Jim Bishop Cabinets' finishing bottleneck had disaster written all over it. The finishing department was running two shifts, 24 hours per day, six days a week. It left everyone tired and barely keeping pace.


"It was working, but the finishing department having to work Saturday meant that we didn't have any relief valve if we got in a slew of orders," says Jim Bishop Jr. "We had no room to budge and it almost caught up with us."


The obvious solution was to expand on land owned by the company and adjacent to the 82,000-square-foot plant, located in Montgomery, Ala. "We were working on an expansion in Montgomery. We couldn't get answers out of the city," says Bishop. "And even owning the land, the expansion would probably cost about $4 million."


A better solution

The company likes to pay cash for everything. A new building would have been a stretch financially and in terms of the time it would take from start to completion. And the need for additional finishing capacity was immediate.


Bishop considered leasing a building in Montgomery as a temporary solution and began looking. He also investigated outsourcing some of the finishing and called an associate, owner of a contract finishing company, to inquire about that possibility. Since the owner was considering going out of business, Bishop, along with his father, went to the 34,000-square-foot plant in Pell City to evaluate the plant. The Bishops felt that this location would be the perfect solution. The company purchased the equipment and assets and is leasing the building.


"Our total investment in this is about a quarter of what we were going to spend in Montgomery. And it moved us into another workforce, two hours outside of Montgomery and they don't overlap," says Bishop. "We bought the company in December and it came on line just in time. We were able to increase our production capacity."


The company was also able to eliminate the automatic sixth working day, which gave it a much needed safety valve.


Fit to finish

The finishing plant was a three-step setup with a fourth step for glazing. "I needed about 300 more line feet," says Bishop. "I took his opposing booths and put them together. We moved his offline booth. I put in a plywood sanding machine and took out his UV coater line, because we had no use for that. We basically redid it to fit us, and had to invest another $300,000 to get it to fit."


The finishing line is currently running at two hours and 15 minutes, but could run at twice the speed, says Bishop. A 17-person shift is handling the excess capacity now, running at 12 feet per minute. "I don't need any more out of it now."


Bishop is not using opposing booths because of the wide variety of finishes and coatings the company offers. "Instead of opposing booths, we had to cut them out and make them single-wide booths that give the one sprayer room to move," says Bishop. "It gives us room to move also, because we can spread our material to have two sprayers in the booth."


Simple is best

"We don't look for the big solution for things. We look for the simplest way to get done what you want done," says Bishop.


The finishing system is a simple hanging line with conventional hand sprays. Binks/DeVilbiss guns and Graco pumps are used to apply Akzo-Nobel traditional stains, conventional solvent-based sealers and topcoats. An additional exhaust system was added, custom fabricated by Alabama Washer and Oven. A positive air pressure system was already in place.


In Montgomery, the finishing department runs two shifts and has a pump room, where all the material is handled and travels through stainless steel lines to the booths. Smaller pumps near the booths supply the material in the new plant, and a day's supply is brought in at a time.


Doors, drawer fronts, face frames, mouldings and accessories are finished in Montgomery while 600 to 900 end panels a day, as well as all finished plywoods, are done in Pell City. Plans are in the works to finish the plywood back material in Pell City as well.


Jim Bishop Cabinets offers 28,000 finish combinations, making batch processing impossible, says Bishop. Although bar coding is used in some areas of the Montgomery plant, it's not used in Pell City.


"Between colors you've got to have some space because of overspray, so we use the space we have between overspray to announce the color change. It's just as simple as it can be. It's all paper," says Bishop. The orders do go through a computer and order entry, but orders are transferred to the floor and from the report instructions for the finish are hand-written to paper and put between products with an alligator clip.


More and more companies are switching to waterborne finishes and Bishop says that he's one oven away from being able to run waterborne in Montgomery and ready to go at any time in Pell City. He doesn't want to run it in Pell City until it's ready to run in Montgomery. "It'll be a challenge in Montgomery based on the current technology," he says.


Future plans

The company is going to set up an assembly line in Pell City if necessary. "Given the floor space we have in Montgomery and our staging area, it's going to be hard to assemble more efficiently," says Bishop. "We could probably add a second shift and do it, but we've got the space here and it's going to be easier to do it here. In Montgomery we do it on a big moving conveyor line with eight assemblers to turn the product around. In Pell City, we're going to do team assembly with two assemblers, doing a truckload a day. We're looking at four to five truckloads a day in Montgomery."


Bishop has a vision of mass optimization, of making each process work as efficiently as possible and having it flow together seamlessly. He also wants to blur the lines further between semi-custom and custom.


"This plant is just part of the big picture in being a progressive company with a customer focus that dealers will wait in line to buy," says Bishop. "The minute you're there, everyone is going to get there with you. You have to keep moving. Every day that you lay around and don't progress, someone is gaining on you."


(Key suppliers: Akzo Nobel Coatings, Inc.; Binks/DeVilbiss; Graco Inc.; Stiles Machinery, Inc.)

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