It is often one of the most overlooked — yet integral — items in a retail store display. Slatwall has been around for a number of years, but it is only recently that the material is gaining the respect it deserves for its versatility and sustainability.
Wind Mill Slatwall Products has been manufacturing slatwall panels, display panels and grooved component parts since 1980. The Sheboygan Falls, WI-based company offers a wide variety of panel products, available with and without inserts, including: standard groove, metal groove, Racksert groove, Readysert groove and wide throat groove.
|Panels are laminated then cut to size on a Selco panel
saw before having the grooves precision machined on
the company’s Komo and CMS CNC routers.
“Wind Mill has the capability to provide just about anything the customer needs,” says Mark Radtke, vice president of business development. “Today, we see that customers rely on us to provide value-added operations to the slatwall and parts they need. That way, when they are delivered, they are ready to go.”
Another important aspect to the company’s slatwall product is its environmental sustainability. Wind Mill uses CARB-compliant products and has been awarded Chain-of-Custody certification by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). In addition, Wind Mill is a licensed Environmentally Preferable Product (EPP) Downstream facility under the certification of the Composite Panel Assn.
Just recently, the company added Anchor composite panels to its list of environmentally friendly core materials. Exclusively available in the Midwest and East from Wind Mill, Boise Cascade Anchor core is an alternative to MDF and has been engineered specifically for slatwall. According to the company, it is made from 100-percent recycled fiber and is available FSC certified, consistent with Wind Mill’s commitment to sustainability. Radtke says Wind Mill worked with Boise and Amerhart to develop the core, which he claims is approximately 50 percent stronger than traditional MDF.
“It is used in applications that require extra strength holding,” Radtke says. “Our sales team is trained to recommend this for applications requiring heavy loads or where 2-inch on center applications are specified.”
Wind Mill’s slatwall and grooved components are sold primarily to the store fixture and display industries. The company also manufactures a line of garage organization products under the GarageEscape label, sold through DIY retailers such as Menards and Do It Best Hardware, says Mark Hunt, vice president of marketing.
|Wind Mill’s RTA slatwall displays can be found in a variety of settings, such as this Chamber
of Commerce office.
‘Measurably Better’ with Lean
According to its Website, Wind Mill strives to be “measurably better” in all its slatwall supplies. “The ‘measurably better’ tagline was derived from the feedback we continue to receive from customers,” Radtke says. “The phrase embodies several elements of support which rise to the top.” Those include:
• On-time delivery. “We track this and consistently achieve close to a 99 percent on-time record. This is an extremely critical metric for customers as store construction schedules are often super challenging. We achieve this by having more and better-trained customer service members on board.”
• Product quality. “The product has to be right when it shows up, so being on time isn’t enough. Product quality is achieved through a lean manufacturing process and techniques,” he adds.
Wind Mill embarked on its lean journey in 2007. “Continuous improvement is the culture we aspire to, not only in the plant, but in the office. For everything we do, we ask ourselves ‘What can we do to make it even better,’” Radtke says.
“It doesn’t happen overnight,” adds Jay Hogfeldt, CEO. “We’re driven by our habits, so changing what we do takes time until [our employees] see the value.”
Sometimes the change is simple. For example, one of the company’s initiatives was to place identification placards above the various machines. “When we need to ramp up and have extra help in the plant, it makes it easy for them,” Radtke says.
Other changes stemming from Kaizen events include the use of daily color-coded schedule boards and communication boards throughout the plant, and the placement of tool boxes within each of the work cells.
|Placards help identify the machines and cell areas for
new as well as existing employees.
And after every Kaizen event, Radtke and Hogfeldt add, the company has seen dramatic results which frequently exceed the goals set, whether they be in turnaround time or cost reductions. “By moving to lean, we’ve been able to increase our capacity without increasing the building size or adding machinery,” Radtke adds.
The company looks beyond the standard 5S of sort, set in order, shine, standardize and sustain to include one more element — safety — in its pursuit of continuous improvement, Hogfeldt says. The employees, after all, are what drive the success of the company, he adds.
The Manufacturing Process
Inside the 65,000-square-foot plant, the production area is divided into manufacturing cells for flexible manufacturing. Panels are purchased from a variety of sources in addition to Boise Cascade, including Temple-Inland, Columbia Forest Products, Uniboard and Plum Creek.
The panels are laminated in-house with high pressure laminates as well as BauschLinnemann foils, using a Black Bros. adhesive spreader in conjunction with a Monco laminator. If specified, Wind Mill also can finish the panels, using Binks sprayers to apply water-based materials.
In the machining area, the panels currently are cut to size on a Selco panel saw. Komo and CMS CNC routers are used to machine grooves for vertical slatwall panels as well as rout shapes for components.
“Our comprehensive line of CNC machinery has the ability to handle a variety of materials and varying thicknesses. We routinely change component part sizes for small, medium and large run,” Radtke says.
The company also has a Progressive Systems groover for horizontal panels. “Our custom made, semi-automated feedthrough slatwall machine can produce a dust-free, 4-by-8, 3-inch OC (on center) panel in approximately 30 seconds,” Hogfeldt adds.
A manufacturer of both standard as well as custom products, Wind Mill offers a variety of edging options, including corner rounding and up to 3mm edgebanding, applied with a Homag edgebander. The company will soon be introducing three RTA fixture lines to be sold through its distributor network, including one featuring rounded corners and another with wood trim.
“Wind Mill has the capability to provide just about anything the customer needs,” Radtke says. “We see that customers rely on us to provide value-added operations to the slatwall and the parts they need. That way, when they are delivered, they are ready to go.”
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