While some woodworking companies have been putting on the brakes in the face of the slow economy, you won’t find that attitude at Steffy Wood Products. The Angola, Ind., manufacturer of children's furniture has been accelerating both its manufacturing technology and green initiatives to be poised at the head of the pack when the economy comes back.

John Steffy, president, says the company not only has updated its CNC manufacturing capabilities, but also has added an automated finishing line. That helped the company to achieve Greenguard certification for its finishes to help set itself apart from the competition.

Targeted market 

Steffy manufactures and sells some 250 products targeted at the early childhood furniture market. These include a wide selection of cabinets, storage units, chairs, tables and desks aimed primarily at schools, preschools and daycare centers. There is also a wide variety of play furniture products such as simulated kitchens and appliances to foster creative play.

The vast majority of the products are flat panel construction, and virtually all with a natural finish, which Steffy says has long been the standard in the early childhood furniture industry. The products are described and promoted through a number of beautiful full-color catalogs that make it easy for customers to see and select the products they need. Besides just showing the products, the catalogs include lots of pictures of the products in use, including active play and instructional scenes with both children and adults to give a good idea of scale, since many of the products are sized especially for kids.

Technology here, not offshore 

With most of the products designed for flat panel manufacturing, Steffy has been an enthusiastic proponent of CNC manufacturing, and the economy has not slowed that effort.

“We continue to focus on technology for shop floor improvements,” says Steffy. “We need to continue to improve the product manufacturing process. In this overall industry, when the economy works itself out, there will be pent-up demand. Companies prepared for that will fare the best.”

To that end, Steffy has avoided any offshore production, preferring to upgrade the capabilities of his 50 employees in their 50,000-square-foot facility in Indiana. Although he does outsource some solid wood products to Canada, he resolutely avoids outsourcing anything offshore.

CNC manufacturing 

Steffy’s CNC production uses both nested base machines and pod-and-rail setups. “We like nested base manufacturing,” says Steffy. “We do a lot of cutout, and the nesting machines are best for that.” The company has one Weeke nested base machine and another from Multicam.

In addition, there are two Venture 2.5 pod-and-rail CNC machines for part machining that does not emphasize cutting. “We like those for contours,” says Steffy.

They also use an SCM panel saw for cutting parts. Much of the joinery is done with the ABD 150 drill and dowel machine. And there are two case clamps – a Gannomat and a Ligmatek – for putting casework together.

Two Voorwood A125 machines are used for shaping and sanding parts, and a Doucet return conveyor is set up at that station. “One feeds right into the other,” says Steffy. “We can sand and shape both edges at the same time and only handle the part once.”

Adding finish line 

Probably the most involved recent technological change at Steffy is the addition of a Cefla automated flat finishing line, which replaced a system of conventional spray booth finishing. The new line includes a Butfering widebelt sander and is set up for waterbased UV finish. (See the sidebar about Greenguard certification.)

“We added 20,000 square feet for the finishing line,” says Steffy. He says the expansion was worth the time and cost as part of the company’s overall efficiency initiatives. “We’ve improved flow of product through the shop, but it’s still a work in progress,” says Steffy. 

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