W&WP February 2003

Kincaid Stands Solid

The nation’s largest manufacturer of solid wood furniture is investing in its plants to stay No. 1.

By Karen M. Koenig

     
Kincaid Furniture, Subsidiary of La-Z-Boy
Hudson, NC

Kincaid is the nation’s largest solid wood residential furniture manufacturer. The company produces 26 collections of bedroom, dining room and occasional furniture in traditional, country, European country, casual/contemporary and West Indies styles. Kincaid is also well-known for its Laura Ashley, Ducks Unlimited and Thomas Kinkade licensed collections. The company operates nine plants totaling 1.1 million square feet and employs 1,500 people.

Three Keys
1. New CNC equipment has enabled Kincaid to streamline its production process and reduce its lead time to less than eight working days.
2. Kincaid uses environmentally-friendly high solids finishing materials and UV coats the backside of large panels. Pieces are hand wiped prior to sealing.
3. Kincaid’s furniture is distinguished by fully dovetailed drawers, mortise-and-tenon joinery, solid wood non-tilting drawer guides and floating tops, which adapt to changes in the humidity.

 
   
     

Kincaid Furniture has a solid future ahead of it. Literally.

The Hudson, NC-based company is the largest solid wood residential furniture maker in the United States. “It may be the largest in the world,” says Reggie Propst, vice president of operations.

Instead of closing plants and sourcing products from overseas like many other U.S. furniture manufacturers, Kincaid Furniture has chosen to invest in its future by purchasing new equipment to streamline its production processes to less than eight working days, from the time the order is placed to shipment. This not only keeps Kincaid competitive with domestic manufacturers, but with foreign competitors as well. At the same time, the company remains true to its 57-year-old heritage of quality craftsmanship.

With approximately 1.1 million square feet of manufacturing space in the Hudson area, Kincaid Furniture produces 26 collections of bedroom, dining room and occasional furniture in traditional, country, European country, casual/contemporary and West Indies styles.

Perhaps the most widely-recognized of the Kincaid Furniture lines are the Laura Ashley licensed collections of European country-style furniture. Kincaid Furniture also has licensing agreements with two other well-known names, artist Thomas Kinkade and Ducks Unlimited, to create collections of country-style furnishings.

   
The Laura Ashley licensed collections are the most widely recognized of the Kincaid lines. Made of solid wood, they are designed in a European country style.  
     

“With the licensed collections we have done at Kincaid, we have met with the licensee prior to any design work being done and in all cases, they have given us the main role in the product design. They always like to see the design process as it happens, but we drive the design process,” says Tim Annas, director of design.

“Our lines are full-scale collections as opposed to suites, given the large selection of pieces we offer in each group,” Propst adds.

Creating Heirlooms
From the beginning, founder J. Wade Kincaid’s focus was on solid wood furniture. In 1946, with help from his father and sister, Kincaid obtained the money needed to start his own company. Working with a staff of five employees, he began making and selling solid wood cedar chests and wardrobes.

“My father always believed that solid wood furniture was better and would last,” says Steven Kincaid, president of Kincaid Furniture.

“I remember in the late 1960s and ’70s when Mediterranean furniture became popular. It had injection-molded parts and was a lot (cheaper). We struggled for a little, but my dad had decided that (solid wood) was what we were going to do — and always going to do,” Kincaid says.

It was the right decision. “Solid wood furniture lasts forever and becomes ‘tomorrow’s heirloom.’ (It) becomes an investment. You can find centuries-old antique furniture that’s still beautiful today,” he adds.

Kincaid’s solid wood furniture is distinguished by its construction and finish. The company uses mortise and tenon joinery and floating tops which adapt to changes in the humidity without damage to the furniture. Other special touches include solid wood non-tilting drawer guides and fully dovetailed drawers.

“We use conventional (English) dovetails on the back of the drawers and French dovetails on the front. We use the French dovetails on the front because there is more stress on the front of the drawer, from pulling it in and out, than on the back,” Propst says. He cites testing results by a major university that showed French dovetails used in the study were substantially stronger than the English dovetails used.

     
‘Solid Wood’ vs. ‘All Wood’ Construction

Educated consumers are the best customers. For Kincaid Furniture, that means giving them a crash course on the differences between “solid wood” and “all wood” construction.

“Oftentimes, people will hear ‘all wood’ and identify it with ‘solid.’ The two are not interchangeable,” says Reggie Propst, vice president of operations at Kincaid Furniture, Hudson, NC.

Kincaid specializes in solid wood residential furniture manufacturing. In solid wood construction, all exterior panels are made from solid wood. Neither veneers nor composite wood products are used.

One method popular with many other furniture companies is a combination solid and veneer construction. In this method, while solid wood components such as drawer fronts are used, the remainder of the case good is made from veneer overlaid onto a composite board. Wood edgebanding typically is used to simulate the “solid wood” effect.

The other term bandied about is “all wood.” Any wood product — particleboard, MDF, veneer, etc. — falls into this category. Technically speaking, even a newspaper is considered “all wood.” This type of furniture frequently does not contain any solid wood parts, Propst explains.

