Large Fish in Small Ponds


Mayline's Growth Fueled by 'Furniture Solutions'

World Class Manufacturing techniques put the right parts in the right place at the right time and in the right quantity.

By Jo-ann Kaiser


Mayline's LAN racking systems (right photo) are marketed under the Maytrix name. Mayline also produces a variety of adjustable workstations (left photo).

Mayline Group of Sheboygan, WI, a medium-sized company in the office furniture industry, has been attracting attention because of its phenomenal growth in recent years. In 1998, Fast Track Wisconsin listed it as one of the 20 fastest-growing companies in the state.

"Our company went from $18 million in sales in 1994 to a projected $80 million in sales for 2000," says Dan Gray, director of marketing and product development. Those sales increases placed Mayline among the elite on Wood & Wood Product's Top 25 Contract Furniture Makers list in 1999 and again this year (see p. 89 in this issue).

"Business is booming," Gray says. "While the overall contract furniture market has been flat, our growth rate is around 20 percent. The Sheboygan location alone, without any acquisition growth, has gone from $18 million to $42 million in sales."

World Class Manufacturing
The Sheboygan plant is run using a manufacturing system philosophy instituted by Paul Simons, Mayline Group's president. Called World Class Manufacturing, Simons brought the system to Mayline in 1990 when he joined the company.

World Class Manufacturing is an involved system, but a key part of the program is to have the right parts at the right place at the right time and in the right quantity. It also means eliminating excess inventory by cutting by order.

Evidence of the system's success is visible throughout the plant. For example, each piece of machinery bears a sign that includes the name of the machine, its manufacturer, cost and date purchased. Machines also feature a log detailing past and scheduled maintenance as part of a preventive maintenance program.

Employees are referred to as "associates" and are involved in decisions that affect their work area when new processes and products are being considered. Tom Achsel, plant supervisor, has been involved in woodworking and manufacturing for 37 years and has seen many changes over the years. "The World Class Manufacturing concept is the biggest change I have seen. It involves every facet of our operation."

Panel Processing
Panel processing operations begin in the plant when melamine panels, prefinished back and front, are cut on a Holzma CNC panel saw. The machine then feeds cut panels to a Busellato CNC machining center for drilling, shaping and routing or to a vertical panel saw for processing. A Black Bros. laminates press uses PVA heat-activated glue for laying up HPL panels.

Computers that track orders are located at key points around the manufacturing floor. "This system provides critical manufacturing data so that we know the status of an order at all times, what has been done to a piece, and how long it took," Achsel says. "The previous system involved written logs. This is much more streamlined and effective.

"The associate first enters his or her screen clock number then proceeds to a second screen providing options for labor, direct, indirect, or setup. Selecting direct labor brings up a screen shop order number and operation number. Associates can compare their printed order with the on-screen order. When they hit enter again the clock starts running.

"When the process is completed, the operator will hit enter again and then detail information, such as good quantity and bad quantity, plus the time it took to complete the process. This gives a record of live production on the floor that is very important for shop control." Mayline routinely manufactures 300 to 400 tops a day.

The shop also features an ORMA hot press, SCMI panel saw, IMA postformer and OCMA edgebander. A new T-molding machine from Topmaster was added recently to the line-up. The machine automatically rounds corners, shapes and slots, applies T-moulding and trims the ends. It features a tracing arm that creates the slots so they match the T-moulding. It also improves the look of the finished piece and makes the process easier and quicker, replacing hand work. Prior to purchasing the machine, T-molding was applied with an air hammer.

"The Busellato CNC point-to-point machining center from Delmac Machinery Group is a critical piece of machinery in our manufacturing process," Achsel says. "We worked with the machinery manufacturer so that it was equipped with the specific tooling we needed. The machine combines four steps with drilling, routing, cutting and shaping capabilities. It is fast and accurate and eliminates the need for manually drilling holes, cutting grooves or hand slotting.

"The machining center has all the programs loaded on its hard drive. Each piece has a number. Each order lists the program number giving all the commands to do shapes and designs or put holes where they belong," Achsel says. "The machine, along with the Holzma panel saw and edgebander, are key pieces in our production process."

Automated Material Handling
The entire operation now features automated material handling via a zone-access conveyor system. "Before the conveyor system was installed, operators used to cut a piece and move it on skids. With the conveyors being in place for more than a year now, material handling has been reduced by 30 percent. Before, an associate spent time looking for the part to be machined, plus time moving it. Now, work comes to the person instead of vice versa. This eliminates two steps and concentrates on the process being done. Scrap from material-handling damage from moving has dropped by 10 to 12 percent."

The new conveyor system is a result of World Class Manufacturing at work, Achsel says.

"Associates, team managers and supervisors brainstormed to come up with the concept," says Brian Michels, an industrial engineer at Mayline. "We estimate the cost savings in eliminated labor and material loss is approximately $150,000,"

Other parts of the shop are dedicated to finishing, assembly, packaging and wood processing.

