A new software system helped a manufacturer of frames for upholstered furniture improve material usage, reduce floor space and upgrade process controls.

Bernhardt Furniture Co. has a long history of product innovation and manufacturing leadership. The company sources globally but also remains committed to domestic manufacturing with six domestic plants in close proximity to its Lenoir, N.C. headquarters.

Three of the Bernhardt plants produce upholstery collections, including the Martha Stewart Furniture with Bernhardt. Bernhardt Plant Five’s 45 employees supply frames for two nearby upholstery plants. It was at the frame plant where Bernhardt recently focused its attention on performance improvements.

“We wanted to become more efficient in both material usage and labor costs”, says Bernhardt residential upholstery division manager Thad Monroe. “After studying our frame processes, we saw an opportunity to shift our batch production process to a more efficient and responsive just-in-time delivery model.”


Rethinking a flawed process 

With production of more than 2,000 frames per week, the high cost of plywood was a target for savings. After noting the success that some other companies had achieved with production optimization software, Bernhardt upholstery teams decided to rethink the way they were processing frames.

Bernhardt programs frame parts to fit single sheets of plywood. When single sheet layouts are not practical, multiple frames and sheets are combined into cutting templates to enable high production levels with CNC routers. But because each program required hours of line-by-line CNC programming, a single “static nest” was reused each time a given frame was needed.

Although this practice of reusing master programs can result in high machine output, it produces significant waste in the form of plywood remnants (unused partial sheets) as well as cutting extra frames (overcutting) when order requirements do not match quantities required by the static nests.

For example, if the program is set up to cut two frames (due to better material utilization), an order for a single or uneven number of frames will force cutting of extra frames. Even though these remnants and extra frames are typically held in inventory, it is difficult to use them due to today’s rapid style changes and small order quantities.

After a short evaluation and testing on actual Bernhardt production frames, the company decided to implement Plataine’s WoodOptimizer (formerly known as NesterWood) and Production Scheduler software in the frame plant to reduce scrap and get the most value out of every sheet of plywood.


More frames with less plywood 

Because it creates efficient programs automatically, the WoodOptimizer software enabled Bernhardt to avoid the limitations of static nests. After a brief training and file conversion process, the system was generating new nests designed specifically to accommodate the product mix and order quantities of each daily schedule.

The software’s RollingNest capability also eliminated almost all plywood remnant waste by making it possible to start a new order at the very point within a sheet where the previous one ended. This enables Bernhardt to cut more of the right parts from each of the 1,200 sheets of plywood it uses each week.

“In just six months, WoodOptimizer has reduced our overall plywood usage by 10 to 15 percent,” says Joe Don Biggerstaff, operations manager at Plant 5. “This represents a huge financial savings for Bernhardt. The benefit is also apparent to us in the amount of floor space we have saved. Where we once had 32 rows of bins holding overcut stock frame parts, we now have only eight. That’s because everything we cut now is for an order we already have in hand.”


Streamlined programming and cutting 

At Bernhardt, the previous process required two or three skilled CAD/CAM programmers just to create the static nests. The new system automatically creates on-the-fly programs with little manual intervention. This frees up programming time that can be applied to higher value product development and production scheduling tasks, important because Bernhardt has transitioned to a year-round new product introduction cycle.

Bernhardt also implemented Plataine’s integrated Production Scheduler software to shift the scheduling and setup of orders for their two Shoda routers to the two-person programming team. In the past, individual machine operators were required to load and remove each program; a task that typically consumed 30 to 45 minutes for each operator shift. Now, once the daily production schedule is added, the system automatically generates the individual work orders and queues them up to the networked routers. Machine operators need only confirm the information on shop floor touch screen devices to launch new orders.

CNC productivity is also maximized by tool path improvements made possible by the WoodOptimizer software. The software helps reduce tool changes at the routers by considering head configuration in the scheduling process. This saves operators another 30-45 minutes per shift.


Improved process control 

This new level of process control also gives Bernhardt management more control and flexibility to respond to scheduling changes and to make on-the-fly changes to address any rush orders, sample priorities, or other variations in plans.

According to 22-year Bernhardt veteran and programmer Floyd Carpenter, “While I was initially concerned that the new system may not be flexible enough, I was quickly satisfied that we could do everything that we needed to do easier and better than before. Everyone here finds the system simple and easy to use, (and it) saves quite a lot of material.”

Immediately after implementing the new software system, Bernhardt leveraged the improvements in material usage, floor space savings, and process controls to revamp the layout and production flow at the frame plant. In combination, the software and workflow improvements have enabled the plant to reduce its five-day throughput cycle down to three days.

“Not only are we cutting more frames using less plywood, we have reduced our overall throughput time by two full days,” says Biggerstaff. ”These improvements greatly improve our ability to respond and better meet the daily needs of the plants we serve.”

In addition to streamlining the process, the Production Scheduler software also provides plant and corporate management with real-time scheduling monitoring and electronic Gantt chart reporting.

“With double digit savings, we have met and exceeded our cost improvement goals with the new software. We are pleased to have eliminated waste and streamlined our employees’ work processes. Achieving just-in-time frame production undoubtedly makes us more competitive.”

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