“We educate our sales people (at the retail stores) so they can get the story out,” he adds. “Solid wood products are easy to repair, very durable and unique in characteristics — they’re heirloom products. Most of your antiques were made from genuine solid wood.”

 
   
     

French dovetail, also known as a dovetail dado, is a single dovetail that runs the length of the joint. An English dovetail, also known as a conventional dovetail, features wedge-shaped projections in one panel that, at the joint, lock into the wedge-shaped grooves in another panel.

Streamlined Manufacturing
Kincaid Furniture produces the vast majority of its components in-house. “We do bring in some dimension panels and decorative mouldings, but we primarily manufacture our own parts,” Propst says.

Very few items are imported. “We have a few parts that are very labor intensive (such as highly carved components) that we import in order to remain (price) competitive,” Kincaid says. The company also has signed an agreement with a Chinese manufacturer to import a line of heavily carved solid wood bedroom furniture. “However, we will continue to be a predominantly domestic manufacturer,” Kincaid stresses.

     
 
The Ducks Unlimited licensed collection is designed for people who love the outdoors. As part of its agreement with Kincaid, a percentage of sales from this collection is donated to the Ducks Unlimited conservation effort.  
     

For Kincaid Furniture, the manufacturing process begins with the raw lumber. Kincaid purchases the hardwood from domestic sources and then dries it to 6 to 8 percent moisture content in its 1.3 million board feet of kiln space. Species used include cherry, oak, alder, poplar, ash, pine and maple. On average, Kincaid processes more than 20 million board feet a year, Propst says.

After drying and grading, the lumber is planed and surfaced by a Newman self-centering planer. Plants 1, 5, 6 and 8 are each set up for cutting and ripping operations. At Plant 1, for example, 11 ripsaws and three cutoff saws process 45,000 to 50,000 board feet of lumber per day, says Mark Suddreth, manager of Plant 1.

After cutting, the lumber is glued and clamped on Taylor dual action clamp carriers. According to Propst, the grain direction in each piece of the lumber strips are alternated when required to help prevent warpage.

Until recently, each plant ran as a self-contained unit, responsible for producing the components for an entire collection. In February, Plant 8 is being converted into a component distribution center in order to streamline production. The newly converted Plant 8 will machine and supply a selection of components to the other Kincaid and parent company La-Z-Boy plants. Those product lines previously manufactured at Plant 8 have been moved to other factories.

Of the eight Kincaid manufacturing plants, Plant 1 and Plant 6 are the largest; Plant 1 is 525,000 square feet and Plant 6, which shares some of the functions of Plant 1, is 215,000 square feet. Kincaid has invested heavily into high-tech equipment, with recent purchases including Shoda routers with sanding capability, Busellato point-to-point boring machines, Weinig CNC feedthrough moulders, Timesavers planer/sanders and Sorbini UV ovens.

Although each produces different collections, the production process at these two plants follows along similar lines.

Lumber is first crosscut and ripped to remove any defects. The panels are glued, conditioned and finish planed. Parts to be routed, such as tops, are then brought to the Shoda CNC router.

“We perform the (edge) sanding operations right on the Shoda router so we don’t have to transport the product to another station,” Suddreth says. Not only does this save time in the production cycle, he adds, but reduced handling by operators lessens the chances of damage which can occur while transporting the parts from station to station.

Those parts that require boring operations are transported on carts to the Busellato point-to-point boring machine. A Rye R80SM CNC router is also used to machine entire bases in one step. This ensures “a smooth transition from the front to the end pieces on a wraparound base profile,” Propst says.

A variety of moulders, including CNC IIDA and CNC Weinig feedthrough machines, are also used at Kincaid Furniture.

The plants use a combination of carbide and high speed steel cutting tools as well as insert tooling. “We mainly use carbide insert tooling at Plant 6,” says J. Jack Greene, plant manager. “We recently switched to insert tooling, which we purchase from DeHart, for a number of reasons.

     
Dream Becomes Reality

In 1946, J. Wade Kincaid dreamed of manufacturing solid wood furniture — furniture that would last forever. With help from his father and sister, he made his dream a reality.

What began as a simple line of solid cedar chests and wardrobes has since grown to encompass 26 collections of solid wood bedroom, dining room and occasional furniture. Under the direction of company President Steven Kincaid, Wade’s son, Kincaid Furniture employs more than 1,500 people at 17 facilities, including nine manufacturing plants in North Carolina.

Kincaid sells its furniture collections through 14 nationwide Kincaid Home Furnishings retail stores and in authorized Kincaid Galleries found in major furniture stores.

Kincaid’s Alexvale division sells its products through department stores and independent furniture stores, as well as through the Kincaid proprietary distribution chain. With corporate offices located in Taylorsville, NC, Alexvale manufactures upholstered furniture and occasional products; its import division also imports occasional furniture.

