Meridian Products combines handcraftsmanship and high-technology to produce custom cabinet components for high-end residential applications.

 

It's not every day a company literally lives up to its name. But then again, not every company is named Meridian.

The word "meridian" is defined as "highest part or point." It's an apt description for Meridian Products, a custom cabinet component manufacturer at the peak of success.

Based in New Holland, PA, Meridian Products specializes in mortise-and-tenon as well as miter-style doors. The company also custom manufactures face-frames, drawer boxes and architectural mouldings, plus a range of accessories for today's high-end kitchens.

A typical job with Meridian Products components can fall anywhere in the $40,000 to $100,000 range, "based on the size of the kitchen and sophistication of the cabinets," says Marty Ness, owner and CEO. He attributes the rising popularity of high-end custom kitchens to changing trends in home entertainment.

"The kitchen has become the central area for entertainment in today's modern society," Ness says.

According to Ness, this has resulted in a surge of business as homeowners seek to turn their kitchens into an extension of the living room. Furniture-quality finishes and more elaborate mouldings, corbels and trim are just some of the elements employed by homeowners to achieve the desired effect.

"The beauty and sophistication of today's cabinetry have helped make [the kitchen] really become the primary place in the home for entertaining," Ness says. "Our customers are the high-end manufacturers who build the cabinets."

Precise Milling

The Road to Success

After a decade of manufacturing doors and drawer box components for recreational vehicles, in 1995 Meridian Products changed direction following its sale to Elmer Martin, cofounder of Heritage Custom Cabinetry.

Under Martin's ownership, Meridian's product line transitioned to high-end custom cabinet components. Martin sold the company in 2000 to Marty Ness.

As CEO, Ness continues to guide Meridian Products on its road to success. The company services customers located primarily in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States and.specializes in mortise-and-tenon as well as miter-style doors, face frames, drawer boxes, architectural mouldings and kitchen accessories. In addition, the Specials Department produces fancy, high-quality woodworking, such as mullioned, glass doors. Carved mouldings, corbels, scrolls, rosettes, etc., also are available from the company.

Top Challenges

When asked to list his company's top three challenges, Meridian Products owner and CEO Marty Ness gave the following responses:

1. Being able to find the quality of labor needed to continue growing. "The skill sets needed for woodworking companies today are not being actively promoted as kids get out of school."

2. Competing with foreign and domestic companies. "The way to ensure [success] against competition is to provide better customer service. I think our country is in a customer service crisis - you have to do better with customer service if you want to stand out."

3. Having affordable medical benefits for employees. "This is becoming a greater challenge all the time. If that doesn't turn around soon, we will really be in a crisis." Other items of concern cited by Ness include rising energy costs and the lumber supply situation.

"We don't build to stock - we're 100 percent custom, so we also have to be flexible enough to accept one order or a highly repetitious order, and do it quickly and accurately," Ness says.

The majority of components produced at Meridian Products are made from solid wood, typically domestic species, with maple, cherry and oak among the most popular. Other species, including mahogany, Lyptus and exotics, also are available upon request.

Lumber comes into the rough mill area already kiln dried and ready for processing, says Steve Groff, COO. The boards are run through a planer, graded and designated for either the framing or panel line, based on the best optimization of yield.

According to Mike Morse, purchasing supervisor, Meridian Products maintains 50,000 to 90,000 board feet of lumber for inventory. Lumber designated for framing is sent to the Mereen-Johnson ripsaw, then to a Wadkin moulder for processing into architectural or applied mouldings.

On the door framing line, a Weinig Dimter 104 scans and processes S4S lumber. Purchased less than two years ago, the CNC optimizing saw can be programmed with a cutlist of 10 orders to generate optimal yield, Groff says.

Next, a Diehl straightline ripsaw removes defects and prepares two sides of the lumber for gluing. Pieces are then hand matched for door blanks and marked for color and grain consistency. A glue spreader applies Titebond glue on the pieces, which then are assembled and clamped on a Doucet clamp for approximately one hour.

The door blanks are inventoried and as orders come in, they are pulled and cut to size on Original Saw machines equipped with TigerStop measuring devices, says Groff.

"This is the only place we build to inventory," Groff adds.

