Flatline finishing with finesse

Commercial Laminations Inc. , a manufacturer of restaurant and institutional furniture, does what other companies won't do, says Joe Nunley, president and general manager. This can-do attitude is a key to the company's success.

Nunley explains that when someone decides to open a restaurant, often he finds a restaurant furniture manufacturer that won't budge on the dimensions of booths and tables because "that becomes a custom item and it's going to stop production."

By contrast, CLI will change anything, says Nunley. "That's where we get a lot of our business. We try to do the custom for slightly above what the other guy tries to do the economy line for."

Antioch, Tenn.-based CLI considers itself a large custom job shop. A big portion of the company's work comes from five major restaurant chains located across the country.

New challenge

Although the restaurant business keeps CLI busy, the company decided it was unwise to remain completely focused on a single industry, says Rick Hayes, vice president and sales manager. So, CLI branched out into manufacturing an institutional furniture line that consists of beds, desks, tables, bedside tables and chairs.

CLI's 60 employees soon learned that manufacturing a line of institutional furniture is a different sort of challenge from manufacturing booths and tables for restaurants, says Ray White, purchasing manager at CLI.

Finding a good way to finish the institutional furniture proved the company's biggest challenge. "Finishing was our bottleneck and it was choking us to death," says White.

The company's three spray booths were running from 7 a.m. until 2 a.m. the next day for six or seven days a week to keep up with demand. Some of the product was completely built before it was finished and much of it spent a lot of time literally hanging around to dry before workers could package it and ship it out.

"We've got one product that's called a two-door wardrobe," says Nunley. "The doors on this wardrobe are 20 inches wide by 75 inches long. We were having to screw an I-bolt into the top of them, suspend them in the air and spray them, and then spin them around and spray them and let them hang and dry for hours.

"And you had people that were just bending from the floor to the ceiling," continues Nunley. "It would wear you out. I went out there and helped them do it. It was a job."

The company also had a "very big problem" with interior shelves, says Nunley. "Somebody would have to stay one day, even if it took until midnight, to get this stuff sprayed to where it could go out the next day."

The solution

All of this prompted a $2 million investment, which included new equipment purchases and a 15,000-square-foot addition onto the 50,000-square-foot plant. The company purchased a new Komo VR 510 Mach 1S CNC router, a Newman Whitney rip saw, a Newman Whitney planer, an SCMI panel saw and a Makor Kronos flatline finishing system from  Masengill Machinery .

EPA  regulations are very strict in Antioch, which is a suburb of Nashville. CLI needed a way to finish its product and be compliant with government regulations for air quality.

The flatline finishing system made a big difference right away, says White. Product is now finished before it's assembled.

During an eight to 11-minute process, furniture parts are fed into the flatline finishing system. They are scanned by a computer scanner and two spray heads finish only what has been scanned. Afterward, they pass through an oven containing four bays of high-pressure T3 and T5 light bulbs. At the end, parts pass through the UV curing oven and come out ready for handling.

"I saw overnight that when we started running the [flatline finishing] machine that you could just see things moving so much faster and quicker," says White. "At first I was thinking, 'It couldn't be making this much difference.' But it really did. We went from seven days a week to five days and working on one shift instead of two."

The new flatline finisher also removed the strain of physical labor, says Nunley. "Now, with this machine, all you do there is just stand there and feed it. It's just like running a copier."

CLI's problem with shelves is also a thing of the past. "Now they can be sprayed today and go out today because when they come out of that machine, they're packable. You can stack them as high as you want to and they will not stick."

The future looks bright for CLI. Now that it has worked the manufacturing kinks out of its institutional furniture line, the company plans to offer the same line of furniture to colleges and universities in Tennessee and neighboring southern states. 


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About the author
Stephanie Steenbergen

Stephanie Steenbergen was on the editorial staff and wrote feature and news stories for FDM and CabinetMaker magazines.