Closing a Door Opens Much More for Legere Group

This Avon, CT-based millwork company made a $1 million equipment upgrade to help it replace business lost when it shut down its window and door division.

By Greg Landgraf

Four million dollars. Legere Group wants to replace it.

     
Legere Group

Avon, CT

Legere Group manufactures architectural and office millwork, institutional work and yacht interiors. Annual sales are about $18 million.

Three Keys

1. About a year ago, the company invested $1 million in new equipment and created two work cells for nested-based manufacturing.

2. Incentives from the local power company helped to pay for the installation of energy-efficient and energy-saving equipment and fixtures.

3. The company is about to begin implementing the principles of lean manufacturing to reap further savings.

 
   
     

The 120-employee company in Avon, CT, focuses on architectural and office millwork. Until last year, however, the Legere Group banner also included Ricketson Sash and Door, an ultra-high-end residential window and door company.

Bill Bruneau, vice president, production, says disputes between general contractors and homeowners frequently led to Ricketson having to chase down payments. “So, the senior management team decided that we were going to get out of that and replace it with other work,” he says.

Ricketson accounted for $4 million of Legere Group’s $19 million in sales that year. “We got lean and mean,” to replace that business, Bruneau says. The company’s efforts include adding new machinery, reengineering manufacturing processes, entering new markets and finding significant energy and manufacturing cost savings.

Nested-Based Manufacturing Makes Production Fly

The company recognized its need for new equipment when it took a close look at how long it took to make an average cabinet box. “We decided we wanted to cut that time in half,” Bruneau says. The new equipment helped the company smash that goal, cutting production time in four.

“In an economy when a lot of people weren’t buying, we were,” Bruneau says. “We were buying very well because nobody else was. If we hadn’t done that, we wouldn’t be very busy right now.”

Legere invested $1 million in new equipment and created two nested-based panel processing work cells. Each has a Schelling panel saw, an IMA edgebander and a CMS CNC machining center. The cells are positioned next to each other; the panel saws, in fact, are back-to-back and separated by a safety curtain to save floor space. Both cells share a Gannomat drill and dowel insertion machine from Tritec Associates, although the company plans to add a second one soon.

     
 
Much of Legere Group’s $1 million equipment investment went into two panel processing work cells. Each contains a Schelling panel saw, IMA edgebander and CMS CNC machining center. The cells operate for nested-based manufacturing, which Bill Bruneau, vice president, production, says has dramatically increased production.  
     

Introducing the work cells provided a big productivity boost. “The other way, we had to wait until all our ends were done, all our tops were done and every single process was done before we started putting things together,” Bruneau says. “We had to wait a couple days before we’d start.”

Now, the company cuts peripheral parts that do not need machining — architectural-grade panels, for example — on the panel saws. Parts that do need machining, on the other hand, are optimized and cut at the CNC machine and then immediately doweled and edgebanded. “Within a couple hours, we’re putting boxes together,” Bruneau says.

Each of the machines in the work cells are new except for one edgebander and one machining center. That one had been used by the Ricketson business for solid wood parts. The company worked with CMS to convert it for panel usage by removing the table with hold-down pods and replacing it with a table with a vacuum grid pattern.

Legere reengineered its products to be more “factory-friendly” for nested-based manufacturing. The company works with many general contractors, and architect’s drawings sometimes specify methods that do not match Legere’s preferences. In those situations, Bruneau says the architects usually defer to Legere’s standards. “They’re good at design and they’re good at overall intent, but for something to last and be put together well, that’s our expertise.”

Upgrades All Around

Legere installed each of the machines to be operable by one person. Unimove vacuum lifts allow workers to lift heavy panels. The machining centers also have air tables so operators can slide panels easily into place, while the edgebanders each have return conveyors.

A new laminating line from Black Bros., comprising a panel pusher, glue roller, laminating table and pinch roller, and a hot press from OTT, supply the work cells with panels. After machining parts, workers assemble casegoods on Ramarch case clamps, a Doucet hydraulic rotating clamp, or by using a Star V-groover, also all new.

Legere also purchased new CAD/CAM software to help run the machinery, although the company asked not to reveal the name of the software package. “Prior to this we were doing a lot of lists and spreadsheets and working just in an optimizer for an old panel saw,” says Joe Legere, vice president, engineering.

The software includes libraries of common items. “It doesn’t matter what the size of those items are, the construction will always be the same,” Bruneau explains. “We may have to change a bit, but if the architect modifies something, we only have to change one line.”

Work that is more complicated than a basic box has its own assembly area. Legere does a fair amount of this type of work, ranging from radius desks to yacht interiors to circular rooms to staircases. The company vacuum presses veneers for curved parts. Workers assemble these products using full-size printed layouts attached to the floor as a guide.

