Panel Laminator Revs Up Value-Added Capabilities

Jasper Laminates prepares for the future by acquiring new, high-tech machines, streamlining work flow and enhancing its process efficiencies.

By John Koski


“If you come back in two years, you won’t recognize the plant,” says Don Bruner, process engineer with Jasper Laminates.

That remark typifies the direction the company is taking as it transitions toward an all-CNC, state-of-the-art facility.

Founded in 1950, Jasper Laminates is a supplier of high-quality, cut-to-size laminated products. The company’s capabilities include veneer, HPL, three-ply panels, machining, banded cores and straight edgebanding up to 3mm and curvilinear edge treatments.

“Some of Jasper Laminates’ strengths are quality products with inherent value, excellent customer service, short lead times and being able to adapt to meet various needs,” says Christie Denton, materials manager. “We are always looking for ways to add more value to our products.

“For example, we are currently doing more machining operations — such as boring, routing and shaping — to our cut-to-size parts because many of our customers want to purchase parts that are ready to assemble and finish.

“In the past,” Denton says, “we would press and trim a desk top and then send it to the customer for radius shaping, hole boring, edgebanding, sanding, finishing and assembly. Now, they are asking for products that are complete except for assembly and finishing.”


Where, Oh Where, is the Wood Capital of the Midwest?

It might even be too tough a question for Regis to ask as the final question on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” What is The Wood Capital of the Midwest? Hmm. Any answer? No answer? Well, it just happens to be Jasper, IN.

The city also bills itself as “The Nation’s Wood Office Furniture Capital.” Interesting claims from a town of around 10,000 people. But Jasper seems to be able to back them up.

The town was founded in the early 1800s by immigrants from Germany’s Black Forest region — people who, for many generations, were proficient in the art of woodworking. Because the Jasper area has abundant forests of white oak and tulip poplar, a thriving woodworking industry was rapidly born.

Today the town is home to more than 12 major woodworking companies — including Kimball International, Aristokraft, Jofco and Inwood Office Furniture — which, combined, employ over 9,000 people.

So the claim is far from hollow. The town even holds its own annual woodworking show which attracts more than 150 exhibitors.

— John Koski


To help produce those products, Jasper Laminates recently purchased a Busellato Jet 4000 CNC machining center and a Biesse Millennium edgebander.

A Kimball Company

Located in Jasper, IN, the company has about 250 employees. Jasper Laminates is a subsidiary of Kimball International, also based in Jasper. “About 75 percent of the products we produce go to other companies within the Kimball family,” says Kevin Reinbold, industrial engineer. Those companies include Jasper Corp., Artec Mfg., Kimball Office Group and Jasper Furniture Co., to name a few.

The remaining 25 percent of Jasper Laminates’ output goes to non-Kimball customers. Gwen Mehringer, sales manager, is in charge of those accounts. “The reason we sell products to both Kimball and outside customers is so that we have interaction with both customer bases. This allows us to remain competitive in the entire marketplace,” Mehringer says.

Components currently manufactured by Jasper Laminates include everything from office furniture to bedside tray tables used in hospitals to furniture for hotel rooms.

Products utilize high-pressure laminates, as well as rotary and flat sliced veneer, lumber core, banded and unbanded particleboard, fiberboard, hardboard and honeycomb. Face veneers are used in every common species, as well as foreign and exotic veneers, matched burls and crotches.

Growth and Expansion

The company operates two plants, located side-by-side, that occupy a combined 170,000 square feet.

Prior to moving into its current facility in 1976, the company was a part of Stylemasters, another company within the Kimball organization. The move to a new plant allowed Jasper Laminates to take on its own identity and was made primarily to increase pressing capacity.

An addition was built onto the back of the plant in 1978, allowing the company to produce HPL products. In 1986, Plant No. 2 opened adjacent to Pant No. 1. Today, Plant No. 1 focuses on wood veneer components, while Plant No. 2 concentrates on HPL parts and machining.

The most recent addition is a warehouse that allows the company to increase the amount of stock it has on hand, something that further helps to reduce lead times.

In addition, parent company Kimball International recently invested in a state-of-the art veneer plant that will supply high-quality veneer to Jasper Laminates.

Jasper Laminates produces approximately 20 million square feet of cut-to-size product annually.

Like other woodworking companies, Jasper Laminates has reduced its lead times to meet market demands. Where in the past, lead times were 35 to 40 days, today they range from 10 to 15 days.

Getting Ready for the Future Today

    As part of its quality-control program, all incoming veneer is checked for defects and imperfections by passing it over a bright light. Although the veneer has already been checked prior to shipment to Jasper Laminates, the additional check helps ensure that the company produces only top-quality products.

As Jasper Laminates looks to the future, it knows that customer expectations will continue to increase. To meet these demands and to add more plant capacity, the company is focusing on ways to increase efficiency while continuing to maintain the highest level of quality.

“Over the past five years,” Reinbold says, “we’ve been changing our manufacturing flow to make it more productive and efficient. We’ve also been able to decrease material handling times.”

However, bigger changes are to come.

“Over the next two years we will move into a straight-line flow,” Bruner says. “As part of that plan, we will install a new angular panel saw to help cut an additional 100,000 square feet of core a week. That will bring us up to about 450,000 square feet a week.

