Door manufacturer goes green with finishing
September 9, 2010 | 7:00 pm CDT

Decore-ative Specialties has been making doors and drawers since 1965, but up until recently all of those products had been unfinished. When the California company decided to add prefinished products to their offerings, they new they were up against the tough challenge of the state’s stiff environmental regulations.

But before they could even get that far, company officials knew they had to do a lot more learning and embarked on extensive research. That was two and a half years ago. Today, the company has two sophisticated automated finishing lines and a successful catalog of prefinished products. Wiley Kennedy, director of marketing, who has been with Decore-ative for 19 years, says that success is owed primarily to the systematic way the company approached the project, finding the answers to the many questions that cropped up along the way.

Research first 

“We decided we didn’t know anything about finishing,” says Kennedy, describing how the project began. Company officials met with Phil Stevenson of the American Coatings Institute and eventually hired him as a consultant to guide them through the project.

They also interviewed coating companies and equipment companies, searching for the right technical mix to achieve their goals. But not all the research was technical. “We had to listen to the voice of the customer: what would they want,” says Kennedy.

That all helped to establish parameters for the project. “From the get go we wanted to manufacture in California,” says Kennedy. But at the same time, the company did not want to sacrifice any quality of the final finishes while meeting tough environmental regulations.

“It was quite an ordeal for us,” says Kennedy, describing the process. “We knew we had to have a product that was high quality. It had to look as good or better than our competitors.”

Kennedy says the company invested seven months in research before they actually decided to go ahead with the project in August 2008. At that time, they could already see the downturn in the economy, but the extensive research made them confident the finishing project would succeed.

Getting up and running 

After extensive research pointed them toward automated finishing lines by Superfici, the company started putting teams together to get ready for implementation. Besides the production team required in the factory, there were also teams established for marketing and IT issues related to the move.

In January 2009, the first of the new equipment began to arrive at an existing Decore-ative Specialties facility that had already been doing thermofoil doors. Part of the building would now be allocated to the new finishing lines. Working closely with Superfici technicians, it took only two months from the time the equipment arrived to when the machinery was turned on.

Kennedy said all the teams came together to make it possible that only a few months later, the company could confidently debut its new Pure Colors Finished Products line at the AWFS show in Las Vegas.

Technical aspects 

Wayne Horner, plant manager, took the lead in the manufacturing team assigned to the project, and he amplifies the same points that Kennedy stresses about the diligent research required to get the project operational.

“We had no background in finishing. We had to do this completely from scratch,” he says. “The consultant really helped us through the process.”

But as challenging as it that process was, the result is impressive. In one eight-hour shift, the company can finish 1,400 pieces, says Horner. The initial color palette available covers more than 100 looks, and they can change colors on the line in 45 seconds to a minute, Horner says.

There are two separate finishing lines, one for stains and one for sealer and top coats. Each of the lines is 200 feet long, but they each have a curved section so the lines double back on themselves. Besides making it easier to fit the lines in the building, that has the added benefit of putting the beginning and ends of the lines together for easier operator use.

Of the 10 people assigned to the new finishing lines, some are new hires and some were transferred from elsewhere in the company. Two were sent to finishing school. An environmental engineer was brought in to smooth the process of compliance with environmental regulations.

Through it all, both Kennedy and Horner emphasized the key role research and information played. “The best thing was that we knew we didn’t know anything, and we were willing to call and ask for help,” says Horner.

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William Sampson

William Sampson is a lifelong woodworker, and he has been an advocate for small-scale entrepreneurs and lean manufacturing since the 1980s. He was the editor of Fine Woodworking magazine in the early 1990s and founded WoodshopBusiness magazine, which he eventually sold and merged with CabinetMaker magazine. He helped found the Cabinet Makers Association in 1998 and was its first executive director. Today, as editorial director of Woodworking Network and FDMC magazine he has more than 20 years experience covering the professional woodworking industry. His popular "In the Shop" tool reviews and videos appear monthly in FDMC.