Legere purchased a new SCM widebelt sander for solid wood and veneer pieces. The finishing room proper is a 28,000-square-foot operation. The company uses catalyzed lacquers, conversion varnishes, polyester finishes and polyurethane finishes. An oven in the middle of the finishing room can speed up finish drying to meet tight deadlines. The finishing room also has a Deimco moulding sprayer.

     
 
Legere Group does a fair amount of institutional millwork, such as Yale’s Sterling Law Library in New Haven, CT.  
     

“The room has two large air makeup units that create positive pressure,” to keep dust out, Bruneau says. Finishers apply topcoats in a downdraft booth that is connected to the makeup system. It activates when the spray gun trigger is pulled to increase and decrease pressure as needed so that all overspray goes to the sides and floor of the booth.

Saving Energy = Saving Money

Connecticut Light & Power, the local electric company, has been a strong ally for Legere Group in some of its major equipment purchases. The relationship started a bit smaller, though: with light bulbs.

The company moved to its current 180,000-square-foot facility in November of 1998. “CL&P has many energy incentives, so we called them in and asked for help,” Bruneau says. On CL&P’s advice, Legere painted a test quadrant of the plant white and installed energy-efficient lighting fixtures.

Before Legere moved in, the facility had 400-watt light fixtures. The test quadrant demonstrated that the company could obtain the same light level with 250-watt fixtures. When Legere made those changes to the entire plant, CL&P incentives paid for one-third of the cost of the fixtures and all of the installation cost.

Legere also received incentives from CL&P for its compressed air system. The company has a pair of 250-hp air compressors with a 600-gallon reservoir tank. “When one compressor reaches 70 percent of capacity, the other kicks in,” Bruneau explains. Copper piping carries the compressed air rather than black pipe, Bruneau adds, because black pipe is more prone to breaking down, which would force the compressors to work harder and wear out quicker. CL&P’s incentives paid for one of the compressors.

Probably the most significant project Legere worked with CL&P on was the installation of an Ecogate system. The Ecogate automatically opens the dust collection duct to each machine when that machine is turned on, and closes the duct when the machine is turned off.

The system also automatically regulates the air flow, raising or lowering it so that only the volume needed for the machines in operation is used. That results in significant savings because, “We only use about 40% of our machines at one time,” Bruneau says.

“CL&P was very excited about the Ecogate. It was the first system they had experienced,” Bruneau says. CL&P paid for half of the Ecogate’s installation costs and gave Legere Group a $100,000 no-interest loan. Bruneau says it saves the company about $7,000 a month, while the monthly lease cost is about $2,000.

The company recaptures dust collector air, which helps to heat the plant because the friction of dust particles against each other warms the air. “When we moved we needed two 5-million BTU boilers,” Bruneau says. “Using recycled air, we only need one.”

The company grinds its wood waste and blows it into trailers; a local farmer hauls the dust away for free and resells it. Before entering into this arrangement, the company paid $800 per day in disposal fees.

Procedural Waste the Next Target

Legere’s partnership with Connecticut Light and Power is an ongoing relationship.

CL&P has a lean manufacturing program in conjunction with a private company called ConSTEP, which aims to help Connecticut businesses become more efficient. Legere consulted with that company last year.

ConSTEP sold Legere’s management on the idea of lean manufacturing with an exercise in kids’ building blocks. “We built little planes the way we now do our manufacturing. When we got done, we counted how many planes we had and how much we had in process, and we had five times as much in process as we had completed,” Bruneau says. “Then we tried it with lean manufacturing techniques — just organizing it a little differently and having product available when and where it’s supposed to be. We ended up with very little in process and five times as much completed. That kind of opened up senior management’s eyes that this really could work.”

ConSTEP audited Legere’s manufacturing. “They think we’ve done a pretty good job out in the plant, but they think they can look at our front-end process and improve that by 20%, which in the long run will improve our bottom line by 20%,” Bruneau says.

Legere has not yet begun working with ConSTEP to make specific changes. “We’ve signed on the dotted line, and we’re just waiting to start going forward,” Bruneau says. In addition, CL&P has offered to pay 80% of the cost of the program.

Recovery Arrived

The cost savings, naturally, had an immediate bottom-line benefit. The productivity improvements, on the other hand, opened up new markets for Legere Group. “It’s taken us a year to get there, but markets that weren’t available to us before — commercial and institutional — we’re now competing with anybody,” Bruneau says. “It’s filled the void very well.”

The $4 million lost to the closure of Ricketson Sash and Door is almost back. Sales dropped to $15 million last year, but Bruneau says the company expects almost $18 million this year.

“Like a lot of other companies, we cut back,” Bruneau says. “We had a period of downsizing, but now we’re actually starting to build back up and hire again.”

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