LesCare Beefs up Panel Processing Lines
One of the nation's largest manufacturers of frameless kitchen cabinets has increased its production capacity by 150 percent in its drive to double sales.
BY LARRY ADAMS
LesCare Kitchens cannot be accused of thinking small. The Waterbury, CT-based cabinet company recently completed an $8.5 million expansion that is projected to boost cabinet production from 1,000 to ultimately 2,500 cabinets per day. This additional capacity is needed if the $60 million company is to reach its goal of doubling sales within the next few years.
Five years ago, LesCare began looking at ways to increase production at its Southington, CT, facility, about 20 minutes away by expressway from its Waterbury headquarters. That five-year, multi-million dollar project was capped off Sept. 19 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony featuring local dignitaries, a tour of LesCare's expanded facility and even a set of Frank Sinatra tunes by company CEO James Lestorti.
Planning began in earnest about two years ago and work started last year at the Southington facility. The expansion included a 47,000-square-foot addition, used in part for warehousing and shipping, and conversion of another 60,000 square feet of space for manufacturing. Along the way, production was segregated. The Waterbury plant now produces LesCare's custom wood products while Southington manufactures its thermofoil- and laminate-covered products. Southington is also the main milling facility, producing components for both plants. "The milling area is one of the production areas that we really stepped up down there," said Lestorti, who is also vice chairman of LesCare Kitchens. "We retooled the entire department."
Heinz Schmidt of Schmidt Industrial Services Inc. of Ft. Myers, FL, was brought in to design the milling line. "We were limited in space and looking to increase production levels," Schmidt said. "The first thing we thought of was conveyors. Before everything was moved around on forklifts. Now, with the roller track conveyors, the flow of material is faster and more economical."
Saw at Heart of Milling Line
Parts that need edgebanding are loaded onto a roller conveyor and moved to a computer-controlled Bargstedt material handling feeder purchased from Stiles Machinery. The automatic feeder, which in the future can also be used to feed a second line, maneuvers the blanks into place. The rough-cut parts are automatically fed through a Homag double-end combination tenoner and edgebander which squares the parts widthwise, edgebands two sides and makes a dado cut if needed. An automatic transfer table turns and positions the parts up to 8 feet in length for a final pass on a second Homag double-end tenoner. At this station, the two remaining sides are squared and edgebanded.
There are a number of advantages to this line configuration, company officials said. Perhaps the most important consideration is the reduced downtime the company has experienced while changing from one part to the next. LesCare, which makes semi-custom cabinets, offers its customers a variety of cabinet choices and, as a result, often has to change machine setups from one part to the next. By having computerized equipment, operators can call up a pre-written software program which automatically adjusts the machinery quickly and accurately. Downtime is greatly reduced. In the past, changing over from one part to the next could take 15 to 30 minutes. If 20 changes were required that could translate into five hours of lost productivity. With the new line, changeover takes an average of two minutes.
The reconfigured line was not immediately embraced by all of those in charge of using it, however. Fern Miliard, LesCare mill manager, was one doubting Thomas. "I didn't know how the parts would go from one machine to the other," Miliard explained, "but once we got started I realized it was the best thing we had ever done. In the past we had people dedicated to moving material around by forklift. This was fine as long as that person wasn't busy moving parts around for somebody else. With this line and the roller track conveyors, the workers can get to the parts they need when they need them. They just roll them over. They don't need to wait."
For instance, while not all parts are edgebanded, they still must be cut on the Holzma saw and must be transferred to other work stations for further machining such as routing and drilling. These parts are put onto the rolling conveyors and shuttled to the appropriate machine. Blanks that will be machined into postformed doors, for example, are conveyed to a IDM CNC double-end tenoner from Tekna Advanced Technologies that will machine a 180-degree radius to the part.
