CampbellRhea casework has followed an unusual path over the past 60 years. The company was founded by a man named Campbell Rhea in 1951, and it has grown and gone through several ownership changes, survived a tornado, and is currently doing well after being purchased by Institutional Casework Inc., a local group.

“We’re manufacturing products for the institutional casework market for schools, primarily science laboratories,” says Jim Arthurs, president and CEO.

ICI also makes library furniture, athletic lockers, pre-K furniture such as student cubbies, and specialized casework for cosmetology, arts and crafts. More than 90 percent of business is educational, but over the next year or two Arthurs doesn’t expect as much volume here due to a slowing of educational market spending. That’s why ICI expanded the industrial and commcerial sector.

Bringing it all together 

ICI manufactures the wood casework in its Paris, Tenn., location, but must coordinate many different materials and products to deliver a finished installation.

“We really do a good job of combining the casework portion with all of the other materials needed to complete a school, pharmaceutical or industrial application,” Arthurs says.

“We provide the complete package. We sell through distributors, then work with the project's architect, contractors, electricians and plumbers. We provide countertops, hoods, sinks, plumbing fixtures, and all the engineering. Everything goes together very neatly at the job site. I think we do a great job of combining that package and delivering on time and complete.”

Lean layout boosts efficiency 

One thing that did need improvement was an inefficient manufacturing flow.

Jeff Bond, director of plant operations, joined the newly organized company and oversaw the development of a new layout, redoing completely what had been an inefficient operation, with stacks of work in process. Revamping this process took several years.

Bond’s first request: a large table to start making the physical layout chart. Bond produced a large and detailed plant layout that covers most of a wall in his office and shows each machine’s footprint and connecting conveyors so the linear, one-piece flow could be demonstrated.

The payoff: ICI cut the time from material going into saw to delivery from four weeks to five days.

“We conveyorized the facility so the pieces are always moving down the line,” Arthurs says. “Whatever conversion is done to that piece, it continuously flows. Before, we had conveyors, dollies, and mountains of material. Each work station did their own thing.”

There are 150 people at this location, about half the workforce as when ICI was part of Sagus International, an equity group of five companies (see accompany story). The Paris operation has 140,000 square feet of plant space and 20,000 square feet of offices.

Arthurs says the company is still run like the union shop it used to be, and seniority matters. Arthurs says the employees are treated well and the company has used incentives successfully to increase what was a low attendance rate. The manufacturing employees recently voted to go to a 10-hour four-day-a-week schedule.

Sawing and boring 

Two Holzma HPL 380 panel saws start the production process. Arthurs says that ICI has been very happy with these machines, which replaced the tornado-damaged panel saws. Stiles was able to respond quickly because ICI needed a panel saw to be up and running after the company restarted. All casework is CARB 2 compliant using Columbia Pure Bond and Timber Products NAUF. Oak and maple are the hardwoods primarily used.

After pieces come from the saw, they are barcoded and then edgebanded on two Homag and two Brandt edgebanders, one with a Doucet return table. ICI is a Biesse CNC shop, using Rover 321ATC, Rover 336, Rover 322, Rover 20, and Rover 346. The newest machine is a Skipper 100 that can do two separate panels at once with separate programs.

Also here is a Paul optimizing chop saw, two Koch feed-through dowel inserters, and an Altendorf F92 sliding table saw. From machining, pieces go to two Heesemann sanders.

Rough mill 

ICI makes cabinets with heavy-duty construction and a horizontal top frame. Three-quarter inch edgebanding, an unusual three-point latching system for tall doors, water-activated glued dowels, pocket screws and a four-corner dovetail drawer box for institutional cabinets are all standard, in addition to the heavy-duty frames.

The rough mill has a Homag SE9400 edgebander, Brandt edgebanders, an RFS high frequency press for drawer front layup, and Grizzly saws. Also in this department are two rebuilt Medalist Challoner double-end tenoners.

Kitting and assembly 

Cut, edgebanded and sanded pieces go to the kitting area, where all the materials are gathered, then components go into the assembly area, which includes a drawer cell, case clamps and a Comil ProFormer feed-through, reported to be the first all-electric case clamp in the U.S.

The cabinet assembly area can manufacture more than 300 cabinets in a day and 200 tables (scoreboards keep track of each department’s daily progress). Assembly on more labor-intensive taller, larger and assemblies such as instructor's or circulation desks are done on a separate line.

In finishing, ICI has ordered a new Barberan flatline robotic spray system with eight arms and 16 spray guns. This will be installed in late September. The current tow line will be used for cabinet box finishing only. It uses stain, sealer, scuffing, topcoat and oven. One high-quality acid-resistant finish is used for all applications. ICI developed their coatings around science lab specifications. ICI also makes products, primarily for Pre-K and elementary applications, using color-through MDF.

“We’ve also improved our fit and finish. We’re staining interiors now, our competition is just using clear coat,” Arthurs says.

ICI is planning other changes, including Microvellum software. “Right now all of our software is home-grown,” Arthurs says. “We always felt (custom software) has been a perfect fit for us, but we don’t have any way to take shop drawings to digital. Microvellum will help us program all the way to the CNC.”

Also, Arthurs says ICI plans to add another Holzma panel saw and 8,000 square feet of space to remove a bottleneck in this area.

Right now the problem is the economy. “We’re the last to go into recession and the last to come out, because school bonds are put in place for construction many years before we would build the casework,” he says. “Once that’s in motion it almost never stops. The jobs we’re delivering now, the bonds were let before the recession.”

Arthurs says that there were very long odds that the company would follow the path it has over the past 60 years and survive. There were many long nights when he didn’t think they would be able to pull it off, but the company today is efficient and successful, ready to handle any new storm clouds that may appear on the horizon.

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