On average, approximately 1,100 doors are produced per day, Morse says. Products are shaped, finished and assembled at a plant located adjacent to the rough mill facility.

 

Secondary Processing

There is an organized flow to the machines in the secondary processing area of the plant. In what Ness calls three "hybrid" flow lines, mortise-and-tenon doors, miter doors and dovetail drawers are produced.

On the mortise-and-tenon line, for example, the rough cut door panels are first run through a two-head Timesavers sander using 80/120 grit, shaped, then sanded a second time on a Timesavers widebelt using 180 grit abrasive. "We'll then match the framing and panels, and then we assemble," explains Mike Strickler, production manager.

A recently purchased Accu-Systems HTH is used to produce face frames. A second Accu-Systems MMTJ is used on the miter-style door line.

"We use Accu-Systems equipment now for the face frames as well as the miter doors," Ness says. Since the company switched from using metal splines to this new system, "We've found we get a vastly improved fit and finish for the miter products" Ness adds.

A Carlson ProMax 1000 press squares and pins all four corners automatically. The doors then are allowed to set before moving to the next staging area for lipping.

Meridian Products offers approximately 34 different profiles as standard, with custom options available. Using Saber diamond tooling, the doors are run through the Unique Machine automated shaper/sander, which performs lipping and sanding in a single pass. The machine is equipped with a Doucet Feedback 36 return conveyor for one-person operation.

"It has tripled our volume with the same labor," Strickler says of the single-pass shaping and sanding machine.

After a last tolerance and square check, the door panels are sent through a DMC Unisand top and bottom inline sander, followed by a DMC crossgrain removal sander.

"Having inspection stations at each area makes the quality control checking much more manageable," Groff says. A final inspection is conducted prior to shipping.

On average, turnaround time on doors is six to eight days for simple doors, with more elaborate styles taking 15 days, Ness says. Instead of bar coding, the company matches projects by finish date, thus ensuring that drawers, doors and any specialty items are completed and ready for shipping at the same time.

Specialty items are machined in another area of the facility, at the end of the door lines and dovetail drawer area.

 

According to John Geiser, manager of the Specials, Finishing and Shipping area, a "special" is any accessory, highly complex component or part needing modifications. For example, mullion doors, rope or embossed mouldings on doors, or custom radius cuts all are handled by this department.

"We'll also take someone's idea and fine-tune it into a workable plan," Geiser adds.

According to Ness, the company is hoping to expand this segment of the business, as well as its finishing capabilities, when Meridian Products builds a new 100,000-square-foot plant, tentatively scheduled for next year. The company currently offers complete finishing and custom color matching capabilities.

In the finishing area, Kremlin HVLP guns are used to apply stains, sealers, topcoats and glazes in four JBI spray booths; a fifth spray booth is used for finishing plywood/veneer and other large items. According to Geiser, Meridian Products is the first U.S. woodworking company to use a Cyclomix computerized mixer in the finishing process.

The company is continually looking for ways in which to distinguish itself with customers, such as with new technology or by expanding its product offerings. Improving customer service is just one of Meridian Products' growth initiatives, says Mike Hurst, CFO.

"Our strength is in dealing with small shops and being able to give them personal attention," Hurst says. "Part of our motto is to be more customer focused and to work very hard in becoming a 'true partner' with our customers. It will take some work - but we are very committed to it."

Meridian Products
New Holland, PA

A custom component manufacturer, Meridian Products produces doors, drawers, mouldings and accessories for sale to East Coast and Mid-Atlantic cabinet manufacturers. The company employs 210 people in its 52,000-square-foot (combined) facility.

Three Keys

1. Meridian Products recently invested in numerous labor-saving equipment, including two optimizing saws, widebelt sanders, a mortise-and-tenon machine for door production and a new shaper/sander for producing lipping for profiles.

2. Because of space issues, the company currently uses a hybrid cell system in its finishing and assembly building. Tentative plans call for the company to use a cell production plant layout when it moves into a new 100,000-square-foot facility, which will be located 8 miles from the current plant.

3. Meridian Products takes a team approach to business, not only in its dealings with employees, but in its relationships with customers. Enhancing and improving customer relations by becoming a "true partner" is one of the company's current growth initiatives.

www.meridianproduct.com

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