Celebrating its 50-year anniversary in 2009, Modern Woodcrafts LLC manufactures store fixtures and architectural millwork at its 65,000-square-foot plant in Plainville, CT, and its 95,000-square-foot plant in Lewiston, ME. The two facilities employ 100 workers between them.

“My dad [Gerald Pelletier] started the company in 1959,” says President Lisa Pelletier-Fekete. “He started renovating basements from his garage and it just grew from there. We purchased the second plant in Lewiston, ME, 30 years ago to accommodate the increased sales volume. Being so heavily entrenched in retail, a lot of our work comes in April to November. That’s what prompted us to purchase the second plant; to be able to produce all the work we were getting in that limited time frame.”

Each plant operates as an independent entity, with its own engineering, purchasing and project management staff, but both facilities are equipped and managed exactly the same. “Historically, each plant has had ‘house’ accounts that have made up at least 50 percent of its volume,” says Vice President of Manufacturing Joe Legere. “However, we balance the production workload between both plants to keep pace with customer-driven demands. We can share resources amongst each other if we need to — and we do that from time to time — but we pretty much operate as two independent entities.”

Lean All Over
Lean manufacturing principles are practiced at both facilities. According to Legere, all production is customer-driven by required ship date, with information managed by the project managers and the production staff, and all information updates in real time.

“Lean manufacturing is a major part of our daily discussions and we don’t over-complicate it because at the end of the day, lean is simply the process of eliminating waste in everything that you do,” Legere says. “We use flow in, flow out, small production batches, pull methodology and accelerated production flow. We minimize work-in-progress to its leanest levels in order to make management easier and to ensure nothing sits in process. Most work goes from start to finish in our manufacturing process within 10 to 12 production days. We also have a very flexible, cross-trained workforce. We adjust the departmental staff on a daily basis based on the nature of the work we are producing at that time and the labor requirements, and also utilize departmental overtime and even short-term departmental second shifts, when required to meet ship dates.

“We have greatly simplified our manufacturing processes by utilizing CNC equipment to perform close to 100 percent of the machining operations of parts,” Legere adds. “We have tooling and machines capable of doing every process necessary, so the second the parts come off the machine, they are essentially ready to go to assembly. We are simply shortening the lead time that we can go from raw materials to materials ready to be assembled. We also depend on our vendor partners, who are better equipped and have more direct access to larger inventories, to provide certain components of our products. Those would include mouldings, pre-laminated panels, custom veneer panels, and prefinished and cut-to-size panels.”

Panels are first brought to Schelling panel saws, then machined on either a Delmac/Busellato five-axis CNC machining center, a Biesse CNC machining center or an Anderson CNC router, depending on the facility. Modern Woodcrafts also uses other equipment including Stiles/Homag CNC edgebanders, which allow it to do 3mm edge rounding, and SawStop table saws. The company also recently updated both of its finishing rooms, putting in air make-up systems and switching over to Kremlin finishing pumps and guns.

Turning Lemons into Lemonade
Like many other companies, Modern Woodcrafts is having to adapt in these tough economic times. Legere says that the company is looking closely at its processes to streamline and prepare for better times.

“In terms of dealing with the downturn, we have to manage the company based on our sales volume and the available work ready for production,” says Legere. “The opportunity we have embraced during this period of downturn is to refocus our efforts on lean manufacturing principles in order to eliminate waste and create further efficiencies in our engineering and production environments. But further, to be better positioned in the future so that as the work becomes available, we are a better producer. We can provide more value to our customers and hopefully be a more profitable organization because we have really focused on the ABCs of business in what we do.”

Pelletier-Fekete says the company also has used its anniversary as a time to undertake new marketing efforts. “With new management and enthusiasm, we want to carry on a legacy,” she says. “We invested in a new logo, brochure and Web site and have recently hired a new business development director to diversify our customer base. The retail market is suffering but there are a lot of different markets with the need for high-end millwork, and our diversification efforts have recently provided us with corporate offices, schools and hospitality projects. It’s just a matter of reaching out into those new markets.”  

Full Service
According to Legere, Modern Woodcrafts has a very competent engineering staff and a strong working knowledge of wood, glass, metal, stone, fabric, and electrical components and wiring. It also has its own installation crews.

“Having these abilities allows us to provide more complete and full service contracts to our clients,” Legere says. “We are able to bring one-stop shopping to the customer, whether it’s a retail customer who wants to see us take it from start to finish, including the installation we do with our own staff; or whether it is a general contractor who says ‘instead of letting out three different contracts, I want to go to one company who can take it all from start to finish.’ That is what our specialty is.”

In regards to sustainable products, the company lets its customers drive the demand. “There is still a price premium for many certified and green products, so we need to let our customers determine exactly what they want to pay for,” Legere says. “Because we are a custom manufacturer, we build what our customers ask for. We continue to educate ourselves in the new green trends such as CARB compliance, FSC certification and LEED. We are aware of what the provisions are and what we need to do, and when jobs come through with those specifications, we obviously make sure to accommodate our customers’ demands.”

Pelletier-Fekete cites the economy as a continuing challenge, but she is optimistic when looking towards the future of the company. “We retired a lot of experience over the past three years, but we have a younger, more enthusiastic team who understands the commitment needed to achieve our goals of increased profitability,” she says. “Although economically this is a tough situation for everybody to be in, we have embraced it, and are using this to our advantage as a time to scrutinize our procedures and policies. What doesn’t kill us will make us stronger, and we are planning to be around for a long time.” z

About Modern Woodcrafts LLC
Plainville, CT & Lewiston, ME
Celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2009, Modern Woodcrafts LLC manufactures store fixtures and architectural millwork at its 65,000-square-foot plant in Plainville, CT, and its 95,000-square-foot plant in Lewiston, ME. The two facilities employ 100 workers total.

Three Keys
1. Both of the company’s facilities are fully operational, with their own purchasing, project management and engineering staff, and operate as two independent entities, though they still share resources from time to time if necessary.
2. Modern Woodcrafts is a strong believer in lean manufacturing principles, and has simplified its manufacturing processes by utilizing CNC equipment to perform close to 100 percent of the machining operations of parts.
3. The company is an active member of both the Association for Retail Environments (A.R.E.) and Architectural Woodwork Institute (AWI), and is currently undergoing AWI quality certification.

Modern Woodcrafts practices lean manufacturing at both of its facilities. Besides making traditional architectural millwork, the company also has working knowledge of glass, metal, stone, fabric, and electrical components and wiring, including being UL-certified. This allows the company to provide more complete full service contracts to its clients.

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