“Everything is going to be conveyorized up to the hot presses. We are going to totally remodel the press department. We will be removing two old 10-opening steam presses and replacing them with two four-opening, feed-through veneer presses.

“We’re going to move one of our existing feed-through presses into a new line and realign the whole department so that we have a straight flow from the panel saws through the veneer department, through the presses,” Bruner says.

“We also will install two new trim saw cells to cut the material coming out of the presses. From there it will go to the edgebanders and other operations.

“We’re going to have a fairly straight flow through the plant,” he says. “This will allow us to increase production by about 100,000 square feet a week.”

One Step at a Time

“The transition will be staggered,” Bruner says, “because of different lead times on various pieces of equipment. For example, we know that we have to put the new angular panel saw in first because we can’t remove the old one until the new one’s in operation. Once the new saw is in place, we can remove the older saw and realign the panel saw area.


  Jasper Laminates’ Growing Equipment List

In the last four years, Jasper Laminates has made significant investments in equipment that will allow the company to operate more efficiently and help maintain its emphasis on producing quality products with short lead times. New equipment additions include:

• Biesse Millennium Edgebander

• Busellato Jet 2000

• Gabbiani Galaxy 140 panel saw

• Gabbiani Panelmatic 2 trim saw and edgebander line

• SCMI Sigma 115 Evolution

• Two Torit dust collection systems

• AEM top/bottom calibrating sander

• Costa 80TR CTT-TR-1350 finish sander

• Midwest Automation cold pinch roll system for high-pressure laminate

• ORMA 5-ft by 8-ft and 5-ft by 12-ft feed-through veneer hot presses

• SCMI Basic 2 edgebander with Doucet return conveyor

• SCMI Selecta 12FR edgebander

• Two SCMI Concept 2000 trim saws

Other, older equipment used by Jasper Laminates includes:

• Columbia 10-opening hot press

• Plycor 10-opening hot press

• Holzma angular panel saw

• Two IMA edgebanders

• Four Mereen-Johnson double-end trim saws

• Wemhoner feed-through hot press

• Olympic edgebander.


“That will leave room to move the veneer department and give us the space to install the first of the new presses.

“We’ve already started our transformation by purchasing a Gabbiani combo line and creating trim saw cells. They are already in position, right where they are going to stay. In addition, we’ve got a Wemhoner feed-through hot press in position. Our small-quantity press cell, as well as our large-top cell are also set up and all we’ll have to do is move them when the time comes.”

“When purchasing new equipment, each of our engineers has a different focus,” says Byron Roth, operations manager. For example, he says that Jasper Laminates sent three engineers to IWF 2000, with each assigned a different type of machine to research or manufacturer to visit.

“We went to IWF to get information,” Denton says, “and to make sure that the machines we are considering are the best available products.”

“Everything we buy now is CNC because it increases operating time by reducing setup,” Bruner adds. “We can also pre-program a lot of our common parts. In addition, operator training is also a lot easier on CNC equipment, and it reduces a lot of manual labor. Any new equipment that we can buy that is CNC is definitely a good thing to do.”

For example, Bruner says, “by installing a new angular CNC panel saw, with its high speed and high capacity, we can increase capacity in the department without adding more people.

“We are also looking to eliminate a lot of the forklift traffic and scrap removal traffic, because the new saws will eliminate most of the scrap.”

“What it comes down to is that customer expectations are higher,” says Terry Schitter, quality manager. “By improving our process capabilities, our goal is to meet or exceed the expectations of all of our customers.”

The Superman of Steam Presses

At some long-forgotten point in the past, someone must have thought of it as a mechanical equivalent of Superman –– only dressed in green. With chalk in hand, that appreciative worker drew a Superman logo on the upper part of the venerable veneer press, which is used daily in Jasper Laminates’ No. 1 Plant. The 50-year-old Columbia hot-plate steam press has the credentials to back up that compliment.

The 10-opening press has a platen size of 63 in. by 78 in. It obtains the steam that it needs to operate from an ABCO boiler operating at 90 psi, and which uses wood waste as fuel.

Although it performs admirably considering it is half-a-century old, the press does require seven workers to operate. The crew works like a well-oiled machine. Each person has an assignment and everyone works together as a part of a single unit as the press quietly goes about its work of creating wood-veneer panels.

Panel cores first pass through a glue spreader. Then sheets of wood veneer are placed on both sides of the panels. Next, the panels are sandwiched between tempered aluminum plates and loaded into the press. After being pressed for 21&Mac218;2 minutes, two workers on the outfeed end of the press unload the panels onto pallets, which are then taken to trimming, machining and other operations.

Sadly, for some at least, the press will go off line sometime in the next two years. It will be replaced by a more efficient veneer. In addition to being state-of-the-art, the new press will be able to laminate wood veneer panels in 60 seconds. The 90 seconds saved will be a significant advantage because cool-down times will be greatly reduced, allowing the panels to be processed more quickly.

But other opportunities lie ahead for the stalwart Columbia press. Just like some of Plant No. 1’s other older equipment that has been replaced, the Columbia steam press may soon find itself on an ocean freighter bound for yet another career in a South American furniture factory.

— John Koski

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