Like many famous Silicon Valley companies,  WorkRite Ergonomics Accessories Inc.  was born in a garage.

In 1989, after evicting his Honda and his Ford, Ray Hendrickson teamed up with his neighbor Tom James and used personal funds to begin making ergonomically correct devices such as computer keyboard trays and footrests in his garage.

Today WorkRite is a $35 million-per-year company with 145 employees.

WorkRite has grown 108 percent in the last three years. The company has been featured four times in Inc. Magazine's top 500 fastest growing companies.

The right place, the right time

Proximity to California's Silicon Valley, home of myriad computer technology companies, has certainly aided WorkRite's success, says Steve Owles, WorkRite president. A world-class, company-employed sales force has also contributed mightily to the company's huge growth curve.

But real production growth occurred for WorkRite when the company purchased two SCM Routomat 250 Routech CNC routers, says Derek Timm, WorkRite's director of manufacturing.

"Since we started in a very manual operation where we would pattern out, drill, countersink and do everything as independent stand-alone operations, the addition of a twin-head tool changing machine took a lot of those steps and combined them into one process," says Timm. "This gave us a controllability that was very hard to replicate by hand. Those machines not only gave us productivity, but increased our quality and accuracy with our product."

"The demands of the business are so rapid," says Owles, "We've doubled in size every year up until last year. We couldn't buy enough pin routers to rout those parts. We were forced to get some higher-production machines with accuracy and quality."

The machines

Why did WorkRite choose a Routomat 250 Routech CNC router? "I did my homework and the SCM machine seemed to be the best one to meet our needs," says Owles.

"There are several other machines out there that are significantly more expensive that have more bells and whistles," says Timm. "We like the programmability and the interface with AlphaCAM. It's very easy to use. The other systems on the machines are very reliable."

Timm says the routers are the company's most productive pieces of machinery. "Those machines have really done wonders for us," he says. With the Routomat 250, WorkRite employees can machine a variety of materials and component-piece sizes, using up to four 15 HP heads, each with a 10-position tool changer, on a double multi-purpose worktable.

WorkRite ships products in an average of three to five business days. Because of this the company not only inventories significant raw material supplies, it also relies heavily on its vendor sources for immediate delivery to meet customer demands.

The manufacturing process begins when an order is released to manufacturing by cutting raw material sheet stock such as Pionite solid phenolic, Panolam melamines, raw MDF and pre-laminated Pionite high pressure materials on particleboard with backer sheets into CNC-ready blank sizes on its Giben panel saw.

Once the raw material is blanked, it moves into the staging area for one of WorkRite's three Routech CNC machining centers for processing. Since the addition of the two new Routech R250 machine centers, the company has developed a manufacturing style that takes advantage of the operator's idle time between machine cycles by equipping each machine center with a drill press, Onsrud inverted pin router and an inverted router station to perform secondary operations as a complete work cell.

Once the components are completed at each CNC work center, they either travel into T-edge finishing, the upholstery department or WorkRite's assembly department as indicated by the company's work orders system.

Components are moved into WorkRite's assembly department to be mated with all of the other components to complete the finished product. They are then packaged for shipment.

WorkRite's most recent purchase is a West Salem Machinery grinder. In the past, the company was filling a 20-yard dumpster at least once per day based on its manufacturing volume.

"The West Salem grinder gave us the ability to do two different things," says Timm. "We've taken the step of putting the grinder in the facility. Instead of taking dumpsters and dump bins outside, we now dump the debris inside the building, reducing our travel time."

By adding the grinder into WorkRite's system, the company has reduced its trash haul by nearly 60 percent. Instead of having one dumpster per day hauled away, it has roughly one dumpster per week hauled away. "It paid for itself in about eight months," says Owles.

Ergonomics awareness

Only within the past decade has the term ergonomics entered our everyday language and thought. "There was a time when repetitive stress injury was ignored," says Owles. "Now we know it exists and these types of problems can be eliminated.

"Office ergonomics has become a nice niche in the office furniture industry," continues Owles. "The fact that we're located next to the greatest collection of techno-wizards in the world called Silicon Valley who are experiencing symptoms of carpel tunnel syndrome all the time helps too."

WorkRite competes with Steelcase, Herman Miller and many other office furniture manufacturers for business. WorkRite products are often chosen over the competition's product because WorkRite offers superior quality, says Owles.

Listening to its customers' ergonomic needs has been one of WorkRite's real keys to success, says Owles.

"The company listened to its customers' needs and said, 'We can do it.' It's a simple product, but there's a lot of design. We have patents on our products, and we have a lot of proprietary designs."

WorkRite has ambitious plans for the future. "Our goal is to branch out," says Owles. "We're sort of a one-man band here. We built a business on one main product - the computer keyboard tray."

WorkRite's goal is to become a "total ergonomic resource," says Owles.

"This will lead us in many different directions. We're already making height-adjustable tables, and we're going to expand that product line significantly. We're likely to move into seating. Our vision is to be considered the premier ergonomic resource." 

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