Select Veneer wants its veneered panels to be in the spotlight.

The Smithfield, Ky., company provides premium veneer, architectural and custom panels, stock plywood, LEED-approved panels and FSC panels, veneers and faces. And customers want more than ever.

"People used to want the wedding cake as batter, now they want the cake frosted and candles lit," says Frank Kilibarda, president.

Veneer in a finished job draws intense scrutiny, and if there is a problem, who is responsible ( see demo video )?

"We're able to manage the whole process," says Ryan Waldo, vice president of sales.

"We call it veneer management. We'll get veneer approved by the architect or millworker and supply it to the millwork provider with all the blueprint matching required on that project. That helps reduce the risk to the millwork company."

Select Veneer's customers include makers of millwork, store fixtures, laboratory casegoods and furniture.

Five business units

The company is divided into five business units, including an internal distribution division.

In the veneer division, veneer is brought in as whole logs, sliced and sorted. About 85 percent of veneer is used in Select's other divisions.

The face manufacturing division takes raw veneer and slices it laterally to make about 30,000 veneer faces a month.

The architectural panel division takes exotic wood and produces panels using architectural blueprints, offering external banding, edge details and finishing.

Another division specializes in plywood, in sizes from 2 x 4 to 5 x 12 feet. Waldo says Select has 94 million options available as far as species, thickness, grade and type of core.

"We are good at mass customization of plywood products," Waldo says.

"If a customer has a job that requires 2,000 sheets of sequence matched, blueprint matched domestic, exotic or reconstituted woods, that's what we do well."

Kilibarda says one recent notable project was supplying 5,300 architectural panels for the  University of Michigan's Ross School of Business.

"Very large, complex jobs are our specialty," he says.

In Smithfield there are 70 employees working in the 90,000-square-foot plant. Frank and Doug Kilibarda are co-owners, and the company has annual sales of about $12 million. About 10 percent of business is from export sales. The company is FSC certified so they can do LEED work.

New plywood processing

Select Veneer upgraded its capabilities last year with the addition of a new  Midwest Automation plywood processing line that includes veneer laminating, edge trimmer and vacuum pick and place. It was intended to work with a Butfering veneer sander.

Four people can run 400 to 500 sheets in an eight-hour shift. The new line can handle 4 x 6- to 5 x 12-foot sheets in ¼- through 2-inch thicknesses.

To start, plywood comes in and a face and back are applied on the panel. The panel goes through an Orma glue press and then through a tenoner, first cutting width and then length. These machines have the ability to provide full 1-in. oversize panels.

The next step is the panel flipper, which flips the panel so each side can be sanded. Then the piece goes through the Butfering widebelt sander. An inspector has an inspection light and looks at each piece closely as it comes out of the sander. Pieces can go back and be resanded, filled or repaired, if needed. After the last quality check, panels are stacked for shipment with robotic stackers.

Kilibarda says the line has been up and running for about six months. The initial goal was to have no work in process, and to shorten lead times to hours. (Generally lead time is in the one-week range.)

"The new line allows us to take a lead time of two to five weeks, standard in this industry, and shorten that down to a matter or hours," he says.

"Our goal is to have our customer call us at 2 a.m. and ask us for 200 panels and we tell them we can get that done before 11 a.m.," Kilibarda says.

Custom division

In Select Veneer's custom division, there is a  Heesemann MFA6 widebelt sander, Homag Espana Profiline panel saw, Brandt edgebander, SawStop table saw and Southworth lift table. Future plans call for replacing a panel saw and adding a CNC machining center and robot, and possibly an edgebander.

In face manufacturing, pieces are chosen, ends are clipped for length and pieces go into a larger Fisher & Ruckle Monguzzi double-knife guillotine where they're side trimmed, then edge glued. Employees inspect pieces for any small gaps in the glue and manually add glue. The final step is veneer face inspection and grading.

Waldo says that Select Veneer is especially good at mass customization.

"We're good at getting the customer's requirements and making what that customer wants extremely fast," he says. "We want to exceed the customer's expectations and provide full veneer management."

"Customers want fast lead times, good matching and quality," Kilibarda says.

"They don't want to put a finish on the product and have defects show through."

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