Coulee Region Enterprises Takes Care of Business
August 14, 2011 | 6:05 pm CDT
Coulee Region Enterprises manufactures dimension wood components while ensuring quality control through the use of its own dry kiln operation.

Founded in 1968 to make dimension wood components, Bangor, WI-based Coulee Region Enterprises has grown from three employees to 100 employees, from 5,000 square feet to 120,000 square feet of production and storage space, and expanded to include a lumber wholesale business.

Ed Solberg, president, started with the company in 1973 on the second shift while he was attending college. “My position was tailing behind a rip saw,” he says. “Within two years, I was second shift foreman.”

In 1977, Ed's brother Peter Solberg joined the company, running the lumber yard and kiln operations. The two operations have since become a business of its own, Coulee Region Hardwoods, which procures lumber for Coulee Region Enterprises, as well as having a customer base across the United States. The brothers acquired partial ownership in the companies around 1990 and eventually full ownership in 1995.

The company manufactures hardwood dimension components, such as frame-stock for cabinets, edge gluing for center-raised panels, door-front and door-side work, and associated mouldings, mainly for the kitchen cabinet industry. “I'd say 95 percent of our business right now is in the kitchen cabinet market,” Ed says.

In the past, the company made products as diverse as boat ladder steps, pool table parts, walnut plaques, pinball machine parts, weaving loom parts, maple cutting boards and clothes hamper legs. “We even used to make wood blocks for cello parts and ski runners for airplanes up in Alaska,” says Ed.

“Over the years you get a few unique things that make a little fun out of it,” adds Peter.

The company recently added a Mereen-Johnson 424-DC/SR2 gang rip saw with a Cameron Quick Rip system infeed to its rough mill.
Coulee Region Enterprises
Bangor, WI

Coulee Region Enterprises manufactures hardwood dimension components, predominately for the kitchen cabinet industry. Its facility encompasses 120,000 square feet of production and storage space, which includes a lumber wholesale business, Coulee Region Hardwoods. The company has approximately 100 employees.

Three Keys
1. Coulee Region recently added a Mereen-Johnson 424-DC/SR2 gang rip saw with a Cameron Quick Rip system infeed, which has increased its ripping capacity.

2. In addition to ripping, the company’s machine capabilities include crosscutting, moulding, edge and face gluing, double-end tenoning, precision end trimming, and edge profiling and sanding.

3. Coulee Region Hardwood’s five dry kilns have a total capacity of approximately 20 truckloads of lumber being dried at one

Though various wood species are used at Coulee Region, maple, cherry and red oak are the most common. The company's machine capabilities include ripping, crosscutting, moulding, edge and face gluing, double-end tenoning, precision end trimming, and edge profiling and sanding, as well as kiln drying.

Let 'er Rip!
In regards to equipment, the recently added Mereen-Johnson 424-DC/SR2 gang rip saw with a Cameron Quick Rip system infeed is the biggest improvement to the company's arsenal of equipment in the last nine months. “The Mereen-Johnson increased our capacity for ripping,” says Ed. “And we liked the way that the Cameron system skews the board automatically and then feeds it in. We saw that as a bonus to improving the yield of the lumber.” These machines are housed in a separate building, which was built in 2004 and used for planing operations.

The company also uses a Raimann gang rip saw, which cuts multiple rips of lumber as a board is fed into it. One movable blade on this saw allows for maximization of the yield in the rips taken. The saw is mostly used for smaller production runs.

Rips from the rip saws are then piled onto carts and either warehoused for later use, or taken directly to an Ultimizer 800B crosscut chopsaw, a computer-run saw with optimizing software. The operators mark defects on the wood with a scannable crayon and the saw reads the marks and adjusts to cut for best yield and value.

“We don't always go just for yield; we go for dollar value also,” says Ed. “We want to make sure we're getting the longest, cleanest rips out of the board. You might be better off skewing that board a little bit, having a couple thicker pieces of edging on, and going for that long, clean rip, because you could fool yourself into thinking you're getting a good yield, but you're not getting the dollar value out of it.”

The planing room also includes a Newman S282 high-speed, double-sided planer. The company planes anywhere from two to four truckloads per shift. “We have a conveyer system with a scissors lift to feed that, and we have a pull chain where we do different color sorts for our customers so when we sell lumber we can sort to their color and size specifications, too,”
adds Ed.
Two SCMI Superset moulders do the bulk of the moulding, with anything up to 48-inches-long getting trimmed and fed into the molders by a Friulmac saw. An additional Mattison 276 is used for specialty items and is actually one of the first machines the company purchased in 1969. “We've upgraded this moulder's speed and capability over the years, but it has been a very durable machine,” says Ed.

Coulee Region also uses a Vorwood shaper/sander for drawer fronts, as well as a Jenkins double-end trimmer and two Mattison straight line rip saws, in the main manufacturing plant. The equipment in the panel processing plant includes a panel setting machine from Cameron Technologies, two James L. Taylor clamp carriers, an AEM planer/sander, a Timesavers planer/sander, a Mereen-Johnson double end trim cut-off saw and two Castle machines used for custom pocketing and end drilling on certain styles of kitchen cabinet parts.

