Eurodesign's Foray into Flooring

Technology and forward thinking is helping this mid-size cabinet company take on the big boys in the laminate flooring arena.

By Larry Adams

It is not everyday that a mid-sized, regional cabinet company decides to enter into a market that is dominated by such high-profile names as Wilsonart, Pergo and Formica, but earlier this year, one Chino, CA-based cabinet company did just that, when Eurodesign introduced its Duramar laminate flooring line.

Utilizing sophisticated machinery some of which was designed in-house, and the excess capacity of its year-old, $1 million laminator, the company began producing laminate flooring earlier this year. "When we began to take an interest in laminate flooring we felt that it was a great product in the sense that it gives the appearance of wood without the drawbacks of maintenance, refinishing and cost," said Farhad Abdollahi, son of the company founder and head of the laminate flooring division. "We have no intentions of being Wilsonart, Formica or Pergo. However, we are confident that Duramar will follow the footsteps of Eurodesign in finding its own unique niche."

Tapping a Niche

Eurodesign's primary market is the rejuvenated Southern California housing market. The company sells its cabinetry to builders and plans on selling its flooring to them through design and distribution centers. To make it more attractive for its building clients, the Duramar floor will be color matched to the company's line of finished cabinetry. This will give Duramar a unique appeal," Abdollahi said.

Eurodesign, with 1997 cabinet sales approaching $21 million, is the smallest company Wood & Wood Products knows of that is trying to capture a piece of the emerging laminate flooring market. The floor covering industry is about a $13.7 billion industry, with 60 percent of that, or approximately $8.2 billion, sold to the residential market. Of that $8.2 billion, 31 players, including nine U.S. manufacturers, are vying for the 1 percent of the market that is laminate flooring. By the year 2000, some in the industry believe laminate flooring could rocket to 5 percent of the market.

Eurodesign projects sales of its laminate flooring to approach $8 million next year, the first full year of production -- aggressive goals considering the competition. "It is not daunting to go against larger companies because Duramar floor has the most realistic wood prints, with a better quality board at a more competitive price," said Abdollahi. "Unlike most flooring manufacturers, we come from an extensive woodworking and furniture back ground. We have a distinct appreciation and knowledge of natural beauty of wood which is apparent in our finished product."

To achieve a distinctive look for its laminate flooring, company founder Hassan Abdollahi, went through hundreds and hundreds of square feet of veneer to select only 28 pieces of wood which were layed up in a way to create consistent yet naturally random patterns. Our experience in furniture making helped us to develop flooring that is far more realistic and comes as close as ever to the real thing," Abdollahi said. These were then photographed to make the cylinders which are used to reproduce that look onto laminate. "We own the cylinders and no one can buy these prints. We currently have three cylinders for laminates in oak, maple and cherry and we have available 13 different colors within that," Abdollahi added.

The wood-design laminate is pressed onto 60-pound high-density fiberboard using a Buerkle melamine press from IMA-European Machinery. The HDF features a top layer of aluminum oxide that helps to protect the flooring from environmental hazards such as sunlight and spills. "This gives us the look equivalent to 3/4-inch solid stock, which costs $12 to $15, a square foot but at half the price," Abdollahi said.

After the HDF is laminated, a fork lift moves a stack of panels onto a horse-shoe-shaped production line that rips, chops, tongue and grooves and boxes the floor planks automatically. The panels are first cut into plank-size widths, about 7 3/4-inches wide, and then into the desired lengths on a Mario Zaffaroni & figli machine from Italy. Twelve planks are produced from each 5-foot by 9-foot panel.

From there the individual pieces are separated by a flipper and sent through back-to-back Torwegge double-end tenoners, also from IMA-European, which tongue and groove the planks. The planks are then automatically stacked and conveyed to the boxing area where packaging machines, which were designed in-house and built by Delmac Machinery Group, construct the cardboard box, load a group of eight planks into it and then shrink wrap the box in plastic. They are then ready for shipping.

