New Plant Boosts Vaughan's Furniture Output

Bedroom furniture specialist celebrates its 75th anniversary by opening a new bedroom furniture plant that utilizes state-of-the art equipment.


The computer program is called up with the punch of a button on the control panel and the dual-table, 12-head Heian CNC router springs into action. The router heads move in tandem over the four particleboard blanks. They glide forward and rout a half-moon at the edge of the panels and then move back to bore a series of dowel holes. Even as the machining continues, two workers load the second table with four new blanks and then wait briefly for the machining center to finish processing the first set of panels. Once finished on the first table, the computer-controlled heads lift and glide to the second table, which has shuttled into position, to repeat the operation.

The workers use a compressed air hose to blow dust off from the first table, remove the offal and place the machined parts on top of a neat stack of completed parts. The tower of parts grows some 3-feet high in mere minutes.

All around the machining center there is a buzz of activity. Machinery whirrs and parts are conveyed from one station to the next. Raw material is dried, cut, planed, sorted and machined. Above it all, an intricate spider web of dust collection pipes are connected to each machine and to a much larger, main collection pipe. In a separate room, assembled furniture is moved on a tow cart line, through an intricately winding finishing line.

So goes a typical day of production at bedroom furniture specialists Vaughan Furniture Co.'s newest bedroom furniture plant -- the T. George Vaughan factory. Located in Stuart, VA, in the Blue Ridge Mountain country and down the mountain from Vaughan Furniture's headquarters in Galax, the 260,000-square-foot factory is nestled among lush trees and rolling hills on 34 acres of land. Operating for just over a year, the plant's name is more than just a tribute; it was named to honor T. George Vaughan who, along with his brother John, took over the reins of the company in 1955 and immediately began an expansion program. T. George Vaughan died while the new factory was being built, while John continues to serve the company as chief executive officer.

A CNC workhorse

While the Heian is the only machining center at the plant, it is a workhorse that operates 16 hours a day. Programmed by a personal computer that is directly connected to the machine's controller, the router, purchased from Stiles Machinery, operates at between 700 and 1,000 inches per minute.

Each of the 12 heads on the machine gets a complete overhaul every 3,000 operating hours, said Taylor Vaughan, senior executive vice president for Vaughan Furniture. While one head is being serviced, a spare head is dropped into place to minimize downtime.

"The single biggest impact of the router is that it has been a tremendous labor saving machine," said Duncan McClellan, vice president of production in Stuart. "You can get precision quality from one machine where in the past it took as many as five machines to do the same operations. End panels, for example, would have to go through five different operations: size, trim, mortise, cut out for base rail and boring for screws."

"The router was ordered to go along with the new factory," said Taylor Vaughan. "Almost all of the machinery was ordered new, though some of it was refurbished from our other plants."

Added CEO John Vaughan, "It was all hammer and nails in those days and now it is all computerized -- staples and glue. We have come a long way since those days, but it is still the same processes, just more efficient."

Efficiency in the rough mill area

An example of this improved efficiency is in the rough mill area. Here, computerized and conveyorized equipment operated by experienced workers can now grade, sort and track lumber inventory quickly and accurately.

Safety Comes First at Vaughan Furniture

Seven years ago, Vaughan Furniture embarked on an aggressive safety campaign. It hired a director of safety and formed safety committees. In the last seven years, the company has become one of the safest in the industry and has won several safety awards from the American Furniture Manufacturers Assn.

The furniture industry averages 9.1 accidents per 100 workers. At Vaughan, the average is 8.1 per 100 workers. More importantly, lost worktime accidents have dropped from 6.6 accidents per 100 workers to 0.57 per 100 workers.

"We sat down with every plant manager and foreman to look for ways to improve safety," said president Bill Vaughan. "It has been a massive, continuous effort and it is a work in progress."

-- Larry Adams

Raw lumber is shipped in from local and national suppliers. Approximately 2 million board feet of lumber is inventoried which is dried in three-zone, Irvington Moore dry kilns. Hardwood lumber is dried to approximately 7 percent moisture content and softwoods to about 10 percent. Depending on the moisture content when the lumber is put into the kiln, hardwoods can take anywhere from 15 to 25 days to reach this level while softwoods such as pine, poplar and gum can be dried in as little as three days.

Once dried, the boards are graded and information on board quality and length is downloaded onto floppy disks and sent to the plant's main office where inventory levels are tracked. As lumber is cut in the dimension mill, that information is also fed to the office and lumber is ordered as needed.

After pre-planing, the boards are cut into one of three lengths -- short, medium and long, depending on their end use -- using a laser-guided Mattison 404 ripsaw. The boards are sorted by length and sent to either a James L. Taylor clamp carrier or a Michael Weinig moulder.

In the case clamp area, planks are fed through a Taylor Opti-Sizer which uses a sonar device to automatically match like-sized slats. These slats are then edge-glued and clamped for 40 minutes on a Taylor clamp carrier before being transferred by roller conveyors to a Timesavers three-head sander that uses 100-, 120-, and 150 grits. Up to 6,000 board feet are processed per shift.

Two Weinig moulders are used independently to machine the four sides of the board. The moulders can handle parts as large as 9 inches wide and 4 inches thick. The tooling is ground in-house on a Weinig Rondamat 934 grinding machine and its accuracy is assured on a OMA System that measures the accuracy of the grind.

For its veneered products, the company uses a Newman Whitney cold press and an Adamson United hot press. "The cold press is the most used of the two because you get more volume and it takes less people," said McClellan. "However, there are pieces that don't fit in the cold press so you have to run your hot press. Five- to 7-ply materials have to be done on the hot press."

