Engineering and technology drive commercial millwork producer

Mission Bell Manufacturing specializes in custom millwork and casework for commercial customers, primarily in California’s Bay Area.

“We design, build, and install products for healthcare, technology, educational, hospitality and tenant improvement projects,” says Mission Bell’s Glenn Ripley.

“We manufacture custom millwork and casework at our shop in Morgan Hill, Calif. Our capabilities include in-house lay-up of custom veneer, CNC machining, and custom finishing.

“We routinely manufacture and install unique architectural features for high-tech clients in Silicon Valley and throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Many of these items combine unique materials and require exacting standards. Large lobby features in office buildings are often unique and challenging due to their size or placement.”

First contact on projects often involves Preconstruction Design Assistance. In other cases projects are bid by Mission Bell’s estimating team and once landed, jobs are drawn by their engineers and, after submittals are approved, released to the shop. Parts are cut, edge-banded, machined, and finished. After assembly, products are delivered to the job site where they are installed by journeymen finish carpenters.

Mission Bell uses On Screen Takeoff, a digital takeoff program that allows them to quickly and efficiently identify and bid millwork scope on projects.


Shop uses cells, lean

“We have full production capability, including automated panel saws, routers/machining centers, edgebanders, and dowel-insertion machines,” Ripley says. “For most functions, we have redundant capability in case one machine is down for maintenance. We also have an IntelliStore panel storage and retrieval system.”

Ripley told CabinetMaker+FDM that the company reorganized its casework production line into cells to facilitate communication and enhance workflow in the shop. Each cell is led by a team leader who is empowered to solve problems and collaborate with colleagues.

Mission Bell has used lean manufacturing techniques aimed at eliminating waste for many years. Modifications to minimize inventory, touch time by operators, and facilitate “one-piece flow” are examples of the company’s lean focus.

“Our veneer shop is one of the finest on the west coast and gives us unique capabilities,” Ripley says. “We build our own laminate tops and have several large spray booths for custom finishing.”


Automated material handling

“We added the IntelliStore and a new Homag edgebander in 2012,” Ripley says. “We are now in the process of expanding our IntelliStore, and acquiring a new panel saw, router, and roll coat finishing line.”

The IntelliStore system stores sheet goods (4 x 8 and 5 x 10 sheets) in a space-efficient manner, kits up custom bunks for processing as engineering releases work to the shop, and tracks usage of all materials for inventory and management reporting of activity.

The IntelliStore improved the receiving process, significantly reduced forklift traffic, automated handling of large items, and increased Mission Bell’s ability to account for and manage stock inventory.

Mission Bell has about 175 employees, including about 50 employees in their 80,000 square foot shop. The company is a second-generation family-owned business. In 2002, the owners established an Employee Stock Ownership Plan and began a gradual transition to employee ownership. Presently, 49 percent of the company is owned by the ESOP trust, giving employees a tangible stake in company growth and profitability.

Ripley explains that Mission Bell also has a detailed strategic plan that guides them in how they’ll grow over the next five years. It addresses modifications to processes throughout the business, software development needs and plans, equipment acquisition, and human resource plans like succession planning.

“Our goals are straightforward. We plan to continue to be the premier millworker in our area, outpacing the competition in technology, cost, and quality,” he says.

“We believe changes in technology and manufacturing will revolutionize the high-end millwork trade in coming years. Competition will continue to be fierce, but companies who understand and adopt leading-edge engineering and manufacturing processes will emerge as the dominant players.”


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About the author
Karl Forth

Karl D. Forth is online editor for CCI Media. He also writes news and feature stories in FDMC Magazine, in addition to newsletters and custom publishing projects. He is also involved in event organization, and compiles the annual FDM 300 list of industry leaders. He can be reached at [email protected].