Improving manufacturing efficiency has helped a maker of hotel room furniture deal with a more complex product and boost output.
Solid Comfort is making more stylish and sophisticated hotel furnishings than the traditional nightstands and tables, but its updated processes are up to the task.
“There are more SKUs in the final product for a hotel, rather than a nightstand, headboard, desk and dresser,” says Jason Larkin, president of the Fargo, N.D., company.
Solid Comfort makes 100 percent hotel furniture, and has a showroom at its factory with a variety of modern and sleek designs. Designers develop a new design package for hotels. “We’re good at taking it apart and value engineering it so we can handle it throughout our manufacturing plant, (and handle) how it’s shipped and how it is distributed to the rooms when it’s at the job site,” Larkin says.
The company actually started out in 1981 making residential furniture for retail. Later, a local Holiday Inn was remodeling, and Solid Comfort won the furniture contract. “And instead of one of this one of that, it was 100 of this, 100 of that,” Larkin recalls. “Once we got a taste of this market, we wanted to get into it.”
Today, Solid Comfort has relationships with several major developers, and has made room furniture for thousands of hotels, renovating some of them as many as three times. (Hotel room furniture may have a five- to seven-year run before colors or styling make it obsolete. That said, Solid Comfort can still replace a nightstand top or drawer front on a 15-year-old product.)
“We prefer the program business,” Larkin says. “We’ve been approved for many major hotel chains. (They have) specific specs and designs you need to follow. (The goal is to) get approved for that type of business.
“Typically, we like the 80 to 150-room order. That’s our sweet spot. We’re a custom shop, but if we get smaller orders we try to (combine) them with other smaller orders and run them together. Then when we get above 150 rooms we break up the orders into smaller jobs so it doesn’t clog up our production.”
“Today imports don’t really concern me like they did 10 years ago,” Larkin says. “When there was a 30 percent difference in price, it was very challenging.
But today that price gap has shrunk, and their lead times have grown. It forced us to look at smart manufacturing and smart processes.
“So today we have the same number of people doing triple the volume, quantity wise. Part of it is machinery. Part of it is taking out any non-value added processes or steps. That competition forces you to get better.”
“We’ve been successful in partnering with the right suppliers to get a consistently good product.”
Power Process, Inc., in Minneapolis has supplied finishes for more than 20 years, and BlueLinx supplies 75 percent of board products. They are a distributor that can handle smaller quantities effectively, and one of their warehouses is on Solid Comfort’s property.
Solid Comfort has 125 people working in the main plant of 100,000 sq ft. and in an adjacent 25,000 square foot building. They are adding 25,000 square feet of space to the second building.
Unemployment is a low 3 percent in Fargo-Moorhead. It can take time to replace someone with special machine skills, so the company works with temp agencies to try to find the right person for each position.
One improvement in the process has been from a Vitap Eclipse contour edgebander from SNX Technologies. SNX won a Visionary Award at AWFS Fair recently for the Eclipse, a semi-automatic machine for concave and convex shaped panels 10 to 60mm in thickness and with 1 to 3mm edgeband thickness. It comes with a trimming unit and can process large or small pieces without extra setup.
“It’s used for edgebanding of our contoured shapes,” Larkin says. “In the past we had a contour edgebander, but not one that is this good and provided good results.”
At one point Larkin says the company felt they were better off outsourcing the contour edgebanding.
Then that volume of that business started to grow. “We were looking for an inexpensive solution, something that was less than the (larger) $500,000 machines out there that do the contouring and then they come around and do the banding. You have to run that 10 or 12 hours a day to justify the expense.
“To have repeatable quality allows us to do it in house and be more competitive with different shaped parts. It’s an easy machine to operate. Once the machine is set up, it basically pulls the part through the glue and applies the tape. It’s set up to have correct speeds and correct amount of glue.”
Larkin says that they were happy with the quality of the Vitap Eclipse, and the help they’ve received from SNX.
SNX also offered educational support. Ed Moran comes from extensive background of edgebanders, and he and Craig Sexton have experience with different makes and generations of edgebanders.
“They were able to come in and help us go through our machines and product specs, and put together an SOP for different machines and setups,” Larkin says. “(That helps us) make sure we have good quality setups for operators and a maintenance program. They’re been a great resource.”
Solid Comfort’s process starts with two Biesse Selco panel saws, a WNT 600 and WNT 730. These two saws feed one of three straight-line edgebanders, two Homag and one Biesse Edge.
Biesse Skipper, Biesse Rover A and a Komo CNC router are used for machining parts, dowel applications and notching. Two Castle drills are used for screw inserts, an important part of the construction. The company uses mostly particleboard, with some MDF core, and may use veneers such as maple, walnut, teak or mahogany.
There are two finishing lines, a hang line and a Cefla reciprocating flat-panel line. The company uses 100 percent water-based finishes here, and has for some eight years. Finishes are UV cured, and stains are formulated in house.
“We were one of the first to use water-based exclusively,” Larkin says. “All our employees in that department don’t need face masks or protective clothing that you need with solvent-based product.”
Solid Comfort can also offer printing capability for applications such as black lines on headboards.
In the Fargo plant there are two assembly areas that are used depending on the shape or size of pieces. “One is for items that can be assembled in a traditional assembly line,” Larkin says. “Then there are some pieces, like mirrors or headboards, that are better assembled one person at a time.
“We’re in the process of writing our own software,” Larkin says. “We have a legacy program that works well, so we’re taking what we have and modifying it. Ardis software is used to program the saws, and AutoDesk Inventor will be used for drawing in three-dimensional assembly, modeling before building. Inventor will tie into new manufacturing software.
All products get an RFID tag which goes all the way to shipping before products are loaded on a truck. The company has had RFID for about three years.
“(With RFID) we know what is finished, we know who finished it, and what’s in the warehouse,” Larkin says. “With a complex product, you have to make sure you get accurate counts on the truck. A 100-unit hotel may go on a few truckloads, typically they want it (organized by) floor. So we can’t just load one of everything on one truck.”
Solid Comfort also has a Packsize machine to make their own boxes on demand. “We actually put a top and bottom cap on a nightstand and then strap it (see photo). That limits concealed damage.
“We like to think the customer handles it with care when they see it’s a nightstand and not just a box. We’ve found that our warranty and damage claims have decreased, because it’s more top of mind. (They see that) this is a piece of furniture, not just a box to throw around.”
Overall, Larkin is optimistic about the company’s capabilities.
“The biggest advantage we have is the ownership is involved. My brother, Ryan Larkin, and I are owners. I travel the trade shows and visit with the customers, so I understand what the customer wants and needs, and can relate that back to what our capabilities here at Solid Comfort are.”
We know what our capabilities are, what we can do efficiently, but we also are upfront about the things we shouldn’t be doing.
“Just because we have saws and finishing equipment doesn’t mean that we should be doing anything with wood, and do it to make money.”
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