Ninety percent of veneered boards are three-ply and can be laminated on the cold press. The cold press, which is operated by four workers, has a 45-minute cure cycle and 15-minute open time. The hot press takes about 21Ã?Â?2 minutes to cure but the operation requires eight people: three to make packs that consist of approximately 40 cores each; two to load the machine; two too unload it; and a supervisor to oversee the operation.

The veneered parts are sanded on a Heeseman double-head sander using grits of 120 and 150 or 150 and 180 depending on the thickness of the veneers.

A Fine Finish

One of the most interesting aspects of the new plant is its 3,400-foot-long, tow cart finishing line designed by Clean Air Products of North Carolina.

Unfinished pieces are placed onto carts which are hooked up to an in-ground tracking system. The carts are towed through 10 in-line spray booths, sanding stations and drying ovens. In the spray booths, manufactured by Clean Air Products, operators apply finishing materials supplied by Lilly Industries using DeVilbiss high-volume, low-pressure spray guns.

Depending on the product to be finished, it will go through anywhere from 12 to 25 steps. Typically, the steps include:

  • Three initial stains are applied: a sap stain, body stain and penetrating stain.
  • A washcoat is applied and the piece is then hand sanded.
  • An inert, colorless stain is sprayed on the end grain.
  • A wiping stain is applied which is wiped down at the next station.
  • A sealer spray is applied and the piece is again hand sanded.
  • A first lacquer coat is applied.
  • The piece receives a "spray pad," a color coat for highlighting light spots or accenting darker spots. If this does not get the exact look required, it goes through a hand-finish application.
  • A second lacquer coat is applied, the piece is sanded and a final lacquer coat is then sprayed.

For drying, the parts are placed into ovens after the washcoat application, the sealer application and the lacquer stations. Drying ovens are heated anywhere from an ambient temperature to 120F, depending on the humidity that day. "If the humidity is too high, you can't go as hot because it would blister," McClellan said.

It takes about three hours, or about 30 feet per minute, for pieces to complete the circuit. Currently, the plant is finishing approximately 70,000 board feet a day, but that number is expected to go higher. "We are less than a year old and we are learning," McClellan said. "Last April, we were producing 48,000 board feet a day. So we are getting better."

All the spray booths are on one side of the plant and all the ovens are on a second side. This saves on piping and reduces compression loss. It also keeps liquids in one spot -- away from the boilers.

Last November, when new federal finishing regulations when into effect, the company switched to high-solids, compliant coatings developed by Lilly Industries. "The materials cost more and it takes a little more time to dry, but it was in the training and changeover time that took the longest," said Press Turbyfill, executive vice president. "The regulations went into effect on Nov. 21, 1997, but we were training our people for a year before that."

Added CEO John Vaughan, "When the regulations came down, we thought we would have to go to all water and spend millions and millions on new equipment. But our finishing people were able to develop appropriate finishes, and we were able to lower our HAPs (hazardous air pollutants) emissions. Instead of it costing us millions and millions, it cost us hundreds of thousands."



Vaughan Turns 75 in '98

In the furniture business, there are a number of families that are readily identified with the furniture industry. Vaughan is one of those names.

The company was founded on Jan. 24, 1923, in Galax, VA, by Taylor G. Vaughan Sr., (ably assisted by his wife Blanche of the Bassett family, another famous furniture name, current president Bill Vaughan said). The first shipment of furniture went out in December of that year, and the company has never looked back.

Taylor Vaughan died in 1940 and his brother, Bunyan C. Vaughan, who had served on the company's board of directors, took over. He served as president until 1955 and as chairman of the board until his death in 1962.

In 1955, T. George Vaughan became the company's third president and John Vaughan became executive vice president.

"1955 was a milestone year for the company," Bill Vaughan said. Bill and his cousin Taylor Vaughan, senior executive vice president, represent the third generation of Vaughans to run the company. "It marked the end of one period of the company and started a new period of expansion."

The original plant was initially expanded by 140,000 square feet, but growth was not yet complete. After major upgrades in the 1950s, 1960s and 1990s, the three-floor plant now spans 451,000 square feet and employs 475 people. Today, 28 percent of the company's product is manufactured in Galax.

Over the years the company has purchased a number of companies, including the Empire Furniture Co. in 1969, and a plant that was renamed the E.C. Dodson plant in the early 1980s. (Dodson had served as vice president during T. George Vaughan's tenure as president.) Also, in 1976 the company purchased, along with the Bassett Furniture company, Webb Furniture Enterprises. In addition, the B.C. Vaughan plant was constructed in 1973 and last year the T. George Vaughan plant was built.

Today, the company operates five manufacturing plants -- which operate independently of each other -- and a veneer plant. In addition, Webb Furniture Enterprises has four manufacturing facilities.

A Few Setbacks

"When you are in business for 75 years, you are going to have lean years," said John Vaughan. "What got us through were two things: good people and good credit. We always paid our bills."

A major setback occurred in the early 1970s when Sears decided to make its own furniture. "They were our largest customer, about 12 percent of our business at the time," said John Vaughan. "But we went to market that year and told our salesmen that we were not going to let this affect us. We came out with new products and it turned out to be a positive thing for us."

The recessive economies of the early 1980s and the early 1990s also hurt the company. But it was the OPEC oil embargo in the 1970s that really stung. "Business in the U.S. just stopped. The price of oil quadrupled. It really was the toughest time because nobody was busy," John Vaughan said.

Even during the tough times "we didn't lose money. We plateaued and now we are growing," Bill Vaughan said. Last year, Vaughan Furniture's sales were $122 million. Sales are expected to jump to $145 million this year.

Today's company principals credit the past generations of Vaughan for their success. "They helped to build something for their family," Bill Vaughan said. "We plan to grow the company so our children will have something as well."

-- Larry Adams

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