Texas-based PIN strives to remain on the cutting edge of technology and productivity by keeping abreast of new innovations while continuously implementing procedures to enhance operations.

Editor's note: Industry Trendsetters is a new feature series that highlights the movers and shakers within the woodworking industry. Each issue will feature a case study of an industry leading company, including a focus on the technology that separates it from the pack.

Keeping up with technology is not an easy task, especially in a world where innovations are being created almost every day. However, considering the impact technology has on efficiency, quality, repeatability and other factors, wood products manufacturers cannot afford to let technology pass them by. It is this type of dedication to maintaining a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility that makes Texas-based PIN an industry trendsetter.

PIN was established in 1992 as an installation company, installing fixtures for other manufacturers. Within a few months, the company started manufacturing its own fixtures to a small extent. In 1995, the company bought its first CNC machine, and by 1996 it was totally self-contained.

“The technology has allowed us the ability to be more efficient and have better quality,” says Jeff Pray, president and CEO.

Pray says he is always learning about new technology, be it from trade shows, seminars, webinars or through solicitation. Among the emerging technology that currently has caught his eye is a new concept in drilling panels and an edgebander that prints images onto the

edgeband material as it is applied.

“We're also exploring the introduction of a software solution that would allow us to take our information from the estimating phase to the recording steps, migrate it into the engineering phase and pick up where the Cut Rite leaves off, and then be able to manage our inventory from procurement all the way through the shipment phase,” explains Tony Santellan, vice president of operations.

Additionally, the company takes steps to remain current on the technology it already employs, reinvesting more than $1 million annually on its equipment, according to company documentation, and continually utilizing the latest software upgrades.

PIN remains dedicated to technology, spending more than $1 million annually to reinvest in its equipment.

Irving, Texas

Founded in 1992 as an installer of store fixtures, the company began manufacturing its own fixtures after a few months of operation. Now, the company operates in a 168,000-square-foot facility and makes fixtures for a variety of the nation’s major retail and hospitality chains, such as Rent-A-Center, Accor Hotels and The UPS Store.

Three Keys

1. The company is constantly on the lookout for new technology that can reduce lead times, improve quality and enhance its overall operation.

2. PIN is known for the “store-in-a-box” comprehensive package that provides customers with everything they need to open their stores.

3. President and CEO Jeff Pray and his management team review the company’s

processes daily to find opportunities for improvement.


“We continually stay on the subscription programs with all of our software vendors to make sure that we get the latest, greatest upgrades when they come out,” says Ed Jones, engineering manager. “We're always on the forefront of the latest version of whatever we're using.”

Due to PIN's dedication to technology, its manufacturing philosophy is often replicated by other companies to demonstrate the benefits of remaining on the cutting edge, says Pray. Santellan notes that these companies will come into PIN to benchmark some of its techniques in terms of progressive flow, machinery, technology and capabilities. They also come to PIN to look at the applied technology and get ideas on how to improve their own operations.

“I think, in many respects, PIN is a leader in technology, and a lot of other companies are interested in the things we're doing and trying to apply them in their own environment,” he says.

Technology also enables the company to maintain the same level of consistency, from product to product. Once the machines are programmed, they will duplicate the same part over and over, without variation and further input. Once a design is made on the computer, it can be stored indefinitely and pulled up at any time when additional orders come through.

“The technology allows us to make a consistent product,” says Pray. “We can duplicate something we made 10 years ago.”

“I think one of the keys to PIN is repeatability as applied through technology,” agrees Santellan. “You can look at 10 fixtures and they're identical.”

In addition to remaining on the cutting edge of technology, PIN also is dedicated to improving its processes.

Process Improvement

“[Business] is a big circle. You build your processes and then you have to go get sales to feed them. Then, when you get the sales, you have to build your processes again. We're always working on the weakest point,” says Pray.

PIN begins the process in the engineering department, where the engineers design the store fixtures with SolidWorks and AutoCAD. The company creates architectural drawings, floor plans and 3-D models for its customers, making sure all aspects of the design are pre-approved before anything goes into production. Customers can view computer-rendered, full-color images of their fixtures or take a virtual walk through their store.

Once the design is finalized, the company uses Stiles Machinery Cut Rite software to create a bill of materials and a bar-coding system. WoodWOP software from Stiles drives the machines, generating the information necessary to execute the programs on the shop floor.

“The labeling technology we're using has our full routing sequence,” explains Mike Trostle, operations manager. “It's a paperless factory and there's not a lot of lost time looking for drawings. It's very efficient. People can look at that label and within seconds know where that part goes.”

Parts are cut with Holzma panel saws and then edgebanded with Homag CNC edgebanders or Homag Optimat BAZ 322s, available from Stiles Machinery. From there, the components are drilled on one of four Weeke machining centers. Initial assembly is done on a Ligmatech MPP 100 case clamp, with any additional assembly of irregularly shaped pieces done by hand. The company ships 90 percent of its fixtures fully assembled.

The system is under constant scrutiny from Pray, his management team and the employees on the shop floor.

“I think one of the biggest factors to our success is that our people are active in the process and we are very active with our people,” says Trostle. “We're on the floor, we're talking with our people and we're getting their input on how to do things better.”

“When we design a new product, we confer with the guys on the floor to see if they foresee any process issues in the design that we have so we can do some corrective action before it actually hits the floor,” adds Jones.

Pray says the company develops its processes around the customer to meet each client's individual needs. For a recently acquired client whose job required hand assembly, Pray says he and his team were able to cut assembly time by 50 percent after adjusting the initial process. Pray's new goal is to cut the remaining time in half again.

“We have a long way to go,” says Pray. “We have a lot more processes to develop for that customer. It's an ongoing project.”

