Building on its already prestigious legacy, Gunlocke Co. continues to distinguish itself through its efforts in lean and sustainable manufacturing, and the development of innovative products.
Perhaps best known for its Washington chair, used in the Oval Office by eight presidents — Franklin D. Roosevelt through Jimmy Carter — Gunlocke’s chairs also have been used in the White House by a host of others, including President Barack Obama.
In addition to seating offered in a wide variety of styles, the Wayland, NY-based Gunlocke also is renown for its large selection of wooden casegoods, conference tables and office systems. According to Don Mead, Gunlocke president, the company has been able to maintain its high level of quality and craftsmanship, while improving production rates and capabilities, by focusing efforts on lean and sustainable manufacturing throughout the entire operation.
“Any time you introduce lean manufacturing into an operation, it heightens the awareness of what you can do,” Mead says.
The company has a long culture of efficient manufacturing, but it wasn’t until 2000 that the conversion to lean manufacturing began in earnest, says Rob Christie, vice president of operations and general manager. Since then, it has been a process of continuous improvement for the company, which recently completed consolidation of two buildings into one 500,000-square-foot manufacturing facility and revamped the plant layout into more efficient production cells.
“In seating, for example, we’ve obtained approximately 30 percent improvement in labor efficiency, and for throughput, probably a good day off in the process,” Christie says.
“The strength of what makes Gunlocke special is its membership and their ability to adapt to change,” Christie adds. Gunlocke currently employs approximately 650 to 700 members. The company has recently hired back some of its members as it ramps up its output to meet increased demand.
Gunlocke’s move to a lean, continuous manufacturing line has helped it to increase production while maintaining the company’s standards of quality.
“We now have a continuous process flow, with very little inventory of work in process,” says Ron Hilfiker, manager/Tailored Products Engineering. “And because we have very little work in process inventory, if there ever is a problem, we can correct it immediately.”
Eliminating waste while striving for continuous improvement is at the heart of lean manufacturing. Located within each cell area is a data sheet with the target production goal alongside the actual accounting of the item manufactured.
The manufacturing process begins in the humidity-controlled veneer cell, where the company produces faces in-house before laying up the panels using a Black Bros. glue spreader and Wemhoner oil press.
All veneered panels are backed with either a compatible species or Gatorply for balance. “Balanced construction is critical to the quality of the board,” Hilfiker says.
To further ensure the quality of the product, each flitch of veneer is personally inspected by a member of Gunlocke prior to purchase, Hilfiker says. Primary species include cherry, walnut, hard maple and white oak, as well as reconstituted veneers. The company also offers bird’s-eye maple, figured anigre, ribbon sapele, English sycamore and crotch-cut mahogany, with other species available upon request.
Nearby in the rough mill area, lumber is defected and cut to length with the help of TigerStops, then ripped to width and machined on a double-end tenoner and Weinig moulders. The components are then brought to a staging area where they will be matched with other parts in the order and later assembled.
In the panel processing area, cells of Shoda and Heian CNC routers work in conjunction with Brandt edgebanders, some equipped with Ligmatech return conveyors, along with Weeke and Morbidelli CNC centers to machine large panels into single or multiple parts.
Flexible machinery is integral to Gunlocke’s initiative to eliminate waste in the process. The company has the capability for producing long and short runs, as well as batch process common core parts, which then can be machined and matched with specified options for custom orders.
“We couldn’t survive without the CNCs, not with the marketplace demand for a number of varieties and specials,” Hilfiker says.
Approximately 20 percent of the production is custom orders, but with the switch to lean manufacturing, lead times typically are the same as with Gunlocke’s standard products, Hilfiker says. “It gives us an advantage in the marketplace.”
Another advantage the company has is in its production of bent wood parts. Gunlocke is one of the few North American furniture manufacturers to do its own high-volume bending — both steam and platen — to curve wood legs, arms and backs. The bends can range from simple ones of 15 degrees, all the way to U-shapes.
Quality control steps are taken throughout every phase of the entire production process. For example, each piece is hand-scanned with a black light to check for any imperfections prior to finishing.
All product, from chairs to chassis, flows to the finishing area, which hosts multiple spray booths and Giardina flatline UV systems outfitted with robotic sprayers at the final station. Worksurfaces run through the 400-foot-long UV system receive Gunlocke’s low-VOC ClearTech finish, while chassis, chairs and other parts are finished with the company’s low-VOC water-based AquaTech material, unless otherwise specified.
Lean Leads to Green
Sustainable manufacturing is nothing new for Gunlocke. The company’s efforts can be traced back to the 1950s, when it installed a water tube boiler to process wood waste. And its green initiatives have continued through to present day: upstream, instream and downstream.
Gunlocke’s upstream efforts include the use of wood from providers with forest sustainability management practices. In addition, the company uses reconstituted veneers, while 20 percent of the fabric used in its upholstered chairs is from recycled materials and 100 percent of the foam used is recyclable.
Instream, the company says 90 percent of all manufacturing waste is reclaimed and reused in-house. In addition to the low-VOC finishing system for wood parts, water-based dyes are used for fabrics and in the leather tanning process. Through its efforts, the company says it has been able to reduce internally (per million dollars of production, compared to a three-year baseline average):
• 16% finishing hazardous waste solids.
• 5% hazardous air pollutants (HAPs).
• 28% in criteria air pollutants (CAPs).
• 30% greenhouse gas emissions.
• 10% solid waste generation.
• 41% process water consumption.
• 35% overall energy consumption.
• 40% packaging waste.
And downstream, 95 percent of every product is recyclable or reusable. In addition, Gunlocke is able to offer Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified products through its FSC Chain-of-Custody system. The company also has products certified under the Scientific Certification Systems (SCS) Indoor Advantage program and is able to offer level 1 and level 2 products certified through SCS under the Business & Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Assn. e3-2008 furniture sustainability standard. All Gunlocke products are CARB ATCM Phase 1 compliant and most contribute to multiple LEED-CI credits, says Roy Green, director of Stewardship/Sustainability and a LEED AP.
Mead says he sees the desire for green products continuing grow, driven by the market. “It can be a criteria to compete,” he adds.
Designing for Today’s Market
Prior to the launching of new products, they are evaluated for their sustainability, including compliance with LEED programs. The company has implemented a Design for the Environment procedure (DfE) as part of the new product development process.
According to Green, “The DfE procedure establishes the environmental criteria we employ to design and develop new products in an effort to assure that environmental costs and human and ecosystem impacts of our products are identified and minimized when feasible.”
According to Jason Wolfanger, director of Product Management and Development, the company compiles information based on market feedback, derived from conversations with corporate clients, dealers and sales staff, as well as studies on workplace trends. Based on the information, Wolfanger says, Gunlocke will determine such things as how to best design furniture to solve a problem the customer is having in their workspace.
“The process to develop a design concept can take anywhere from six months to a year, depending on the product. We’re looking to determine where there are opportunities in our product portfolios and where key customers are heading in work-style, budget and style,” Wolfanger adds.
According to Bryan Crandall, Casegoods product manager, oftentimes rather than launch an entirely new line, the company will look to make modifications and improve existing products. “We’re constantly evaluating our existing product lines to see what enhancements can be made to better meet the needs of the every-changing workplace. Some of the prevailing issues we look at are technology integration, wire management capabilities and efficient storage.”
“We also try to look at all the special requests that have come through to see if there are enough that can be incorporated into standards,” adds George Nicolaescu, product manager for Tables & Seating.
“New products are very important to the health of the company. We target four to five new product launches each year,” Crandall adds.
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