Product quality is an important part of Heister House Millworks, and a new type of machine allows them to deliver consistent quantities of a product in which that consistency is difficult to achieve.
“Our overall level of product quality is excellent,” says general manager Jeff Hunt. “We don’t have a lot of callbacks and complaints. That has been our reputation. Coupled with that is a willingness to say yes to the customer.”
The new technology is the Cameron Flooring Nester from James L. Taylor Mfg. Co. Random flooring strips are fed into one end and nested bundles are produced at the other end. It can produce bundles of different lengths and widths, and the Cameron software can track incoming and outgoing information.
Heister House Millworks’ 60 employees produce custom and high-end millwork, lineal mouldings and flooring, with the latter accounting for 10 to 15 percent of the business. The company has an office, paint shop and warehouse in the central Pennsylvania town of Mt. Pleasant Mills, with a moulding and flooring operations a few miles away.
HHM makes flooring in red oak, white oak, maple, cherry, hickory, walnut, some ash, with some eastern white pine and some knotty pine, all in widths from 2-1/4 to 11-1/4 inches.
After wood pieces go through the moulders and tongue-and-grooves are cut on the sides, they cross the street and enter the flooring operation. First, moulded wood goes into through a Dimter cutoff saw, then into a Doucet end matcher.
“It trims each end and tongue-and-grooves the end of the flooring pieces, so it puts the same milling on the ends that are on the sides,” explains company vice president Lorne Nipple.
The cut pieces are fed to a turntable, where they are graded. “We have one common grade and a rustic grade with more knots and defects,” Hunt says. “We’ll sort the grades out into another table or into the nesting machine.”
After pieces are graded they go into the Cameron nesting machine. The function of the machine is to make a consistent nested bundle. It measures each piece and calculates the square footage needed to create the desired bundle size.
“The operator tries to vary the lengths he is putting into the machine, so he has more options to put together,” Nipple says. “He doesn’t have to put a whole lot of thought into it.
“If the nesting machine can’t put a combination together, it will actually (sort and remove) pieces, so the operator will (have to) give it more pieces to make a combination. If it has too many pieces it will dump some out and get new pieces and new lengths in.”
The flooring nester holds 12 pieces at a time on a sorting area, and it will only hold a piece so long. If a piece doesn’t fit, it will be kicked out.
Nipple says that Heister House is currently producing a bundle with five layers, three pieces wide, but they can vary in width. “We put in 84 inches for a 2-1/4 bundle,” he says. “We give it a plus or minus 6 inches, so it doesn’t have to hit 84 inches (exactly). One bundle may be slightly under 20 square feet, or slightly over.”
The completed bundles are shipped directly to the flooring installer or to wholesalers unfinished. The company is not doing any prefinishing on this product.
“This is the first prototype,” Nipple says. “Cameron Automation was looking for a flooring manufacturer to put this machine in their shop. It’s been here about a year, and we’re well pleased with it.” The machine here can handle bundles up to 9 feet wide.
Hunt says that previously, Heister House was offering these bundles but putting them together manually, which was not as consistent or accurate and required a lot of calculation.
“I feel it’s replaced a half of an employee, if not a full. It’s hard to tell with the volume,” Nipple says.
As for customers, he says, “We’re giving them a more consistent bundle.”
Hunt says many of the benefits have been internal, especially in cost and time savings.
Millwork and moulding
In the same building as the flooring nester, Heister House has a Northwood CNC router, Weinig moulder, and several saws. These are for the millwork business, which includes interior doors, exterior doors and stair treads.
Lineal mouldings are a big part of the company’s business, and a lot of radius mouldings are made here. At that moulding operation, Heister House has a Newman-Whitney surfacer, Mereen-Johnson gang-rip saw, Cameron Opti-Rip saw, and four Weinig moulders: Powermat 1000, two Hydromat 230s, and one Unimat. Also, a new Powermat 2400 is being added this fall.
“We’re taking raw lumber and we’re ripping it to width, we’re surfacing it, making blanks for the moulders and then running it through the moulders for profiles,” Hunt says.
“The thing we’re doing differently than a lot of folks is we’re into prefinished products in a big way. We do a lot of painting and clear coating, mainly of mouldings and doors. For our customer base that seems to be a big deal and not a lot of people are doing that.”
“We seem to have created a niche in custom doors, doing more than we did a few years ago,” Hunt says. “A lot of that is two-fold. Number one is the capability of doing custom things, and the second is lead time. A lot of the companies that make door slabs are on the west coast, so if (a customer) can’t find the style they want in inventory locally, you’re waiting six to eight weeks for something to be made on the west coast and shipped to the east coast. We can typically turn around a custom door here in three to four weeks.”
Hunt says the company is known for interior applications. “We’re trying to expand our exterior presence,” he says. “Wood siding, exterior railing products, columns, decorative trusses and beams would be examples of that.”
Modular and custom
Hunt says a third of business is supplying the modular housing marketplace. Many of these companies are local.
“That represents more of the commodity market, but we also have the ability to do things that go into multimillion dollar houses. We do a lot of business in the Annapolis, Md., area and the waterfront homes down there. In those types of projects every piece or moulding in the house may be a custom profile.
“If we were strictly tied to the modular housing industry I don’t know if we would be here. That’s been hit very hard over the past five or six years.”
Most business has been within a 50 mile radius. “We’re intentionally trying to expand into the larger cities. From here we feel we can reach Washington D.C, Philadelphia and Baltimore. There is more high-end housing in these areas.
Nipple says the company has been in flooring six to eight years, and is now looking at stair manufacturing and fingerjointing for paint-grade mouldings.
“We were very conservative as a company all along,” Hunt says. “We never overspent or borrowed too much, and paid as we went. That seems to be the secret to longevity.
“Because of that we’ve been able to adapt to changing needs. We’ve also been very open to other product categories over the years."
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