EuroCraft Ready to Spread its Wings

Republic's EuroCraft division began producing 32mm cabinets two years ago. Today EuroCraft is ready to leave its small quarters and move into a new, larger factory.

BY BARRETT KILMER

 

When Republic Industries decided to form EuroCraft and try its hand at frameless cabinetmaking two years ago, it did so cautiously. Gene Ponder, president of the Marshall, TX-based company had seen enough established cabinet companies fail at it to know he was up against a major challenge.

"Euro-style cabinetmaking has busted a lot of great old companies -- some that used to be major players," Ponder says.

EuroCraft's initial production target was between 750 and 800 boxes per day, but Ponder scaled back plans by 50% as a hedge against possible failure.

"That way, if we made a mistake and couldn't pull off producing European cabinets, it certainly wouldn't put us out of business," Ponder says. "It would cost us some money and teach us a lesson, but it wouldn't hurt us."

The first phase of EuroCraft has gone better than anyone expected, according to Ponder, even turning a profit after its first month in operation. This year he says the company will generate between $7 million and $8 million in sales. To capitalize on that success, EuroCraft recently built a new 60,000-square-foot plant to house Phase II of the company and plans to move in later this year.

 

Outsourcing From Within

Faced with the decision of how to produce the doors for its EuroCraft plant, owner Gene Ponder decided to keep it in the family and produce them in the nearby Republic door area. The door area produces approximately 1,200 parts per day and has made as many as 2,000, says Larry Walls, plant manager, door manufacturing.

The company uses 5/8-inch MDF on the doors as well as the other parts of the cabinets. Most of the doors the plant produces for EuroCraft are thermofoiled.

One of the unique things about the doors is the back bevel, which Walls says is difficult to do using 5/8-inch material. This keeps the workers from having to determine lefts and rights because the doors are interchangeable. It also eliminates the need to add pulls in the assembly area.

Machining is done on three Northwood CNC routers. The newest one is about a year old and features two 15-hp motors with Euro spindles and 8-tool changers on each motor. The company uses diamond tooling, primarily from Saber.

In addition to routing the doors, the Northwoods produce valences, wine racks and other decorative parts. These parts are programmed on Smart Cam software. "We make all our own drawings, and the software has a built-in code generator so we don't have to write our own programs," says Walls.

For nesting purposes, Walls uses Building Blocks software, which works in conjunction with Smart Cam. Walls says he has been pleased with the software and has kept up with most of the upgrades, but that sooner or later he will get to a point where software is not going to be the answer to all the plant's needs.

"The machine's feed speeds, RPMs and tooling will limit what you can do," he says. "We're not maxxed out yet, but when it comes to needing more capacity we'll put on a second shift as opposed to buying more equipment. It just makes better sense because you never know which way the worm is going to turn in this business."

Laminating

The laminating area is separated by a weather curtain to keep it as clean as possible. Humidity and temperature are also kept constant year-round. Walls uses American Helmitin glue and Binks Mach I HVLP spray guns.

"We go around the edges twice since 90% of the bond needs to be on the outside profile of the door," Walls says.

After about 30 minutes of drying, the doors are sent to a Shaw Almex Thermolaminator. Walls says he tries to make sure the trays are full before the workers pull the vinyl since each pull costs about $25.

"The key is to make sure the doors are properly placed on the pedestals. If you have a pedestal sticking out that will ruin the door," Walls says.

The membrane press features a return tray system, with trays going in and getting unloaded at the same time. Cycle times are around two minutes, depending on the material.

Learning from Others' Mistakes

Ponder says he studied the mistakes other cabinet companies had made to improve his own business. One common problem, he says, was that companies tried to take a metric process and convert it to standard measurements so it would not confuse workers.

Another common mistake was companies trying to use American equipment to make European cabinets, he adds.

"They would buy American boring machines and try to set up all the adjustable shelf holes, hinge holes and so forth," Ponder says. "That won't work either. You really have to go out and buy some good European equipment that is designed for production."

EuroCraft considered these failed approaches and decided to do things a little differently.

"We know it's hard to change American mentality of the Imperial system to the metric system, so we decided to combine the two," Ponder says. "Since all the equipment is designed for the metric system height-wise, we kept that system. But we didn't want to reinvent the wheel in America. When a customer wants to buy a B-15, they know what a B-15 is. They don't know what it is in the metric system. So we kept the Imperial system for the width of the cabinets. So if a customer wants a B-15, B-21, B-24, it is truly that size."

New Procedures, New Machinery

EuroCraft was equipped with all new panel processing machinery, which the company bought from a variety of vendors. In all, EuroCraft invested more than $2 million in the equipment.

"We go to the woodworking shows every year to try to keep up with the current equipment and who is making it," Ponder says.

Machinery purchases included a Holzma rear-loading panel saw, a Homag edgebander, several Gannomat boring machines, a Delmac Busellato Jr. point-to-point and a Comil case clamp.

The scaled

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