For Wood Products Northwest Inc., 2009 has brought growth back to the company after a down year in 2008.

“We have really taken off since 2008,” says Robert Hamlin, president/general manager of the company. “Our gross revenue is up 142 percent.”

The Ellensburg, WA-based company originated in 1989, and is a full-service manufacturer of cabinetry, commercial casework, millwork, institutional furniture and countertops. Wood Products Northwest designs, builds and installs most of its own products, outsourcing cabinet doors and some drawer boxes to U.S. companies, many of which are local.

“Our business is set up in a way that we can quickly adjust and move into or out of different segments of our industry,” Hamlin says. “We will stay with residential work and will hit it hard when it is going strong. And then if that slows, we can move heavier into different types of commercial work, which is still a large part of our business. We also like to install all of our work, to be able to control the quality through to the end. Because of this we try to stay within a 200-mile radius or it becomes too costly and too hard on the crew. Because of that, we end up servicing the whole state — which is a large market in itself — although we do get referrals that sometime direct us out of state.”

Hamlin credits a significant amount of the company’s recent success to an in-state casework/furniture project it completed for Central Washington University. “We were fortunate enough to find out about a local 500-bed university dorm building, and through our previous times of providing smaller casework and furniture items to the university, they had confidence in us and allowed us to make them prototypes and negotiate the largest single contract to date for us,” he says.

The $1 million project was for 2,000 pieces of high-quality maple furniture and took more than four months to complete. The company used more than 3,500 sheets of pre-finished plywood from Roseburg, 4,000 Blum hinges, 4,300 Accuride guides, other hardware items from Häfele, 4,300 drawer boxes from Drawer Box Specialties and 300 gallons of pre-catalyzed acrylic lacquer from Becker Acroma. “We are pretty proud of it,” Hamlin says. “We have seen for so many years these large projects going to large companies hundreds of miles away or many states away. This time, as a local manufacturer, we were able to compete and beat the larger companies while helping our local economy and hiring many additional out-of-work employees to complete the project.”

Wood Products Northwest also produces a large amount of commercial casework for the medical field, which Hamlin says is a great fit for the company. “We have found that medical is a good combination of complexity and the price structure is higher,” he says. “There are not a lot of multiples, because you are building, really, custom, one-of-a-kind reception desks, different types of procedure rooms, exam rooms and patient rooms designed by architects. For the really big shops, there are not enough multiples where they can mass produce the same thing over and over, so they tend to stay away from them. It is kind of a niche market we fell into, where the job can be anywhere from $10,000 to a quarter million. That is perfect for us, with the size of company we are.”

 The company prefers to design, build and install all of its own work, such as the reception desk
 pictured above.

 Wood Products Northwest uses design/engineering software located in an upstairs office to control the
 machinery on the shop floor, including the nested-based router pictured above.

Embracing New Technologies
Hamlin is a strong proponent of technology, including design and engineering software, and says it has made a positive impact on Wood Products Northwest. The company uses Cabinet Vision software from Planit.

“We started with Cabinet Vision in 1991, with its DOS version,” he says. “We were really a small company still in our first few years. Right off the bat, the biggest thing it did for us was give us more ability with the presentation. It wowed the customers when they saw their projects in three-dimensional line drawings, instead of the hand drawings we had been doing.

“Because we have vested so much time and have experience with the software, now we use it for everything seamlessly,” Hamlin continues. “The drawings now are state-of-the-art for the client. The program supplies us with all accurate information to price our work; all programing and engineering, detailed perspectives and drawings for the shop, assembly sheets, cutlists and reports. We are able to use the built-in engineering and control all aspects of it inside our offices. The job then is sent out on programs to the shop and directly to machines with bar codes. Everything is very efficient. It has just been flawless. Even this year with our growth, we probably still have another 25 percent of capacity on the machines we have right now. We are pretty excited for how well everything has been working together.

Wood Products Northwest changed to nested-based manufacturing in 2000. Hamlin says this has proven to be a win-win situation  all the way around.

“I’m a firm believer in nested-based,” he says. “I am sold on that technology now — the squareness of the part, the safety factor of it. Operators are never near anything that will hurt them. Also, since we now control all aspects of the engineering in our offices, it is much easier now just to have to train a operator to run the machines with a smaller learning curve. It is nothing like training someone in the past to program parts or having to manually handle sheets and cut all parts on a saw, one piece at a time.

“Because we do run small batches and complex things, you can’t beat it for the routing ability to cut all large and small parts,” Hamlin adds. “You can mix easy parts and complex parts all on the same sheet and cut it, mix a curve in with a square, because  we have true-shape nesting. Everything has gotten very advanced.”

The company uses a Biesse Rover B 7.4 CNC machining center for its nested-based operations. In addition, Wood Products Northwest’s production shop includes a Biesse Akron 440 edgebander, an Altendorf F45 Elmo sliding table saw, an Adwood Detel M-22 boring machine, material handling equipment from Thomas Mfg. and a Kaeser SP-11 air compressor. The finishing and sanding department contains equipment from Binks and Sand-Pro.

Staying on the Grow
Though he has concerns about the economy, as well as more competition for less market share, Hamlin says he expects more growth from the company in the future.

“We would like to maintain the level of growth we have achieved in 2009,” says Hamlin. “Within 24 to 36 months, we are looking at possibly building a new facility with 20,000 to 25,000 square feet. At that time we may add a second nested-based CNC machine and case clamps, and go to an automated spray system.” z  

Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.