AyA Kitchens and Baths Ltd. identified a need in the market and set about filling that need. The company found an empty building, and assembled a state-of-the-art cabinet plant in Mississauga, Ont., with the current capacity to manufacture 70 kitchens per shift.

Although the company is new (the plant went into operation in July 2001), the primary executives have plenty of experience. CEO Dave Martin worked for Canac Kitchens from 1986 to early 2000. Martin hired Peter Lorke to build the new plant. Lorke's experience was in manufacturing office furniture, not kitchen cabinets, at Knoll.

"What we applied from office furniture is mostly quality related: procedures, quality checks, documentation, working with numbers, colors and pictures to make it easy to train people," Lorke says.

Manufacturing methods used in the office furniture industry are typically more advanced and more flexible than in the kitchen cabinet industry. AyA documentation and manufacturing standards are similar to those used by ISO-certified manufacturers.

AyA makes kitchen and bath cabinets, but also does some entertainment centers, closets, desks and bedroom furniture. Cabinet companies are doing more of these latter categories.

Martin says AyA is producing mid- to upper-end cabinets. "We don't go after a lot of the lower-end apartment work," he says. "We're in business to sell direct to builders and retail."

AyA got a big boost from the hot housing market in its hometown.

"The market here in Toronto is very strong, approaching 50,000 housing starts a year," Martin says. "We realized that most of the other manufacturers were reaching their capacity levels, and most of them were landlocked and didn't have the ability to expand. The capacities were below what the demand was."

There's a showroom on site, and AyA sells in Toronto through company-owned locations, and in several locations in the United States, including Chicago, Charlotte, Atlanta, Florida, New York and Virginia, where Martin spent eight years developing markets. He is expecting sales for 2003 to be $18 million (U.S.), which he expects to double next year.

About 70 percent of AyA's business is in Ontario, and 30 percent in the U.S. "By this time next year it will be the opposite," Martin says.

To take advantage of the hot local market, the Mississauga building, just a few blocks west of Toronto, proved to be almost ideal. The building was large enough to handle the production AyA planned, with additional space for expansion. As a bonus, the building has an 18-story tower previously used to test elevators.

"It's the greatest signpost around," Martin says. "Our challenge now is to get people to associate the tower with our business."

AyA was also fortunate to find good employees seeking greater opportunity and a shorter commute. The company employs 165, with 106 in manufacturing.

"We benefited from the fact that the office furniture industry slowed down the past two years, and we offered an excellent opportunity to people who had reduced hours and didn't see any advancement in their own companies," Martin says.

Production planning  

The manufacturing process begins each Wednesday, when raw materials are purchased and production planned for the following week. Similar kitchens are grouped together and that batch is given a color, one of nine that is constantly rotated. Sheets of paper with that color are taped to each machine working on that job. Starting dates of different functions in the plant are staggered depending on shipment date.

Lorke organized the 100,000-square-foot manufacturing floor into cells: cutting, edgebanding, drilling, custom work, door department, finishing, assembly and shipping. There is a manager for each five to 30 employees.

The plant can produce 70 kitchens a shift at full capacity, but it is now producing an average of 30 kitchens a day.

Lorke, a native of Germany, is a big proponent of Homag equipment. In the cutting cell are three Holzma saws, two HPL 33 models and one HPL 11, and two Altendorf F45 sliding table saws.

Most edgebanding is done on a single line with several machines. Two Homag double-end tenoners are used to produce the final edge cut (one machine does two sides, the board is flipped 180 degrees and the second does the other two sides). Next are two single-sided Homag Profimat edgebanders in a row, and then another double-end tenoner, a Homag Profi-Line, that removes 2-1/2 mm from each edge, and cuts a groove in the back, if needed. Every part of the carcase can be done on this line. Employees on opposite ends of the line communicate with headsets. A separate edgebander, that is longer and has a 24-edgeband magazine, is used for shelves and rails.

In AyA's drilling section a Weeke BET 500 is seen by Lorke as being the workhorse. It does a large share of the drilling, working with a Weeke BST 500 dowel inserter. Drilling is also done by a Weeke Optimat BP 145 machining center, and a smaller Optimat. Gluing and dowel insertion is also handled by a Koch 310, and a new larger Koch BDB feedthrough machine.

A small custom department uses a Weeke Optimat BP 85 for smaller volume, special work.

Doors and finishing  

The door department is separated from the other functions by an aisle that runs the length of the plant. Outside suppliers deliver most of the door stiles, rails and raised veneer center panels. AyA keeps an inventory of random-length solid wood panels for the other 20 percent of doors, which are cut there. The door department has a Voorwood A112 shaper/sander, Friulmac double-end tenoner, Hoffmann double-miter saw, and two clamp carriers. Two Homag double-end tenoners determine that the door is square. Three Viet widebelt sanders complete the door department.

There is a staging area for finishing, the next cell. Two finishing lines are in operation, with a third on order, Lorke says. The staining line starts with a Heesemann KSM2 sander. Stain is applied by a Cattanair Rotoclean rotary spray booth, a process that Lorke says works especially well for raised panel doors. Both front and back are stained. A second finishing line applies sealer and topcoat with a Cattinair EP2M UV curing unit.

Pieces are fed into four assembly lines (two are currently used), each with a Ligmatech case clamp. Custom units come into assembly separately. Blum hardware and insertion machines are used.

Will the cabinet market continue to grow? "I believe it will," Martin says. "One of the things we know in North America is that during this economic downswing, housing has stayed extremely strong.

"AyA has a lot of capacity, and we're diversifying our markets as quickly as possible. We are such a small player in those markets that our ability to gain market share is huge. In the next six months we expect to at least double production. I don't see that as a challenge."

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