Illinois-based Marshall Furniture Inc. recently revamped its finishing and sanding operations to speed production and enhance the quality of its educational and commercial furniture.

Who says talk is cheap? Certainly not anyone at Marshall Furniture Inc., a custom manufacturer that has parlayed the act of public speaking/ lecturing into a multi-million dollar business.

The 20-year-old Antioch, IL-based company specializes in manufacturing furniture for educational facilities and private corporations, including: lecterns, presentation desks, workstations, cabinets and credenzas. Marshall Furniture sells its products worldwide through a network of contract furniture, audio visual and video system dealers, and sound contractors.

“What distinguishes us from our competitors is the combination of CNC machining and customization that we can offer,” says Timothy Ryter, vice president of operations.

“We can get as custom as they want — we’ll design around their needs. It can be a simple thing, such as adjusting the lectern to the height of an instructor or designing a project for a right- or left-handed person, to something more complicated, like matching the furniture with the architectural millwork in the room,” Ryter adds.

Marshall Furniture’s ability to complete a project in a relatively short time period also has helped it remain competitive against those companies manufacturing products offshore, Ryter says.

The average turnaround time on a given project is four to six weeks, depending on the complexity of the job. “We typically have anywhere from 15 to 1,000 [items] in progress at the shop at any one time,” Ryter adds.

A single project can include anywhere from one to 150 or more pieces; there are no minimums or maximums for order sizes. For example, Ryter says, while one university may need only one lectern, or, as is often the case, other schools will want custom lecterns to match throughout the entire building.

The company also specializes in long-term projects, some of which can take as many as three years to fully develop. “We cater to that market,” Ryter says. “Working with architects is definitely our forte.”

Marshall Furniture custom manufactures lecterns, storage units and flat panel monitor cabinets for universities and private corporations.
Marshall Furniture

Antioch, IL

A custom manufacturer of educational and corporate furniture, Marshall Furniture produces lecterns, presentation desks, workstations, credenzas and cabinets. The company employs 25 people in its 26,400-square-foot facility. It is a member of the Architectural Woodwork Institute and InfoComm International.

Three Keys:

1. Marshall Furniture recently revamped its finishing and sanding operations, including the purchase of three new ergonomic spray guns, a programmable, 52-inch, two-head sander, new lighting and upgraded dust collection and ventilation systems.

2. The company operates an in-house veneer department, enabling it to design and customize patterns, stitch and press the veneer and supply samples to architects and designers. Marshall Furniture also has the capability to provide custom inlays onto the furniture.

3. Marshall Furniture markets its

products worldwide through a network of dealers. Large domestic orders are typically delivered and installed by Marshall Furniture’s own employees.

Finishing First

One of the ways in which Marshall Furniture caters to the architect’s needs is in its ability to color match finishes to specifications.

“Customers will submit samples and select the wood species they want to match,” says Sue McMillan, finishing specialist. “We’ll then start with a clear base and add pigments to match the sample. Every one is a custom color,” she adds. Currently, the company uses M.L. Campbell finishing materials.

The stains typically are hand wiped onto the furniture, while high solids and lacquer finishing materials are applied by spray gun. Marshall Furniture recently switched from its older system of spray guns to two new DUX pressure-feed guns and a DUX gravity-feed gun, which the company says are more lightweight, ergonomic and provide an even spray pattern.

“We’re seeing a better finish because there’s less overlapping, less spraying,” McMillan says. Instead of 10 passes, only three passes with the gun might be necessary, she adds. “It has cut our time by more than half.”

“Within the first month, we had increased our capacity in the finishing area,” Ryter says. “Not only do we get a better finish with less material used, the more compact gun allows us to get into smaller areas of the cabinets.”

Two operators can work in tandem in the spray booth, which has the capacity for additional lines. Items are brought in to the finishing area pre-assembled, and the first coat is applied to the unit on all four sides. The item is then disassembled and the topcoat is applied to all exposed surfaces.

“Not only does it look better aesthetically, but it provides better overall quality because moisture can’t escape unevenly [from the unfinished area],” Ryter says.

