How KraftMaid Doubled Production

During a three-year expansion program, KraftMaid Cabinetry Inc. increased its production capacity by 250 percent and decreased its lead times by two weeks.

By Larry Adams

Everything is bigger at KraftMaid cabinetry these days. Sales are up, plant size is up, product offerings are up, and most importantly, production is up -- way up. Just about the only thing that has not grown are lead times; they have shrunk.

Since KraftMaid integrated Lean Manufacturing concepts into its production and supply processes almost three years ago, the Middlefield, OH, semi-custom cabinet company has seen its production rise from 4,000 to 10,000 cabinets a day, or 200,000 cabinets a month, and its lead times fall from three weeks to one. At the same time, the company introduced the greatest number of new products and options in its history.

“There is a saying about working here,” says KraftMaid President Tom Chieffe. “We need to learn how to change our processes with speed of changing a fan belt while the engine is running.”

The analogy is appropriate. Chieffe is a former auto industry executive who, in the three years at the helm of the 30-year-old cabinet manufacturer, has introduced lean manufacturing concepts that stress quick turnaround times, defect-free products and employee involvement.

“When looking back at KraftMaid three or four years ago, our team has completely changed the way we do business,” Chieffe says. “We have streamlined operations, implemented just-in-time systems and have created a lean manufacturing model that works very well.”

Chieffe says he remembers walking into KraftMaid and talking about lean manufacturing and reducing cycle times and thinking: “The management team thinks I’m crazy. I heard comments that we were different from automotive, and if we could not produce product efficiently in three weeks, how could we do it in one week?”


One of the areas that benefit from lean manufacturing concepts is the drawer cell which is made up of Dodds dovetailing machines. Prior to reconfiguring the department, drawer parts would travel 20.8 miles.

KraftMaid Gets ‘Lean’

Prior to implementing the lean manufacturing concepts, looking out over the factory floor was like looking at a sea of work in progress. Banks of inventory sat between processing, raw materials sat waiting to be used, and partial kitchen orders sat idle waiting for the missing pieces to emerge from the batch-processing manufacturing environment. Lead times were three weeks, respectable for a cabinet company, but a lifetime compared to the auto industry, Chieffe says.

The picture of the shop floor has changed dramatically since KraftMaid incorporated a number of management concepts such as Kaizen, Toyota Production System, Just-in-Time and Total Prevention Maintenance. The overall goal of these initiatives is threefold: To produce what is needed, when it is needed, using components and raw materials that are delivered and machined on time and defect free; to detect and fix problems before value-added services have been added to them; and to arrange equipment in the order that people work.

To accomplish all of this, KraftMaid Cabinetry invested several million in plant expansions and new equipment purchases including a slew of CNC routers, CNC saws, and UV finishing lines that use some of the most advanced technology available today. In addition, employee teams analyzed production areas and worked out ways to make production more efficient and safe.

KraftMaid’s major suppliers have also played a role in reducing lead times by delivering components and raw materials on a just-in-time basis. For example, KraftMaid, as one of the largest consumers of hardwood/plywood and particleboard in the country, demanded that its raw materials suppliers ship on a JIT basis -- about every three days on average.

This arrangement has worked out for both KraftMaid and its suppliers, Chieffe says. “We reduced inventory by several million dollars by buying JIT. And because our supply base has gone to JIT, it has resulted in their market share going up,” he says.

The investments have paid off not only in terms of the sheer number of cabinets produced, but also in terms of complete orders shipped. In September 1999, KraftMaid produced several hundred thousand cabinets and had back orders of just two cabinets. “And we got those to the customer in 48 hours,” Chieffe says. “If there are back orders, I review them daily. It’s very important, because if the customer is missing a piece in the kitchen, especially if it is a corner piece, then you can’t install the kitchen.”

Producing Components

The milling area, which spans more than 135,000 square feet and has had more than $4 million in machinery investments this year alone, provides several examples of how lean manufacturing has improved KraftMaid’s production.

A standard KraftMaid cabinet has 1/2-inch engineered wood end panels with a laminate or wood interior and exterior. Other features include 3/4-inch solid-wood dovetailed drawer boxes, 3/4-inch shelving, I-beam construction and a 14-step furniture finish. Upgrade options for plywood or birch plywood construction are also available. Getting this typical cabinet from raw material to shipping requires as many as 250 processes, says KraftMaid Trainer Wayne Hargesheimer. Considering KraftMaid averages 10,000 cabinets a day, that means that approximately 2.5 million individual processes are accomplished daily.

“We want to strive to become world class,” Chieffe says. “In this industry, there are millions and millions of skus that will make this task a lot more difficult due to the complexity.”

Efficient Production

The secret to producing these millions of SKUs, and producing them on time, is flexible machinery -- computer-controlled where appropriate -- and cross-trained workers who can quickly learn how to run these high-tech machines.

Some of these machines include a Holzma panel saw that cuts-to-size sheets of medium density fiberboard for KraftMaid’s thermofoil doors. A Giben panel saw that cut-to-size solid wood cabinet components such as end panels, backs and shelves. Multi-head and multi-tasking Heian CNC routers and Weeke CNC machining centers, both from Stiles Machinery, that feature automatic tool changers for quick setups and the ability to do multiple functions in-line on one machine. Production features a Homag edgebander that applies wood or vinyl edgebanding, and Altendorf sliding table saws.

Because the machinery is so flexible, KraftMaid can offer more than 100 options, thus closing the gap between production manufacturing and custom work.