Wood Processing
In the wood processing area, Achsel is proud of the impact World Class Manufacturing has had on the basic way pieces are manufactured. This area is where products, such as wood plan files, melamine plan files and Stylist plan files -- featuring a combination of melamine cases with solid oak drawer fronts -- are made. Drawing and drafting tables of wood or wood products also come from this part of the plant. Bases are made of solid oak and oak veneers or hardwood. Metal furniture and parts are made in another location at the Sheboygan site. Light tables are also made in this area.

"The process has been changed to cellular manufacturing," Achsel says. "As parts are made, they are put into the next cell. We have three cells in all. One is for cases; another is for drawer parts and a third is for bases. It is based on the theory that the production floor is arranged so that you can quickly see if something has gone wrong in the process and fix it.


Mayline also manufactures drafting stools to complement its line of drafting tables and other drafting furniture.

"Cellular manufacturing helps move things logically and efficiently through the plant. We monitor the piece through the production steps and use dispatch slips produced by a computer. Key equipment used to make the wood files and bases and wood drafting tables include a Wadkins moulder, Mattison rip saw, Delta sanders and shapers, routers and a pocket-hole drill by Unique Machine and Tool Co."

Achsel modified many of the machines with templates and jigs that greatly reduce machinery set up times. "With the use of the templates and jigs for the various machines, set-up times have been reduced from 30 to 40 minutes to 5 to 10 minutes," Achsel says. "In addition to the time savings, product quality has improved. The results are consistent and accurate."

Finished parts and furniture usually get a sealer coat and are white sanded before getting another coat of lacquer or some other stain. A small percentage of the pieces are shipped unfinished to clients who finish the pieces themselves. Golden oak and a combination of melamine and oak combination are popular with buyers, Achsel says.

Large Fish in Small Ponds

Mayline Co. was founded in Wisconsin in 1939 in the Twin Rivers area but moved to Sheboygan early on. The company's original product line included drafting tables and drawing boards, office tables, large-format filing cabinets and straight-edge parallel-rule systems. Gray says most of the original products are still part of their line although drafting furniture is not considered a growth area in office furniture.

The Mayline Group, which bills itself as a "leader in specialty furniture," has acquired four other companies, extending its reach into other specialty markets. "We are trying to be a large fish in a variety of small ponds," Gray says. "We saw the way the market was changing because of computers in the workplace. Network computer furniture and height-adjustable ergonomic work stations have been a big growth area for us."

An excerpt from the company's Corporate Profile explains Mayline's philosophy. "In all our product lines, the focus is on providing the user with ever-increasing levels of productivity and efficiency. Getting more done with less and getting it done with less fatigue."

Mayline and its subsidiaries, which include Mayline Co. Inc., Kwik-File LLC, Tiffany Industries and Kwik-File Storage Systems, have developed a variety of new products they describe as "furniture solutions to workplace problems." In this group is the popular VariTask family of adjustable work centers, offering ease of adjustment to suit the user's height, whether sitting or standing.

The company's newest product, Maytrix, is a LAN racking system which allows for high-density storage of LAN components, including monitors, keyboards and CPUs, while being adaptable to the user's hardware storage needs.

In addition to its computer support furniture and adjustable workstations, Mayline Group produces high-density filing systems, mail room furniture, drafting furniture, meeting room furniture and seating. The company's products are used in homes, offices, classrooms and factories. In addition to Sheboygan, divisions are located in Minneapolis, MN; Conway, AR; and Charlottesville, VA.

The name "Mayline" is synonymous with drafting furniture, Gray says. "With the advent of computer-aided drafting, the demand for manual drafting furniture stopped growing, however, Mayline continues to be successful with its line as we are one of the last full-service drafting furniture manufacturers. We sell to architectural and design firms, high school and vocational-technical school labs and all large manufacturers have engineering departments. While many of them have CAD stations, they also have manual drafting capabilities."

Wood products are particularly popular for this market. "Wood is preferred by architects and designers over steel, although the company produces both. Feedback from customers is that the look of wood blends well with other office furniture," Gray says.

The drafting furniture and wood-based products are produced in Sheboygan, where most of the company's employees are located. Mayline employs more than 400 people in its various subsidiaries, with 170 working in Sheboygan. Of those, 26 work in the wood plant.

Mayline's products are sold primarily through contract furniture dealerships. The company has more than 100 manufacturers' representatives in the field, covering North America and selling to office furniture dealers. Products from the wood plant include solid wood drawing tables and wood plan files and computer and drafting tables made of metal with work surfaces of laminates over particleboard cores.

"All divisions use wood-based work surfaces which are made at each division. Sheboygan makes wood-based work surfaces and solid wood products," Gray says. "We lay up laminates and do our own edging. Drawing tables are made from Appalachian red oak. Oak and aspen veneers are used on plan files. Maple frames are used for light tables. Hardwoods, like red oak, beech, aspen, birch and maple, are used in approximately 15 percent of the products the Sheboygan division produces.

Particleboard, 118-in. thick, is used as a core for high-pressure laminates. International Paper's MelaFace, melamine-faced panels, are also used for work surfaces. "We used to have a 1-in.-thick basswood top, but due to costs and environmental concerns the company switched to particleboard," Gray says.

-- Jo-ann Kaiser


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