Huntwood Industries hasn't been afraid to grow.


Proof of that is its new 567,000-square-foot cabinet manufacturing plant for the company's 760 employees in Liberty Lake, Wash., near Spokane. The 80-acre site currently is the largest cabinet plant west of the Mississippi. This single "big box" location replaced five smaller buildings in Spokane Valley.


"We believe in the future," says company president Tim Hunt. "That's why we made a $70 million overall investment in our new factory and machinery. We believe overall the economy will be strong and we will be able to continue to grow through demand for our products."


Design of the new plant took a year and a half, construction another year and a half. "We wanted to make a factory that was environmentally friendly and was a good place to work for our employees, with room to expand, and be able to put the technology into it to prepare for the future," Hunt says.


Big plant, big plans

With everything in one location, Hunt says it's easier to keep track of total flow. "We have better technology, better machinery, a much better finish system and room for expansion," he says.


The new building has skylights; improved, energy-efficient lighting; and two large Dantherm dust collection systems, one for manufacturing and one for finishing, which produce one truck trailer of dust a day. A Flamex spark detection system and Ecogate system regulate the power of the dust collection system from different machines and areas of the plant. Hunt says that the negative air system keeps most dust out of the plant.


Huntwood bought six machines from Vecoplan for the new plant. Five were "top-feed" or vertical grinders. One of these was a RG32 with a 20 hp motor, four were RG42 with 40 hp motors. One was a horizontal feed VH14 with a 40 hp motor.


The grinders are located throughout the plant, and have worked well in removing offal from the high-production floor.


Adwest Technologies installed a 120,000 scfm Retox dual chamber regenerative thermal oxidizer system for the new plant to destroy VOCs created by the large finishing operation and to comply with EPA regulations for the new plant.


The low-pressure drop Retox dual chamber RTO design reduces electric costs and natural gas use. The Adwest unit burns all fumes to 1800F. It reduced the original flow rate from 33 spray coating sources from 181,000 to 120,000 scfm by cascading the manned spray booth exhaust with low VOC loadings into the unmanned spray booths to reduce energy costs.


"We wanted to be environmentally friendly and we wanted to be prepared so we wouldn't have any environmental issues for many years," Hunt explains.


Panel retrieval and cut cell

A primary feature of the new plant is the panel retrieval and cut cell. Huntwood wanted a fully automated flexible system for easy picking of single boards from a mixture of more than 100 different types (laminates, veneers, etc.) and delivery of high volume stacks of uniform size boards.


Huntwood requested 15 dropoff points at different places in the production process, including two large panel saws, CNC machines and smaller panel saws.


To store small quantities of different panels, a four-axis robot is mounted on a cart and equipped with a special vacuum gripper tool. The robot vehicle moves between two 190-foot-long rows of shelves. Standard three- or four-shelf pallet shelves are used, and 140 different types of boards can be stored. Boards used most often are closest to the entry point of the robot. New stacks are added from the back side of the shelves. The robot is automatically fed data on which panels to retrieve, and panels are stacked on the roller conveyor in reverse order, according to production batch.


When a stack is delivered to the roller conveyor, its data is transmitted to a laser-guided vehicle, an AGV, which automatically retrieves the stack and delivers it to the programmed drop point. The system works during the day, but also will build and deliver stacks during the night so new full stacks are available for production at all drop points by morning.


High-volume storage of uniform boards is achieved with a system of powered roller conveyors, automatically controlled and with a drop point for forklifts at an automatically powered cross cart. When one conveyor is nearly empty, the forklift driver retrieves a new stack from the warehouse and delivers it to the automatic cross cart, which in turn delivers the stack to the proper collection conveyor.


A number of Huntwood's forklifts are equipped with a PC, radio communications, remote barcode scanner and barcode printer. The forklift driver prints and applies a barcode when he unloads the truck.


AGVs transport stacks between points in the plant. Data transmission and retrieval and delivery orders are automatic and are based on the production schedule. Manual orders can be given that override existing orders.


The main panel saw system consists of two saws. One is the Giben Prismatic SPT, which is designed for cutting strips for storage and is part of the network and overall system management. Before the saws, there is buffer storage consisting of a system of powered roller conveyors with a fully automated double cross cart.


The second saw, a Giben Y-3000 SPT, cuts boards for later edging or profiling. Programs for the saw are transmitted automatically and are optimized for specific orders. Material is handled in the same way as it is for the first saw.


A sorting and stacking system is installed behind both saws. The system for the Prismatic SPT (Saw 1) has four sorting conveyors where strips are sorted according to size. For the Y-3000 (Saw 2), the system can sort the boards in up to 30 different sizes. Since the sorting system functions as a buffer, one robot can stack the output of two saws.


For drop points other than the saws, an order is issued from the customer database to the pick robot to put together a stack of small quantities of different boards and deliver it to the respective drop points. When an order is issued for the saws, the information also comes from the existing customer system database transmitting the production schedule to the Giben Optisave optimizing software, which optimizes the best use of the boards considered for the respective orders to be manufactured.


Hunt says that Huntwood chose Giben because it has better gripper technology, and more options for multiple length cutting. "Giben also had the best solution for automating the whole process to try to create a lean environment," he says.


Huntwood also has Weeke 350 S/2 machine, a Homag edgebander with a grooving station, Homag SE 9800 CNC machine, Homag CNC DET machine for grooving the backs of cabinets and Holzma panel saws. A Q-System storage system supplied by Stiles Machinery consists of roller conveyors and storage racks to improve material handling throughout the plant.


Also in the plant are Hendrick vertical panel saws, Timesavers sanders, Voorwood shapers and a Progressive door machine. Huntwood is a big supporter of the SawStop technology, and purchased 21 new SawStop saws. Hunt credits them with saving a few fingers. "I think we're the first major manufacturer to go 100 percent SawStop," he says.


Hunt says the Costa sanding line is performing well and is problem-free. This six-component line consists of progressively heavier down to finer grit, then finish sanders. Three machines sand one side, boards are flipped over and go through the same sequence on the next three machines. Since the plant opened, Huntwood has also added a new Costa veneer sander.


Large assembly area

Huntwood's large assembly area is set up to achieve just-in-time delivery with improved ergonomics and less damage to cabinets by reducing manual handling.


There are three main areas of assembly: Custom, tall cabinets and vanities, and the main assembly line, which produces about 85 percent of cabinets. A number of Giben Smart crosscut saws cut the strips "just in time" in sizes that are needed for the assembly line.


About 95 percent of Huntwood's products are framed and 5 percent are frameless cabinets, with solid wood face frames and doors. Beech, oak, alder, hickory, maple, cherry and knotty pine are available.


"Everything's built to order. We produce custom height, width and depth, anything a customer wants," Hunt says. Customers include dealers and national builders.


"Finish is very important," Hunt says. "That's one of the reasons we made the investment in the finish room that we did."


Huntwood has been in business since 1988, but an expansion of this kind is a big step for any size company. "We grow more each year," Hunt says. "The folks that work here feel they have a future based on the growth in the industry and growth with our company."

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