Efficient production is not just a matter of buying machinery, however. According to the principles of Kaizen, the machines have to be positioned for proper work flow and the way that value is added to a product. Certain production areas did not adhere to these principles and teams of employees were created to analyze these areas and figure out ways to make them more productive.

One example of this is a workcell for producing drawers. Prior to reconfiguring production, drawer box parts would travel a total of 20.8 miles. Parts would criss-cross throughout the 1.2-million-square foot plant with components cut in one area, holes drilled in another, joints machined in still another area and finishing occurring far from where drawer components would be assembled.

All of this has changed. “We arranged the equipment into an optimal sequence and the drawer boxes are now produced on a just-in-time basis,” Chieffe says. “Now we build boxes with a minimal amount of handling.”

Perhaps the best example of KraftMaid’s drive toward JIT manufacturing is its Kitchen at a Time (Kaat) lines. On these lines, all cabinets for a specific kitchen order are built and loaded directly onto a truck for shipping. The first station builds the cabinet boxes using a case clamp that extends out to accommodate the needed cabinet size, then the two-person team secures it with a Senco pneumatic nailer and hotmelt adhesive applied with a Slautterback glue applicator system.

Farther down the line, assemblers add finished doors and drawers, hardware and other components which have been routed to their assembly station based on that day’s orders. By the time the cabinets reach the end of the, they are ready for immediate shipping.

Improving the Finish

The finishing department also demonstrates the benefits of lean manufacturing. Employee teams analyzed the individual finishing steps looking for ways to finish each part more quickly. One of their suggestions incorporated into the process reduces labor and improves the finish -- even before one coat of material is applied.

Prior to finishing, holes are bored into the components so they can be hung and carted through the finishing line. After finishing, these construction holes are used to place the PermaSet door bumpers or the fully concealed cup or knife hinges.

“We used to use staples so we could hang them,” Chieffe says. “We would then have to have people take the staples out. By changing how we do this, we have taken several people out of the process and we don’t do damage to the back of the door.”

Thinking outside the box, such as the simple production change away from staples, is consistent with KraftMaid’s goal to produce defect-free products in as few steps as possible. Another added improvement was to create production lines so that workers can easily learn how to run them.

KraftMaid finishes components at two plants. Plant 1, in Middlefield, finishes doors, drawer fronts and frames, while the plant in Orwell primarily finishes doors. Finishing operators would be equally at home in either plant because the finishing lines mirror each other in terms of look and setup. Each plant has a hanging line where equalizer, toner and stain is applied, and a flatline finishing line where sealer and topcoat are applied. Thus, employees can easily be deployed when and where they are needed.

KraftMaid offers 17 different finishes. Each part goes through at least a 14-step finishing process, with the exception of certain specialty glazed finishes that require additional steps.

Components first pass through a sanding process using various grit patterns. In between the sanders, the components are inspected and parts with defects are pulled off the line. If they are easily repaired, they are put back on-line. If not, they are scrapped. This is a very important step. According to lean manufacturing principles, defects should be found and fixed as soon as possible. The more value-added steps that the part goes through before flaws are found makes the part that much more expensive to produce and more time consuming to fix.

The components are then hung and go through a series of spray booths that will increase color consistency. After application of stain, the components are air dried for 20 to 25 minutes. A penetrating stain is spray applied, first to the front of the piece and then to its back, in back-to-back spray booths. Both sides are then hand wiped.

“Hand wiping minimizes the color variation on the front and back of the cabinet,” Chieffe says. “The wiping

pattern and what they wipe is preset beforehand.”


KraftMaid Cabinetry Gives Kids the World

KraftMaid Cabinetry has donated all the cabinets for 42 new villas at a Walt Disney Resort built for sick children and their families.

The Give Kids the World Village is a 51-acre resort near Walt Disney World in Orlando, FL, that every year houses more than 4,000 terminally ill children whose wish is to meet Mickey Mouse.

With the expansion, the resort can now accommodate up to 7,000 families each year.

Give Kids the World is a non-profit organization that since its founding in 1986 has hosted more than 35,000 families from all 50 states and more than 45 countries. The families are treated to a six-day vacation that includes complimentary accommodations, attraction tickets and meals.

A portion of the cabinetry donated was from KraftMaid’s Passport Series cabinetry line, a line that is wheelchair accessible for the physically challenged and certified for Universal Design.


After air drying, the components are moved to a Cefla finishing system from Stiles Machinery, where the sealer and the company’s DuraKraft catalyzed topcoats are applied. The finishing system features sensor spray guns that apply the DuraKraft topcoat.

Every door passes through the system four times, twice on each side. Curing is done in temperature-controlled ovens.

“Control of gradual temperatures changes help eliminate cracking of doors and frames in the long term,” Hargesheimer says.

Specialty finishes, including chocolate glaze, taupe glaze and frost glazes, are distressed prior to topcoating. This turns the 14-step finishing process into a 16-step process. These cabinets, which are some of Kraftmaid’s biggest sellers, are detailed with factory-applied wormholes, compression marks and oversanding.

“This way, no two are exactly alike,” Hargesheimer says.

After topcoated parts exit the final oven, a team of inspectors quality check each part. If a flaw is detected, the part is sent to the chipper -- once it has been cured with the topcoat, it cannot be fixed. A few parts in the chipper is a small price to pay if it prevents a cabinet with defects from finding its way into someone’s home, Chieffe says.

“We strive to keep each and every customer satisfied with their kitchen by having stringent quality control processes,” Chieffe says.

Editor’s Note: Learn more about KraftMaid Cabinetry, its products, and distribution at

Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.