Foliot Furniture has grown rapidly in the contract furniture market. Its first factory in St. Jerome, Quebec, started operations in the 1990s, making contract casegoods. Then, the company opened an upholstery factory in Greeneville, Tenn., and in June 2010 started production in a large space in Las Vegas.

The Nevada start itself is newsworthy: There haven’t been many large-scale contract furniture manufacturing openings in North America in recent years. And it was recognized by the Woodworking Machinery Industry Assn., which awarded Foliot Furniture Pacific its Commitment to Excellence Award last fall.

The Las Vegas factory has a lot of room for growth. The company employs 75 in Las Vegas, and hopes to expand that to 135. Las Vegas is a great location for the company’s hotel furniture (they have many casino contracts) and residential hall furniture, its two largest markets. Clark County by itself is the home to two million residents, and Las Vegas has some 150,000 hotel and motel rooms – a large market even if no new hotels are built in the near future.

Genevieve Briere, Foliot’s vice president in Las Vegas, says that college and university residence hall furniture currently account for about 70 percent of business. Summer is the busy time for this kind of contract furniture, which she says typically uses heavy-duty components and engineered woods. Durability is a key characteristic of college contract casegoods.

Hotel and hospitality are seen as a growth area. Foliot wanted a presence with designers here, to take advantage of whatever casino contracts become available. The building boasts a 6,000 square foot showroom, with many displays that is quite a step up from the normal factory product display area.

Foliot makes also makes military furniture and Foliot Vivant, which consists of casegoods, seatings and textiles for the professional specifier. The company also offers furniture made in NuGreen panels that may contribute to LEED credits. In Quebec, the company has a modern 240,000 square foot plant.

Overall, the contract market is in the early stages of a recovery. For example, U.S. production of office/contract furniture reached $8.3 billion in 2010, a gain of 5.8 percent, according to the Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturer’s Assn. The HIS Global Insight industry forecast model shows a gain of 16.6 percent in consumption to $11.5 billion, and production gaining 14 percent for the year to $9.5 billion. The forecast for 2012 is also positive: a 9.6 percent gain in consumption to $12.6 billion, and an increase in production of 8.4 percent to $10.3 billion.

The Las Vegas plant itself, located a few miles south of the Las Vegas Strip, has 308,000 square feet and was formerly used as a distribution center by a company serving the trade exhibition market. Foliot has a location with lots of space and light. The company has taken advantage of the space, using plenty of conveyors to stage and organize work in process into long assembly lines. All casegoods are made in both Las Vegas and Quebec, not exclusively in one plant.

Microvellum is used to manage information in the plant, and allows the process to be automated for sawing, edgebanding and machining on Foliot’s CNC machining centers. Foliot uses textured laminates and some solid wood, which is finished and UV cured.

High-speed saws 

Briere says that the process starts at two Schelling panel saws, an fh4 and fh6, where everything is optimized.
The Schelling fh6 with Duplus2 automatic loading at Foliot is used for the bulk of cutting, according to Schelling’s Rene Fritz. The fh6 has a maximum book height of 5 inches. An Evolution saw carriage can cut at higher speeds, with a saw carriage design originally developed for Schelling’s 9-inch book height metal cutting saws.

Two separate Duplus2 feeder units allow for cutting the head and main piece simultaneously, or cross cutting two strips in a staggered cutting pattern at the same time. This is designed to reduce processing time.

Labels are applied to the uncut board at the infeed side of the machine by an automatic label applicator before the cutting process, Fritz explains. The final label position within the part can be selected freely. For turned parts, the label can also be turned 90 degrees by the applicator. All labels are applied at the rear of the machine while the saw is still processing the previous cutting pattern, so the operator can focus on cutting and off loading rather than manually applying labels.

Edgebander corner rounding 

There are three IMA Novimat edgebanders in the Las Vegas plant. Peter Tuenker of IMA America Corp. said that two of the Novimat machines at Foliot are equipped with IMA’s single motor corner rounding unit. This is capable of corner rounding edgebanded parts at speeds exceeding 30 meters a minute, by using linear drive technology and by minimizing the mass of the unit. The unit is not exactly mechanically tracing the surface of the workpiece when trimming the excess edgebanding material. Tuenker says it is actually running a complex program and just verifying the program information by tracing the surface of the board. This makes the unit more accurate at extremely high speeds. The design uses principles of an advanced tripod system, which has been in development by IMA for a number of years.

CNC machines are used to drill all holes for hardware, including two IMA Bima 300 machining centers, two Morbidelli Unix CNC machines, one V. Alberti Vector-CN CNC machine, a Biesse Rover 22 and a new Morbidelli that can do contour edgebanding.

A Bima 400V is a newly developed CNC machining center with edgebanding capabilities which has a full 5-foot coverage in the y-axis, which means that it can handle the largest parts available in panel processing environments. The machine also has the capabilities to run lightweight board parts. This means that the operator can shape a frameless honeycomb panel, then insert a support edge and finally apply and trim a decorative edge in one setting.

Also here is a Cefla UV finishing line with a DMC Unisand 2000 widebelt sander. The line produces a solid catalyzed finish that is roll coated, then UV cured, while producing no VOCs.
Metal-to-metal 

Breire said everything in the plant is on conveyors, with plenty of room for staging and transfer. A “pit stop” mid-plant gap in the conveyors has a place for a bill of materials attached to the conveyors, before assembly. The names of local iconic casinos are used for different assembly lines. All metal-to-metal connectors allow replacement in the field. No glues or dowels are used.

Assembly uses a pull system, and a lighted scoreboard sign shows how many units have been completed. Custom packaging is used for different-sized pieces. Another area, dubbed Casino Center, makes drawer boxes, including large drawers with fingerjointed material.

There is plenty of room for expansion, something Foliot hopes to be doing in the near future.

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