Since 1988, Kincaid has been a subsidiary of La-Z-Boy Inc., reportedly the world’s largest manufacturer of furniture. La-Z-Boy’s fiscal 2002 sales exceeded $2 billion.

 
   

“One of the big benefits of insert tooling is the repeatability,” he adds. “When you need to replace the tool, you’re putting on a (new) tool that hasn’t been sharpened, nor altered. You also get a high level of accuracy and refinement with insert tooling.”Based on a recommendation from Anthony DeHart, Greene says the plant will use SolidEdge software to create its profiles. “We can then send them to DeHart through e-mail to have them made,” he adds.

Following the machining operations, any edges not routed and sanded on the Shoda are sanded to a smooth finish on Fletcher edge sanders. Recently purchased Timesavers planer/sanders are used to sand smooth the tops and bottoms of panels. “Before, we had an old knife planer that we’d have to run every part through twice. This sander shortcuts the process plus removes any chips or tearouts,” says Greene.

     
 
The Shoda CNC router is used to cut the parts as well as sand the edges. Combining the steps into one station helps Kincaid save time in the production process.  
     

Speed is essential for this high production manufacturer. “On a monthly basis, we’ll produce approximately 10,000 pieces of furniture — approximately 400,000 parts (at Plant 6 alone). On any given day, we’ll have three to four collections on the shop floor,” Greene says.

Despite the high volume of products moving through the plants, employee safety is of prime concern. In addition to dust collection systems and other standard controls, the company has invested time and money into machine guarding in addition to the original guard systems on many of its machines.

“We’re constantly looking at improving our guarding. We have sharpened our focus and dedicated additional resources to address safety issues for machines with high safety incidence rates in the industry,” Propst says.

“You get a good feeling when an operator says ‘I feel comfortable using this machine.’ (The machines) are not only being made safer for the operator, but for everyone,” Greene adds.

Finishing Touches
Kincaid’s factories house state-of-the-art finishing facilities. Features include: filtered air systems, CNC operations, covered flash-off, environmentally-friendly high solids/low HAPs materials and an in-floor conveyor system.

Kincaid’s finishing process is an extensive one, Suddreth says. At Plant 1, for example, it takes approximately 4-1/2 hours for a part to traverse the entire finishing line.

At the first station, operators use HVLP guns to apply the stain to assembled components. Following a second application of stain, the parts continue on a tow-cart conveyor line for applications of washcoat and glaze. Each piece is then hand wiped.

“It’s very labor intensive, but you can tell when a part has been finished this way versus no hand wipe,” Suddreth says. “It’s the system better manufacturers use.”

     
The Design Process

Kincaid Furniture uses an in-house design team to develop its furniture collections. Led by Tim Annas, director of design, the team receives input from a variety of sources regarding market direction and price points.

“To start working on a new collection, our sales and marketing team typically look at our existing line along with input from retailers and a sales rep council to determine what direction we need to take for the next market, where there may be voids in our line, new markets we are not currently in, or different price points we would like to hit,” Annas says. “Along with this input, we also visit different furniture shows such as the Köln, Germany and visit museums and antique stores. All of this is combined to create a new Kincaid Furniture collection.

At the fall High Point Market, Annas noted that the trend seemed to be veering away from the ornate styles.

“This is right where Kincaid is headed, with a new oak collection in an English Country flavor with an accent of color. We’re also expanding into a new dining room program with a choice of five different styles and different wood types. We will also be adding to our Treasures line of accent pieces at this next market.”

 
   
     

After the glazing and wiping, inspectors check all the components to ensure they are clean. Next, the parts receive an application of sealer and are fully sealer sanded. Following an application of high solids lacquer, many hand detailing and antiquing operations take place. A final high solids coat of lacquer is applied to protect this fine finish.

Once all the finishing material is applied the units are conveyed through approximately 250 feet of ovens with alternating high velocity fans and dried.

Kincaid’s quality initiatives don’t stop there. To ensure the continued quality of its products during shipping, the company recently purchased Sorbini UV ovens to cure a coat of sealant applied to the backside of all large panels.

“This step is very important,” Propst says. “For example, a 20-inch-wide panel in some species can expand more than a 12 inch (from moisture gain) if it’s shipped to a humid location. That same panel can shrink 12 inch if shipped to an arid environment. A sealed panel, such as a top, will pick up or lose moisture at a slower rate, which helps prevent splitting.”

Quality control engineers also are on hand to check products prior to shipping. In addition, each employee is also responsible for ensuring the quality of his or her own work.

Commitment to Education
In addition to its commitment to quality, Kincaid has also demonstrated a commitment to its employees.

Along with processes, equipment and general safety education, Kincaid offers on-site “English as a Second Language” courses for those employees who want to learn English. Also, employees can attend on-site classes to earn their GED. Personal health training classes, such as CPR, are available periodically, Propst adds.

“We educate the retail floor salesmen by having sales training seminars and taking them out on the shop floor. We can then show them the natural beauty and benefits of solid wood, how to identify a solid wood product and our superior construction features. They, in turn, can then educate consumers about the benefits of our products,” he adds.

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