The company mostly uses carbide insert tooling. “We also can make our own profile lines,” says Ed. “We have a profile grinder that we use high-speed steel on. If we have pretty decent sized runs of something, we'll get the carbide tooling for our insert heads.”

Coulee Region also possesses a boiler and five dry kilns. “In 1977, we wanted to start controlling the quality of the wood we were receiving for our processing better, so we decided to look at putting in dry kilns and a wood-fired boiler to utilize our wood waste,” says Ed. “That's when we added my brother on to the staff to be in charge of the kilns and the boiler.” The 200-hp high-pressure boiler produces steam to heat the company's dry kilns and the plant by utilizing scrap wood, and features an automated feed system.

The five dry kilns (three Irvington Moore, a Cole and an American Wood Dryer) have a total capacity of approximately 20 truckloads of lumber being dried at one time. Computerized controllers set the temperature and moisture levels in each kiln.

Before entering the kilns, green lumber is inspected in the company's grading chain and lumber stickering area. “We have two lumber inspectors, nationally certified from the National Hardwood Lumber Assn. grading school in Memphis,” says Ed.

Two Companies in One

Coulee Region Enterprises includes a sister company, Coulee Region Hardwoods, a lumber procurement and kiln operation business.

“Rather than buying all of our lumber from the outside, part of what we did was put in our own dry kilns to be able to control the quality of the drying,” says Enterprises President Ed Solberg.

“Coulee Region Hardwoods was started, not only to procure lumber for Enterprises, but also to sell to other companies all over the United States. Enterprises doesn't use all of the lumber. It’s a service that we started to first provide for our own needs, but then also to take care of other customers who are in a similar business. We provide surfacing and grading as part of Hardwood’s services to other people, too.”

In addition to a 200-hp high-pressure boiler and five dry kilns, the company employs two lumber inspectors, who received national certification from the National Hardwood Lumber Assn. grading school in Memphis, TN. The inspectors grade and tally most of the green lumber that the company buys.

Hardwoods has been in business for approximately 14 years, with Ed’s brother Peter Solberg acting as president. “Peter is the president, and I'm the president of Enterprises. That way, we each get to be president,” Ed jokes.

“We get a lot of green lumber from sawmills where we do the primary inspection on it as well,” says Peter. “Other material that we buy that has been inspected, we reinspect; whether it's green lumber from a sawmill that's already been graded, or bringing in kiln-dried that's been graded, we reinspect it.” After the lumber is graded, it is piled and stickered.

The Benefit of Being Domestic
According to the brothers, the company is currently experiencing steady growth. “We slowed down the fourth quarter of '06, but the first quarter of '07 we moved back into growth to where we're probably busier this first quarter of '07 than we were in the first quarter of '06,” says Peter.

“And we have two companies that we're talking about, too,” adds Ed. “We have Enterprises, which is the dimension manufacturing company, and Hardwoods, which is the lumber. Over a five-year stand, both of them have been on a good, steady growth track.”

As a U.S. manufacturer, the company says it can offer domestic companies services that they can't get through importing. “We actually have some customers that are bringing in some import material, but they've realized that we have the value of being here in their backyard,” says Ed. “When they have a need, we can respond to it or give them quicker lead times.”

“We feel some of the kitchen cabinet customers that we deal with tend to be more upper-end manufacturers,” says Peter. “Therefore, they have a lot more SKUs in the system because they offer a lot of variety. That means they need a lot of variety in their supply and shorter lead times.”

“There are certain species we can supply that can't be brought in from overseas,” adds Ed. “Imports are starting to affect the kitchen cabinet industry more. It is a fact of life. It [importing] has pretty much wiped out the U.S. domestic furniture business. But there is a wider base of kitchen cabinet people and it's a lot harder niche to fill, I think, than the furniture market.”
Responding quickly to customers' needs is something the company takes seriously. “We have a tracking system that we use to anticipate their needs before we even hear from them,” says Peter. “So, if we can have stuff in a partial-work stage, awaiting their final order, we go ahead. We use our internal tracking and projection system to track and relate all the way back to our purchases of green lumber.”

“We have weekly meetings with our general manager and our kiln people,” adds Ed. “We try to project and see what the needs are going to be, so we know what lumber to be bringing in to take care of those future needs.”

Though there are currently no machinery upgrades planned for Coulee Region, the brothers do not stay idle in searching and researching new equipment. “Do we have anything else on the horizon? We say no,” says Peter. “But the reality of the situation is, we'll always attend all of the shows. Even though we don't have anything in mind that we're ready to purchase, we like to start looking at things.”

“One of the things we're looking at now would be some of the new scanning technologies that are out there,” says Ed. “Rather than having people manually marking with crayon, they've got machines now that are able to look at the lumber and make those decisions. The cost is a little bit prohibitive right now for us, especially with some of our other recent purchases. You can't buy everything at once, you have to kind of grow. That's our philosophy: to grow gradually as the market allows us to.”

Two SCMI molders with Friulmac infeeds do the bulk of Coulee Region's moulding. Brothers Peter (left) and Ed Solberg acquired partial ownership of Coulee Region in 1990 and full ownership in 1995.
This Mattison 276 moulder was purchased by the company in 1969, and is still in use today for smaller production, specialty jobs. Rips from the rip saws are piled onto carts and either warehoused for later use, or taken directly to an Ultimizer 800B crosscut chopsaw.

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