers are going to the products.

One of the newest things to grace the CCN warehouse and factory is the implementation of 3-D barcodes. These barcodes allow for easier tracking and provides more storage options compared to regular 2-D barcodes.

In addition, CCN will introduce a program called Streamlined. Through this, CCN will guarantee that the Foundation product line will be shipped within five weeks. Conoyer says the company will seek to decrease that even further to three weeks once production of the veneer operations is fully learned.

 

CCN Has FSC Chain of Custody

 

In 2003, CCN International was awarded Chain of Custody from the Forest Stewardship Council.

In a release from 2003, CCN said it sought certification because of its commitment to "responsible wood furniture production methods." Such methods include choosing raw materials from replenishable North American forests, purchasing wood only from reliable, certified vendors, using adhesives free of harmful organic compounds and using water-based finishes that will not harm the environment.

                                                                                                                                                                                           

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