Twenty-four manufacturingexecutives representing 14 cabinet, furniture, fixture and millwork companiesfrom throughout North America joined IMA Schelling for a tour of factories in NorthernItaly in May.

The first stop was at CLEAF (www.cleaf.it) where the group toured a museum-qualityshowroom and highly automated laminated and printed panel operation. CLEAF has200 employees and annual sales exceeding $93 million. The tour included threemelamine press lines: one short cycle producing 7 x 9 panels for special ordersand two full-size lines running larger 7 x 18 panels.

In its other plants, thecompany is producing edgebanding material, including laser edgebanding andcomponents such as cabinet doors. CLEAF is constantly innovating with theirdesigns, bringing out new collections on average every three months. The groupsaw imitation leather, fabric, digital stone and a full range of texturedembossed wood grains. One Canadian high-end cabinet manufacturer on the tour isa steady customer, having discovered the CLEAF line at Interzum severalyears ago.

Laser edgebanding technology was on full display at thesecond visit to nearby BBF (www.bbf-spa.com).BBF is a global panel components manufacturer serving the kitchen cabinet,residential, office, shipboard and hotel contract furniture sectors. The groupsaw a Novimat Performance and Combima Perfomance U-Line Laser edgebanding line.Another highlight was a BIMA Px80 V producing cabinet components.

 

Kitchen cabinet manufacturer Terragni was the final stop ofthe first day. This highly automated production line featured BIMAcuttechnology and a large material handling set up. This large capital investmentin integrated panel processing allows Terragni to do over $7.5 million annuallywith a minimal labor force.

 

Veneto-made components

 

On the second day the tour headed east into the Venetoregion of Italy where there is a high concentration of cabinet, furniture andcomponent manufacturing. The first visit was to Top Linea (www.toplinea.com), a producer of laminatedpanel products including cabinet doors, shelving and components. Most on thetour were impressed with the layout, cleanliness and color coded plantorganization. Technology highlights included an IMA Combima II Line with Laserand IMAGIG flex along with a Schelling rib and crosscut saw. An extensivecatwalk system traversed the entire facility which made for in-depth viewing ofall the processing in this highly productive plant.

 

In the same region was the next stop at BACO/ Battistella ( www.battistella.it). The company has beenproducing home furniture since 1953 and was a pioneer in children's laminatebedroom furniture. They have made extensive investments in the latest technology.The group saw a Meinert board storage system with 500 different materialsorganized for rapid selection. There was also 3Tec software, a BIMA Px80 V andan BIMA CC and Combima Performance. The IMA Batch Size One solution wasproducing 1,700 finished parts every 15 hours. Each part was different and all foursides were finished.

 

Next was a visit to Stilcurvi (www.stilcurvi.it), a manufacturer oflaminate and veneer panel home furniture and kitchen cabinets. There was alarge Schelling ah8 angular system in action in a dedicated building that fedmachines down the line such as the BIMA Px80 V, a Combima II line and a CombimaII with Laser. Sophisticated handling systems connected the various lines. Thewas also a veneering operation for pine veneer cabinet doors.

 

Armory (www.armorycucine.it),a kitchen cabinet manufacturer, was the day's final visit. The company does 500cabinets a day in their 90,000 sq. ft. facility. Started in 1976, selling onlyin Northern Italy, Armory has grown into a successful international business.There was a Schelling fh6 in action sizing panels along with an IMA Advantage,Novimat Performance, BIMA CC and Combima Performance. A major highlight was thetwo dedicated drilling lines from Priess and Horstmann. One handled cases andthe second, which was just installed, was doing drawer fronts and doors. Thenewest machine produced four doors a minute. The material was flowing throughthe plant with material handling equipment.

 

Next, it was off to Central Italy by bus for the next roundof tours. One of the many benefits of a weeklong technology tour is thecomparative discussions among the manufacturers on their processes and solutions.It was interesting to hear the conversations as the group got to know eachother and how they ran the production side of their businesses. Manufacturerson the tour represented companies making cabinets, office furniture, hotelfurniture and fixtures, cabinet doors, laminated parts and millwork from Canadaand the U.S.

