By Mike Wilson

Attendees saw a variety new technology and lean manufacturing techniques during the three-day event in November.

Tiara Yachts organizes finished parts into a "supermarket" area where different departments can get the items they need. Each kit of parts is labeled with a bar code.

Woodworkers from across the country saw manufacturing innovations in action at the 2007 Wood Components Manufacturers Assn.'s Fall Conference & Plant Tour Event.

This year's event, which took place Nov. 5-7, was in Grand Rapids, MI. The touring group, which consisted of 226 people including WCMA members, Technology Partners and host company guests, walked through seven plants ranging from a yacht manufacturing facility to a wood components factory.

"Our members really enjoy seeing other plants and learning how others are producing similar products to theirs," says Steve Lawser, executive director of the WCMA. "They like to see the latest in new machinery and equipment operating in a factory environment."

Lawser adds that increasingly the group is touring non-member plants, which allows attendees to see how other products are made. Members then can apply the concepts and techniques to their individual operations, he says.

"Both attendees and hosts benefit through mutual exchanges of information on new technologies and different production techniques," Lawser says. "Host companies are proud to show off their plants and receive comments and suggestions from the attendees."

The event also featured roundtable discussions as well as seminar sessions on lean manufacturing and competing in a global economy.

"The educational sessions and especially the roundtable discussions are very popular with our members," Lawser says. "They get to discuss topics of specific interest to them with their fellow members."

Participants saw a variety of new technology and processes on the tours. Highlights include:

Participants get a close-up look at a Weinig Group Dimter Opticut S50 cross-cut saw.

Great Lake Woods Inc.

Great Lake Woods Inc., which manufactures custom wood parts for a variety of industries along with wood and laminated mouldings, was the only WCMA member company that the group toured. Among the high-tech equipment garnering attention Lawser says that members he talked with were impressed with the moveable arbor blade gang ripsaw that guarantees a good glue line.

"Also, the new scanning technology and optimization system installed at Great Lake Woods' rough mill area was state of the art," Lawser says. "More scanning and optimization systems are being installed in rough mills as a way to improve yields. This is very important because materials account for about 55 percent of the costs of goods sold for component manufacturers."

According to Lawser, members said they were also impressed by the new technology that Great Lake Woods was using to save money on energy. The company had a dust collection system from EnergyEcon that opens and closes gates automatically to conserve power usage.

Haworth Inc.

Haworth is an architectural interior and office furniture manufacturer with a 420,000 square-foot factory in Holland, MI, that produces laminated products using melamine and fabric. The facility has about 300 employees at its Holland location.

The company cuts down on stock by having a consigned inventory of boards. Haworth does not pay the supplier until the boards are taken from the consigned area and machined. The company also uses robotic vehicles to transfer loads from one workstation to the next. The vehicles sense when two pallets are loaded onto rollers next to a station, and then automatically pick-up and transfer the load to the next area in the manufacturing process flow.

Irwin Seating Co.

Irwin Seating Co., which employs more than 400 employees in its 400,000 square-foot facility in Michigan, manufactures public seating for arenas and performing arts centers. It also provides restorations for venues looking to refurbish their seats. While the tours were taking place, the company was fabricating seats for the new Indianapolis Colts and New York Yankees stadiums.

Irwin Seating has a lean manufacturing system in place. The company also holds regular meetings between supervisors to discuss everything from safety to employee morale to quality control problems with different products.

Nucraft Furniture places RFID chips next to items waiting to be finished. An IR oven reads the "recipe card" embedded on the chips, and dries the part using the correct temperature and time.

Nucraft Furniture

Based in Comstock Park, MI, Nucraft Furniture makes high-end office furnishings for conference rooms, lobbies and reception areas.

Tour guides from Nucraft showed off improvements in its manufacturing process. Nucraft has a program of continuous improvement that gives employees a bigger role in increasing efficiency and eliminating waste.

One way Nucraft found to eliminate wasteful mistakes is to place RFID chips next to every product waiting to be dried in the company’s new IR oven. Each chip is programmed with a "recipe card" that gives the oven the exact time and temperature at which each finish should be dried.

Paladin Industries Inc.

Paladin Industries Inc. gave members a tour of its more than 50,000 square-foot plant that fabricates components and does custom machining of a variety of wood-based products for customers. The company produces a wide range of products including jukebox casings and wooden gearshift knobs.

Tiara Yachts

Tiara Yachts, a boat-building company based in Holland, MI, recently underwent a major expansion of its workforce and facility, including adding a 300,000 square-foot addition to the now 500,000 square-foot facility.

Tiara has a large woodworking area, which includes two CNC routers that nest for yield to optimize materials. After finishing, parts are sorted into kits using bar-coded labels. The kits are then taken to a "supermarket" where the division's customers (other divisions within the company) pick them up.

According to Tiara, the bar coding and "supermarket" system allow for just in time manufacturing of the wood parts. Overall at the company, no parts are made until the yacht is either sold or is being built for a dealer's stock. Other lean techniques could be seen throughout Tiara's factory, including simple ones such as labeling the price of each part to keep costs at the forefront of technicians' minds.

"The lean manufacturing techniques that were used in several of the plants were very advanced, especially at Tiara Yachts," Lawser says. "This reinforced the need for, and benefits of, lean manufacturing."

Trendway Corp.

An employee-owned company, Trendway Corp. manufactures a variety of office components including panel systems, desks, wall products and seating. The company’s 380,000 square-foot facility has about 340 employees.

In addition to its state-of-the-art manufacturing operation, one thing that sets Trendway apart from competitors is that the company guarantees its customers that orders will ship "on-time or free." As a result 99.9 percent of orders went out on time in 2006.

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