Spending Money to Make It

It was the company's desire to improve its production capabilities that helped give it the capacity to produce the laminate flooring. Over a three-year period, Eurodesign spent approximately $1.5 million on new equipment including sanders, veneer splicers and guillotines, an edgebander, a panel saw, a drilling and dowel-inserting machine, and its biggest investment of all, the Buerkle press. The excess capacity of this machine allows the company to give it double-duty; in addition to producing panels for the laminate flooring it is also used to lay up panels for the company's bread-and-butter line of laminate cabinets.

While the laminate flooring is an exciting new growth area for Eurodesign, the company is not standing pat in the cabinet area of the business. "Over the past three years, we have introduced several new door styles, several new stains and paint colors, as well as items such as glass-front pasta drawers, architectural columns, curved front vanity units, special furniture legs and other innovative features to help set our products apart from other cabinets available to our customers," said Fariba Shaygan, daughter of the company founder and director of sales and marketing.

The company offers 40 different door styles in wood, lacquer, laminate and polymeric foil. Thirteen different stains are also offered.

For its membrane-pressed doors, the company uses 3/4-inch, 65-pound rated MDF core. The doors are routed out on two CNC routers including a Heian SR-431-P CNC router from Stiles Machinery and a Shinx Hendricksaw. Using carbide cutters, the machines rout out the doors prior to thermofoil pressing. Both machines, which are pre-programmed for each of the door and component styles, do multi-task work; the Heian can machine as many as six doors at one time, said company designer Mohammed Somji.

Each door blank is then carefully hand sanded. "If you do not hand sand, any imperfections will telegraph through during the thermopressing," Somji said. After hand sanding, the thermofoil is layed up by hand and placed into a Seibu hot press where it goes through a four-minute cycle of heat and pressure.

For its veneered doors and cabinet boxes, the company uses 1/16-inch-thick maple and oak veneer bought in "whole trees" to help grain match. The veneered pieces are stitched together on two stitchers, one from Diehl and one from Stiles Machinery. The veneers are layed up onto 4-foot by 8-foot sheets of 5/8-inch MDF core and bonded using an Italpresse press.

For its finishing operations, the company uses a system of hand sanding, sanding with three new automated sanding machines from Timesavers and hand spraying.

"We are currently designing an automatic sprayer system," said Shaygan. "The system will feature eight guns and an overspray recycling system. We are also building an oven. We are doing this because we think we can improve the quality of our finish while cutting VOC emissions and labor costs."

Improving its Cabinet Construction

In addition to the Duramar flooring line, the Buerkle press is also used to lay up panels for cabinet boxes. "Our initial goal in purchasing the press was to produce our melamine interiors ourselves and not have to buy and inventory pre-laminated panels," said Shaygan. "Prior to buying the press, we were using vinyl panels in some places that are not visible and melamine panels where it would be seen. After buying the press and laying up the panels ourselves, we were able to upgrade our cabinets to all melamine and save $400,000 in inventory costs while producing a better product."

The melamine sheets are layed up onto the MDF by hand and hot pressed. The pressing cycle takes approximately one minute. After pressing, the boards are automatically fed to material handling equipment which, using suction cups, places the panels into two books of panels, one on each side of the machine, ranging up to 35 panels per book.

From there, the melamine panels are sent to two rear-loading panel saws where they will be cut to size. This includes an Anthon CNC panel saw from IMA-European, a $115,000 investment two years ago, "that has increased our capacity for case construction," Shaygan said.

The now cut-to-size workpieces are conveyed through an IMA Combima edgebander. The multi-purpose machine first mills the piece to size. Depending on the product, the component is then banded with wood or PVC edgeband materials. Parts that do not require an edgeband are milled to size and transferred out of the machine to the next processing area.

After banding, the parts are conveyed to a Morbidelli FM 300 boring machine from Tekna Advanced Technologies for hole boring and then processed through a Gannomat 280 from Tritec Associates which bores dowel holes and inserts glue and dowels.

While these sophisticated pieces of material handling equipment and computerized machinery do much of the labor involved in its cabinetry production, each component will still be hand sanded and quality inspected by a worker.

"Our goal is to produce custom cabinets at a production price and in a production time frame," said Shaygan. "Because of our builders' schedules we are limited in time so we combine handwork and technology to get the best of both worlds. We get the detail work of craftsmen and the speed that can be obtained doing redundant processes using high-tech equipment."

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