The conveyor system also transports parts to the boring machines, which include a Biesse point-to-point machine for horizontal boring and a Vitap multiple-spindle boring machine, available from Atlantic Machinery, for drilling drawer sides, shelves and other construction holes. A Busellato multi-work zone, computer-controlled boring machine, available from Delmac Machinery, is used for short runs and special parts. Conveyors also bring the parts to the assembly area, where each cabinet is hand assembled using maple dowels and where drawer slides, hinges and other hardware, supplied by Hafele and Blum, are installed.
With its new panel processing capabilities, the manufacturing process would remain the same, only the boring patterns would need to be changed to accommodate knockdown fittings.
Exporting may be an important vehicle for the company to continue the growth surge it has experienced throughout much of the '90s. Since 1990, the company's sales have increased more than 141 percent -- from $25 million to $60.2 million.
"We have enjoyed such rapid growth over the last five years that we feel with a healthy economy we will continue to grow and double our size in the next few years," Lestorti said. "We have tried to have controlled growth, not growth for growth's sake. We do not want to do an extra $10 to $15 million every year but not be able to satisfy our customers. We want to keep our customers in the neighboring areas happy."
Staying Put Keeps Connecticut Neighbors Happy
"The situation we find here is that there are a lot of good craft people in area, unlike the furniture belt, where it is getting underemployed," Lestorti said. "We can better cultivate our workers here through our apprenticeship program."
The $8.5 million expansion didn't cause Lestorti many sleepless nights. "Luckily, we have been operating for 53 years and we have zero debt," Lestorti said. "It didn't take too big of a move to do it. It sounds a lot more bullish then it really was."
The expanded plant will eventually generate about 100 new jobs, a boon to Southington, a small-town community of 40,000. "This is not the end for this outfit. They are already looking for additional space," said Southington town council chairman Andrew Meade, speaking at the Sept. 19 ceremony. "I know we will be back in five or six years (to celebrate) doubling the size of this building."
In 1945, Louis Lestorti Sr., who had earned a Navy "E" for excellence in casework production during World War II, established a cabinet company called Lewis Millwork & Interior Finish.
Today, that company, now known as LesCare Kitchens, generates $45 million to $50 million in annual sales through a nationwide network of more than 600 dealers and distributors.
Here is a brief timeline for the company:
1945: Lewis Millwork opens in Waterbury, CT. The company has two employees.
1950: A 15,000 square foot plant is constructed.
1955: Products are marketed under the name LesCare Kitchens. LesCare is made up of "Les" from founder Louis Lestorti's last name and "Care," meaning the cabinets do not need a lot of care. At this time, an additional 25,000 square feet of space is built. The company employs 25.
1960: A dealer network is established throughout New England. Company expands operation by 10,000 square feet.
1965: Simulated wood interiors using vinyl-clad products are introduced. Constructs a 15,000 square-foot-showroom.
1967: LesCare builds a separate 50,000-square-foot plant in Waterbury, CT.
1972: Constructs a new showroom.
1974: LesCare designs Euro-styles cabinetry. Also, an all-white cabinetry interior is produced.
1975: Lestorti formally brings sons, James and Lou Jr., into the management of the company.
1977: Additional 25,000 square feet of production space is built.
1979: LesCare focuses in on the frameless market. Also, with territorial expansion into the Southeast region, the dealer network expands to 250.
1980: James and Louis Jr. assume positions as chief directors of the firm.
1982: A new Tri-Level Marketing Program is put into place to support dealers offering stock, mid-range and high-end products. Dealers now total 350. Facility additions bring plant capacity to 130,000 square feet.
1984: LesCare begins Southington, CT, operations with purchase of a 60,000 square-foot-building.
1987: Southington plant expanded by 60,000 square feet.
1990: LesCare Learning Center, a 10,000-square-foot training center is built. Also new all-wood high-end series is added as are imported door styles.
1998: A five-year, multi-million dollar expansion project of its Southington plant is completed. A Grand Opening is held Sept. 19 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony featuring local dignitaries, a tour of LesCare's expanded facility and a set of Frank Sinatra tunes by company CEO James Lestorti.
Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.