Inter Ocean Cabinet Co. has a long history that helps it deal with shorter and shorter lead times.

One such job, the Hyatt Regency Chicago ballroom makeover in downtown Chicago, was a major $1.5 million project that had to be installed in 20 days to accommodate the hotel's busy schedule for ballroom reservations. The project required that 95 percent of the fabrication had to be done before existing walls were demolished, so Inter Ocean had to fabricate the custom millwork to fit walls that were not accessible.

John Farrell, president, says that Inter Ocean's service is a strong selling point. "Chicago is a wonderful area for woodworking. A lot of the talented craftsman come from Europe to Chicago, and we all turn out good products. What really separates us is the level of service."

Inter Ocean builds and installs architectural millwork, cabinets and custom store fixtures. Farrell says the main focus is on high-end office tenant buildouts for corporations, hospitals, law firms, banks, financial services branches, trading companies, and some store fixtures. The hospitality market has also offered opportunities. The company produces both plastic laminate casework and finished solid wood projects. The company was founded in 1897, is based in Elmhurst, Ill., and employs 30 at this location with 10 to 15 installers.

Ballroom makeover

On the Hyatt ballroom job, Inter Ocean had to work closely with all of the trades because of the tight time frame. "We've done jobs in the $1.1 to $1.5 million range before, but never in that short a period of time. The general contractor and other trades used our measurements to drive the entire project," Farrell says.

Chris McCaffrey was Inter Ocean's project manager for the ballroom renovation. Inter Ocean was a subcontactor to Babco Construction Inc., and Gensler was the project architect. Inter Ocean was able to devote one draftsman to the entire job, using AutoCAD. Inter Ocean's Kris Kamien developed the shop drawings. "We were given enough time to develop very accurate and detailed drawings," he says.

Farrell says that they didn't know where the underlying substructure was until installation started because demolition occurred the day before installation. Once exposed, the location of existing electrical conduit presented problems, so removable panels had to be made to provide access to all electrical boxes.

Inter Ocean planned ahead and ordered extra panels ahead of time in case new panels had to be made quickly. All components were built in the Elmhurst shop during a three-month period before the ballroom walls were demolished and removed.

Inter Ocean installed custom wood wall panels, cabinetry, reception desks, trim, decorative columns and presentation boxes within the 20-day installation schedule, while working with the general contractor, the project architect and multiple subcontractors. Inter Ocean finished the job on a Wednesday night and there was an event Thursday morning.

The completed ballroom project also included eight hourglass-shaped columns in the ballroom entry hallways, which used wood frames, Plexiglas and bronze panels, light fixtures, diffusing film and stone. Farrell says the largest item was paneling, since the whole 35,000 square foot room is paneled.

Built-in presentation boxes were made for computer-driven presentations, along with 3,500 lineal feet of zebrawood baseboards, 3,500 lineal feet of mahogany baseboards, 7,000 square feet of Mozambique wall panels in a variety of finishes, and stainless steel mesh for the escalator surrounds. The ballroom demonstrated Inter Ocean's ability to incorporate many different materials into a project.

Longest bar

Inter Ocean also provided the millwork for Hyatt's Big Bar, which is billed as the world's largest. The company also renovated the hotel lobby, a coffee bar and some guest rooms.

To fabricate Big Bar, all the related trades came to Inter Ocean, which rented a warehouse next door to its own plant, and set up the bar, which included wood, stainless steel and solid surface material. The other trades saw how their components would be integrated and installed.

Other jobs included the Morton Arboretum visitor's center, bookstore, cafeteria, and private offices. U.S. Cellular Field, the home of the Chicago White Sox, was another recent job that included remodeling 100 skyboxes. Inter Ocean is now doing a job for Citigroup, the largest LEED certified job that Inter Ocean has done so far.

Inter Ocean has four draftsman who use AutoCAD and Autodesk Inventor, a program that can produce three-dimensional models and allows for dynamic adjustments because all dimensions are linked.

More machining, less assembly

Inter Ocean's shop is divided into two sections with machining equipment on one side and assembly on the other. Once parts are machined, they are moved to a staging area, then to benches for assembly.

"Probably the biggest change is we're doing more and more automated machining now, which makes the assembly a lot easier and a lot faster," he says.

"Years ago, Inter Ocean had two men machining and 12 assemblers. It's probably half and half now, because the CNC machines can deliver more completed components, so it's just a matter of putting products together."

Key equipment includes a Weeke Optimat BHP 200 router that is used for nesting and optimizing complete panels and a Weeke point-to-point that is used to drill and machine individual parts. Inter Ocean has been nesting parts for CNC equipment for more than two years.

CNC machines have also allowed Inter Ocean to produce radius work more efficiently, which can help job site contractors that have radius walls to build. Inter Ocean can make one template for itself and one for the contractor, for the floor plates and for the drywall subcontractor.

The Elmhurst shop also has a Streibig Optisaw 2 vertical panel saw, Altendorf F45 sliding table saw, two Unisaws, and an older Brandt edgebander.

A big addition has been a Heesemann widebelt sander, normally seen at a larger operation.

"We decided to purchase it for the large paneling jobs. This is a very sensitive machine that sands the laid-up panels very accurately," Farrell says. "And on finishing, it can sand our sealer. It's that sensitive. After they've done the staining and sprayed a coat of sealer, they can sand that sealer and it is ready for topcoat."

Farrell says that Inter Ocean is looking at a new edgebander in the next year or so, but there are many options. He says the company has a relationship with Stiles Machinery, which he says does a good job with CNC machining centers and edgebanders. Inter Ocean is also considering a 32 mm system for assembling cabinets, which would require doweling and case clamps.

For finishing, Inter Ocean is using a conversion varnish or a precatalyzed nitrocellulose-based lacquer. Farrell says Inter Ocean has worked with water-based products to achieve LEED credits, but he says the flexibility for toning and touch up is just not there yet.

Farrell says that millwork work schedules continue to be compressed. "We're usually in the budgeting, contract and initial planning stages for jobs usually longer than we are in the actual fabrication," he says."The other trend is everything is just in time these days," he says. "More suppliers are going to just-in-time inventory management.

"Today I don't know that anything's unusual. The usual is the unusual," he observes. "When you're 100 years old, you know you've got to keep moving forward, but you're also looking back and saying, we did all this right."

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