CWB April 2004
Onsite's architectural millwork is made in Illinois, shipped to Georgia and installed throughout the country.
By Sam Gazdziak
One of the top architectural millwork firms in the Southeast has its main offices slightly further west - west of Chicago, that is. Onsite Woodwork Corp.'s production and installation process may be different from most other companies, but it has worked well for more than 20 years.
Onsite was started by brothers Ralph and Mark Peterson in Loves Park, IL, in 1976. It started as a construction company, but the Petersons quickly realized there was a need for quality architectural millwork. The company's first client was the local bank that gave them the loan to purchase their first woodworking machinery, Ralph Peterson recalls.
"The original contract was for $50,000 worth of work," he says, "and before we ever left that building, we had done over $1 million worth of work. They took a big risk, and it worked well for both of us."> The bulk of the company's work now is corporate headquarters and law firm offices, which range "from Florida up through the Charlotte-Raleigh area," says Herbert Meldahl, marketing and sales manager. Its list of corporate clients includes UPS, CNN, Bell South, Hewlett Packard and R.R. Donnelly.
Onsite made its Atlanta connection from a designer the company knew who moved there from Chicago. He invited Onsite to bid on a woodwork project there, which led to more and more work. The company would fill a truck with product, drive the truck down to Atlanta, install until the truck was empty and drive back while the shop continued to produce.
In 1990, Mark Peterson moved down to Austell, GA, and opened a regional office. "It has project managers, estimators, project superintendents and, depending on the workload, 25 to 30 installers," Meldahl says, adding that the installers average about 27 years of experience. "No matter what you do in your plant to make your woodwork top quality, how it's installed is going to preserve that quality or severely detract from it."
"We ship two semi loads of materials a week," Ralph explains. "There are trucks that leave here Wednesday night and Saturday afternoon every week."
The Southeast office used to account for almost all of Onsite's volume. But Meldahl was brought aboard to help the company look elsewhere and not be so reliant on that market. Twenty percent of the volume is now to be generated out of Loves Park.
Onsite's projects can vary wildly in size. On the large end, the company provided about 200,000 board feet of solid mahogany for trim in the headquarters of UPS. It also provided a great deal of custom furniture for that project, including two large boardroom tables, display tables and many rows of desks for a computerized training facility.
Meldahl has made the most of the company's contacts through the Architectural Woodwork Institute. "We do a growing amount of work for other AWI companies, where they get a big job on a short time frame, and they are looking for high-end work that will reinforce their reputation. Or, it may require specialty work," he says, adding that the company is especially known for its curved products and its veneer layup.
"Architects walking into a building in Atlanta and looking at the veneer work will know if it's ours or not," he adds. "We lay up our veneer for maximum appearance, not maximum yield."
Onsite has developed a method for creating bent wood by building a form and laminating the exterior surface to a bending stock. Several layers of stock and a hard board are glued together using a special mix, and the entire sandwich (about 3/4-inch thick) is formed into the shape it needs to be. "It's not going to change shape over the years, it's not going to put outside stress on the veneer, and it's not going to give if someone bumps it," Meldahl says of the solid construction.
Four Shifts, No Waiting
With such a large number of family members present, it comes as no surprise that the Petersons have tried to make the company family-friendly. "We've always preached that family was a concern of ours, but our people worked 60 to 70 hours a week," Ralph says. "You wondered how those two meet, and they didn't frankly. We struggled for a long period of time, trying to meet the customers' needs but yet give people a reasonable work schedule and time to spend with their families."
Six years ago, Onsite instituted a four-shift operation, which Peterson says has worked well to reduce the number of hours people work. The shifts are called "Blue," "Yellow," "Orange" and "Green." Peterson explains that by numbering the shifts one through four, it leaves the connotation that the first shift is the best. Peterson says with the color designations, "everybody thinks they're on the best shift, so it works well."
Blue Shift is the standard five-day-a-week shift, working eight hours a day. Yellow Shift works Monday through Wednesday, 11 hours a day. They work part time on Thursday to get their 40 hours in. Orange Shift is the night shift, working 10-hour days from Monday through Thursday. Green Shift works 11 hours on Wednesday through Friday and leaves at noon on Saturday. If people have to work overtime, they can fit it in on the days they are normally off.
Except for a few hours in the early morning, Onsite's 50,000-square-foot facility is open from Monday at 5:30 a.m. until noon on Saturday (or 6:00 p.m. when overtime is needed). Peterson says the four-shift format has dramatically improved the company's scheduling. "We can utilize our equipment better, we can utilize our space better," he adds. "It's helped us meet the demands that keep getting tighter and tighter all the time."
"I'll look at something in the afternoon, and it's just being formed," Meldahl adds. "It may be through the finishing department by the time I get in the next morning."
Surprisingly, Peterson says that when the workers were asked to sign up for the different shifts, there were enough employees to cover each shift without a lot of schedule juggling. Management does its best to accommodate people who wish to change schedules, and the only thing that's mandatory when employees join Onsite is that they must commit to working one year on the Orange Shift, typically the most difficult to fill.
The manufacturing end is as smooth as the communication. Peterson says Onsite is a firm believer in equipment and technology. While a few original machines from 1982 are still in occasional use, the majority of the machinery is only a couple of years old or less and is upgraded regularly. The newest pieces are a Raimann gang ripsaw and a point-to-point and edgebander, both from Biesse Group America.
Even the software system is relatively new. Onsite discovered the software, Pytha, at the IWF show in Atlanta two years ago. It is one of only a handful of American companies to use the software, which is from Germany.> Pytha is a 3-D modeling program and is not CAD-based, so all of Onsite's CAD-based programs became obsolete. "We are extremely pleased with what it has allowed us to do since we started, but it was a fairly healthy learning curve and a huge investment," Peterson says.
The software works with several modules to create the machine code. The Analyzer module determines how much machining will be done to each part, based on Onsite's construction methods. Hops software generates the G-code that goes to the Biesse Rover CNC point-to-point. Ardis from Eurosoft Inc. does the optimizing and creates the labels that are attached to parts after they are run through a Schelling CNC panel saw.
Onsite also has a Heeseman three-head sander, a Weinig moulder, Koch dowel inserter and a couple of Hoffmann machines for creating bow-tie joints. All the lineal trim runs through a Makor finishing line, which profile sands, finishes and stacks the trim.
The veneering department uses knife clippers from Savi and Fisher + Ruckle, a K++per splicer, a Black Bros. glue spreader and a Paul Ott press, which is one of the original 1982 machines. The finishing department uses Kremlin spray equipment and Chemcraft finishes.
Onsite's factory is noteworthy in itself for being bright, air conditioned and climate-controlled. A Torit dust collection unit located inside the building keeps the work floor dust-free. "Image doesn't create good work, but image helps foster good work. Things are clean here," Peterson explains.
The building is sitting on 10-1/2 acres of land, and the ultimate plan is to double the size of Onsite's manufacturing space to 100,000 square feet. That expansion is a more long-term goal, while a sales volume of $12 million is the target for this year. "We don't want to be too big," Peterson says. "We want to be big enough so that we can service our clients and yet not so big that they don't know who we are and we don't know who they are. We've always enjoyed treating our clients as friends and individual people rather than numbers and accounts."
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