 

Laminated components

 

First stop of the third day was a trip up the mountains fromPesaro to large component manufacturer Pantarei. The 30-year-old company washoused in 250,000 square feet of manufacturing. At this very advanced panelprocessing company, 100 employees working three shifts produce laminatedcomponents for furniture and cabinets. The group saw the IMA Combima II linealong with a Combima Performance U-Line with laser. The extensive fullyautomated material handling linked the panel manufacturing. There was a sideline set up for drilling and dowel inserting producing 4,000 to 5,000 panelsper shift. That was nearly 15,000 panels a day in output. Many in the group commentedthis was the most complete operation seen yet in terms of manufacturingefficiency running full out.

 

Just down the road, the final plant stop of the day was at ImabGroup (www.imab.com). This 300,000-square-footplant was one of several in the group that has more than 1,000,000 square feetof manufacturing space. The different plants make component parts for thisfully integrated company, which sells both residential furniture and kitchencabinets. The components panel plant employs 150 workers. Technology highlightsincluded a large material storage tower with 1,000 spaces for European 7 x 18panels. First, the group toured a BIMA Cutting Center producing 2,000 parts pershift. That fed the two IMA Performance One edgebanding lines based on theCombima platform with each processing 1,000 parts per shift. Imab showed thegroup true Batch Size One production. In an adjoining building was a Schellingah8 angular plant with fully automatic sorting and stacking. This set upproduces over 120,000 parts per week in three shifts.

 

Tops and cabinets

 

The fourth day began in the hill country West of Pesaro atTopstar (www.topstarpostforming.com)a manufacturer of postformed and edgebanded work tops and countertops. The 24-year-oldcompany has invested heavily in new technology to produce 750 tops per shiftwith 90 employees in their 180,000 square foot plant. The group walked freelythroughout, inspecting a wide range of lines like the BIMA 400D, the BIMA P780V D, a Combima Performance and Combima II with Laser. The systems were drivenby 3Tec software.

 

After an hour bus ride, the group left Italy temporarily toenter the nation state of San Marino. They arrived at what would be the largestcompany on the schedule: Colombini Group (www.colombinigroup.com), a fullyintegrated furniture, office and kitchen cabinet manufacturer specializing injuvenile furniture.

 

Colombini was started in 1980 and was organized around athen revolutionary just-in-time system specializing in fast turnaround with allproducts made to order. From the time the kitchen or furniture is ordered thereis an eight-day cycle to delivery. The one piece flow system is set up forsmall lots. There are six steps in the process: Cutting, edgebanding, drilling,quality inspection, assembly and delivery. Working two shifts, they fill 30 trucks for delivery each day. The product mixbreaks down like this: 50 percent of the production is bedroom furniture, 10percent kitchen, 15 percent office and the rest is a mix of other products allfulfilling the company motto of Accessible Italian Design.

 

The company organized a thorough tour of the productionfloors. With Meinart handling systems feeding them, there were Schelling sawssizing panels as well as IMAGIC Flex and Combima lines mostly producing colorfulfurniture and cabinets. The machinery was tied together with 3Tec software fromIMA.

 

Colombini's plant complex was the most unique of the trip.All parking was on a five-story roof with production stacked on each floorbelow, with extensive conveyors connecting the floors for rapid product flow. Therewere continuous metric and process improvement postings throughout thefacility, including digital scoreboards at each step giving a running total ofthe current output vs. the goal.

 

Appointment at Xylexpo

 

On the fifth and last day of the trip, the IMA SchellingTechnology Tour of Italy group attended the Xylexpo machinery show in Milanwith three halls of machines under power. That day-long visit was capped offwith a scenic last dinner on beautiful Lake Como. It was a fitting celebrationof a most interesting week.

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