“We're looking at demand, assembly systems and future customers on a daily basis for special projects and repetitive transactions,” adds Santellan.

PIN's management team is not only looking to the assembly process for improvement opportunities. They also look at every step along the way, including material handling, inventory levels and the layout of the shop floor.

“We do a lot of Kaizen events on the fly. They're short improvement opportunities,” says Santellan. “We'll do some value engineering and value-added processes with programs that we have to determine if we can take product and material costs out and create labor improvements as well.”

A New Dimension

Sharing part of PIN’s facility is its sister company, Dimension FX, a manufacturer of 3-D laminates. Dimension FX is a separate venture and sells to other companies that manufacture store fixtures.

Dimension FX utilizes nested-based manufacturing, designing the products with AlphaCAM and AlphaDoor software from Planit. Once the design is set, four Homag Optimat BOF 712 CNC processing centers cut out the pieces. They are then sent to a Cefla gluing robot that was specially commissioned for the company. Wemhoner presses apply the laminate and Gottschild machines trim away any excess material and clean the products.

Pray says Dimension FX achieved sales of about $300,000 in 2005, its first year of business, and grew to about $3 million in sales in 2006.

“We use that same concept towards our customers,” remarks Pray. “We'll ask, ‘What can we do to make your lives easier?'”

Among the changes to improve processes, the company looks at developing programs to retain employees as well as to enhance their effectiveness.

Keeping the Staff PINned

With more and more goods produced overseas every year, American manufacturing companies are having a hard time attracting and retaining the personnel they need. Meanwhile, as schools cancel woodshop classes, the well of recruits in the woodworking industry shrinks.

“We struggle with it daily,” says Trostle. As the company grows, it is constantly “trying to find qualified people, people who want to work in manufacturing.”

“Cabinetmaking is not a glorious career anymore,” says Pray. “You used to have a lot of people who took woodshop in high school and wanted to go build with their hands. Those people aren't around anymore.”

“We're becoming a service-oriented country and we're losing manufacturing jobs because of lower labor rates and lower material costs,” says Santellan. “It poses a challenge to all the manufacturers in the woodworking industry, and a lot of that has to be internal development. You have to have a career path for people coming in the door unskilled.”

To get candidates in the door, PIN is tied in with Pittsburg State and North Carolina State, sponsoring apprentices in the universities, in addition to sponsoring woodworking technology curriculum. The company goes to local high schools to get students interested in a career in woodworking. It also takes part in local job fairs.

The company employs approximately 150 people, with about 100 on the shop floor. To retain its staff, the company cross-trains the majority of employees and offers competitive benefits, as well as incentives for going through long periods without a lost-time incident. Maintaining safety in the shop is important not only for monetary reasons, but also for ensuring employee health and confidence in the work environment. This includes making sure the shop is clean and well kept.

“With the technology we have, we're fortunate that the manufacturing machinery we're using is very safe. The employees are really out of harm's way in most cases,” explains Trostle.

“We don't want a dirty environment,” says Pray. “People work better when it's clean. It's absolutely more presentable when it's clean. Attitudes are better. It's very important.

“Anybody who's been here a long time can advance,” Pray adds. “We offer good benefits, but it's going to have to go beyond that. The next step is going to be making this the destination for people to want to come to work, to not only retain people, but to get them here as well.”

It's All in the Box

PIN prides itself on being a turnkey provider — a one-stop shop for its customers. From the initial design to manufacturing and the consolidation of goods, PIN provides everything the customer needs to outfit a location.

“Our biggest marketing strategy is our store-in-a-box,” says Pray. “It's one stop, one delivery, everything they need to finish out the store.”

In addition to fixtures and displays, the company stocks products and materials from other vendors to provide a complete package for a store opening. Since 90 percent of the fixtures are assembled before they are shipped, it only takes a couple of days for a store to be up and running once it has received its order.

To further meet customers' needs, PIN sets the bar high for shipping orders. When an established customer places a stock order, the company guarantees that the order will be shipped within 10 days. Custom projects are shipped within four weeks. Nearly all of PIN's orders are from stock, which means the company maintains a steady pace of production. At any given time, there are approximately 20 jobs in progress on the shop floor.

Pray says the company has reached its 10-day shipment goal every time. “It's all about customer service,” he says, “which is [ensuring products are] on time, accurate and of quality construction. [The technology] allows more just-in-time [manufacturing], which gets us to our 10-day ship guarantee.”

To ensure quality, the company monitors the pieces throughout the manufacturing process and utilizes a triple-check system before the order ships. The machines are checked regularly for accuracy, down to using jigs to check the accuracy of holes drilled into the boards.

“On the assembly line, we have a check sheet,” explains Trostle. “At each step on the line, a person is signing off that he or she checked that point in the assembly.”

As orders are ready to be loaded onto the truck for shipment, the triple-check system comes into play. Parts are checked off when they are brought to the dock. After that, a second employee blind checks everything on the dock for accuracy. Finally, as the orders are loaded onto the truck, a third employee checks each off a list to make sure everything is included.

“It takes longer and it takes more space, but we know when we get it there it's right,” comments Pray.

PIN's dedication to quality is shown through the small number of warranty claims the company has to fix which, according to Pray, is 0.3 percent of total products shipped.

The company has been recognized for its customer service and dedication, including being awarded the first ever National Association of Store Fixture Manufacturers' Above & Beyond Award. When a Hattiesburg, MS-based retailer lost her store to Hurricane Katrina, PIN designed, built and shipped her custom order in 10 days. Additionally, when the customer received her fixtures, the account representative took steps to have them installed the same day when installation crews were tied up in the region.

According to Pray, business is ramping up, but that does not mean he can relax. “The process improvement day in and day out drives everything,” he says. “We're very fortunate.”


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