Aiming for better workflow

Charlie Cole has spent much of his woodworking career bursting out of one shop space and into another.

Cole, president of Harney Woodworking Ltd., Taneytown, Md., spent his first 12 years working in and around a 1,200-square-foot shop, and built a 13,000-square-foot shop in 1989, confident he had met his space needs.

The purchase of a Komo router changed that. With increased production capabilities and new business pouring in, it was not long before Cole purchased an additional 17,000-square-foot annex facility six miles away to handle overflow from his award-winning casework and architectural millwork business.

Still, even with two facilities totaling 30,000 square feet, Cole had to turn away business.

After his general manager analyzed Harney's efficiency levels, workflow, automation set up and planned automation purchases, there was only one conclusion: Cole needed to consolidate, revamp Harney's workflow and move again. But this time they'd leave room for even more expansion down the road.

Building for success

Cole started Harney Woodworking in 1978 with $100 and a helper. He spent his days working in the shop and evenings and weekends meeting with potential customers, actively pursuing work for homeowners and contractors in the Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and D.C. areas.

Harney grew, and in 1994 Cole hired Frank Vecera as a project manager, and later promoted him to general manager. Vecera, with a background in management and industrial engineering, began reviewing the shop's operations with an eye to maximizing efficiency. According to Vecera, a key move was the purchase of Tradesoft's ProjectPAK software in 1996.

"ProjectPAK drives about 80 percent of what is done in this company," Vecera says. Harney uses ProjectPAK for estimating, project management, cost accounting, purchasing and job orders in the shop. Vecera also uses the software as the basis for weekly meetings with his project managers, so Cole and the management team can see how closely a job is running in time, labor and materials to the original bid.

Vecera also credits ProjectPAK for tightening up Harney's bids, which once were erratic. "The consistency of our estimates is phenomenal," Vecera says. "And what we have found is that is not always the case with our competition."

Although competition in the area is stiff, Harney has managed to build a reputation based on quality, service and ability to deliver on time. In fact, Vecera will not allow a job to be bid if he knows they can't meet the client's deadline. Many clients will wait for Harney, Cole says, and often clients will come back and ask Harney to fix work originally awarded to another company.

A move and CNC

Cole's 2000 purchase of a Komo VR510 Mach III router dramatically changed life in the shop. "The Komo CNC router has lived up to its reputation," Cole says. "It replaced several guys on table saws and a bunch of equipment. We utilize that machine to its utmost." Annual sales for Harney have leapt from $2.5 million in 2000 to $7.5 million in 2005.

The arrival of the Komo router increased production, but it also highlighted two problems production was being squeezed to its utmost and workflow was in a tangle that needed unsnarling.

Harney will move into its new, 30,000-square-foot facility at the end of 2005 and rid itself of the 13,000-square-foot building (see sidebar, page 38). But currently, material is brought in the loading doors of the 13,000-square-foot building and brought to the middle of the shop for layup. From there it goes to the router at the far end of the shop, then back over by the loading doors for edgebanding, then on to one of several work areas scattered around the shop for assembly. Depending on the piece, it may make a detour through the spray booth, located diagonally across from the router, and then, ultimately, out the exit doors by the router.

The two-story, 17,000-square-foot annex has a simpler layout. Parts are cut on the router at the main shop and delivered to workers on the second floor of the annex. There they are assembled and taken to the first floor for finishing.

Harney's lumber comes from a local mill and is handpicked for them by a childhood friend of Cole's. "Our select cherry is unbelievable," Cole says. "My friend hand picks it and kiln dries it for us. The boards are perfect." Cole has also made deals with local suppliers for select grade oak, native poplar and walnut.

Shop equipment

In addition to the Komo router, Harney also uses a Timesavers 36-inch widebelt sander, a Colladay 16-inch jointer and a Bridgewood shaper. Finishing is done in a Binks spray booth using HVLP technology. Dust collection is provided by a Scientific Dust Collector system.

Software used by Harney includes ProjectPAK project management software, AutoCAD drafting software and RouterCim and Cabinet Vision for CNC programming.

In the annex facility there is another Binks spray booth, a Wadkin-Bursgreen T630 24-inch planer, a Northfield 16-inch jointer, a Costa AKF CT1350 two-drum 54-inch widebelt sander and a Dustek dust collection system.

Employees key

When talking about Harney's success, both Cole and Vecera are quick to point to the quality of their employees. "Our employees give us a phenomenal team effort," Vecera says. "Everyone works together."

Nonetheless, finding good employees continues to be a challenge. Vecera routinely speaks to high schools in the area about careers in woodworking and at Harney, and Cole teaches woodshop at a local school, even providing the tools and material for students to use. "I believe this is a noble profession," Vecera says. "And a good living can be made at it."

Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

About the author
Ken Jennison

Ken Jennison was a senior editor at CabinetMaker and FDM magazines from 2006 to 2008, writing more than 70 articles about cabinet and furniture manufacturers. He is currently director of acquisitions at Hearland Historical Properties LLC in San Francisco.