Sanding is performed between coats to ensure a smooth finish. Marshall Furniture recently purchased a Buetfering Optimat SKO 213 programmable sander for pre-sanding and finish sanding operations in a single pass.

According to Ryter, the 52-inch Optimat, available from Stiles Machinery, can sand panels to within +/-0.005 inch and features segmented platens that allow for changes in the core, thereby eliminating the potential for sandthrough of the veneer, Ryter says. The sander is designed for use with either small or large batch sizes and has eliminated the need for a stroke sander at the shop, he adds.

The Machining Process

Like finishing, production throughout the plant is done on a just-in-time basis, with employees cross-trained on the various equipment. “We believe 100 percent in crosstraining and allowing people to move around to different jobs. It eliminates any boredom [from repetition] and helps avoid any bottlenecks,” Ryter says.

Marshall Furniture’s products are primarily constructed of veneered MDF. The company also works with solid wood, laminated panels, plywood and “Smartboard,” a low-weight core similar to honeycomb.

Once a job has been entered into the system, panels are cut to size on two Altendorf F45 Elmo 4 sliding table saws, with an older Altendorf Elmo also available as needed. The cut panels are transferred to the Delmac Machinery Group Busellato JET 4 CNC machining center, which has a working area of 5 feet by 16 feet and features a vacuum pod, rail configuration with the ability to do nested-based manufacturing, Ryter says. It also has a 10-position tool changer system and boring head.

“We’ve been able to take the job of seven different machines down to just the one CNC,” he says. An added benefit of the machine has been the ability to offer CNC services to nearby woodworking facilities.

Ryter and Jim Schaffroth, vice president of manufacturing, oversee the quality control of the products going through the shop. However, Ryter quickly adds, each employee also plays an integral part in the process.

“The rule of thumb is: If someone doesn’t like it, it doesn’t go out the door,” Ryter says. “I also tell [employees] to ask themselves, ‘Would I like to see this in my house?’”

In-House Veneer Capabilities

What also sets Marshall Furniture apart from other woodworking shops its size is the company’s custom veneer expertise. Marshall Furniture has the capability to match, stitch and press veneer in-house.

“The veneer area is our pride and joy,” Ryter says. “It allows us to be more versatile, such as controlling the grain pattern on a panel. Appearance is very important to our customers,” Ryter says.

Architects will typically specify the species, flitch and pattern/match, and Marshall Furniture will do a sample layup. The company uses a Casati two-thread stitcher and Joos Okotherm hot press, which features a special water heating system by electric thermal heating. The Joos press also is used to apply laminates onto panels. All panel edges are edgebanded using a single-sided Brandt edgebander from Altendorf America.

Along with creating its own veneer patterns, Marshall Furniture can customize inlays or marquetry patterns on any piece. The company also offers laser engraving of logos onto the furniture.

“The fact that we are so highly custom differentiates us from [competitors],” Ryter says. The company has five full-time designers on staff to help customers with their projects.

Building for the Future

Marshall Furniture has grown steadily over the past seven years, with double-digit sales growth projected for 2006. Ryter attributes the company’s success to a number of factors, starting with the management team of John Ryter, general manager, and Richard Mangione, president. The two have set a policy of investing in their employees, building and equipment.

In addition to improvements made in finishing and production equipment, the company has invested in a new dust collection system, improved lighting and other safety needs, such as eye wash stations, goggles and a fireproof area for finishing material storage.

“For a small company, we offer as much as we can for the employees,” Tim Ryter says. The result, he adds, is in the loyalty of Marshall Furniture’s employees. The average length of employment is six years, with one-fourth of the employees having worked at the company for 10 years or more.

“We have a good complement of older and younger employees at the shop that work well and learn from each other. The older ones teach the younger, and the younger ones often have new ideas or a new way of looking at an existing process,” he adds.

Sue McMillan uses a new DUX pressure-feed gun to apply an even layer of material onto a credenza.

An employee applies stain to the top of a credenza. Marshall Furniture will custom color match finishes to specification.
Panels are sanded on a programmable 52-inch Buetfering Optimat SKO 213, which features two heads and segmented platens to allow for changes in the core. Tim Ryter operates the Joos press. The edge guidance system on the press is designed to keep the platen from moving during the closing cycle.

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