Project management is a key for  Herrick & White, along with high-quality people who love the woodworking business and strive for perfection.

"Sometimes you can't be competitive when you're pushing such quality," says Ken Bertram, H&W president. "Our people have to be trained about the projects and budgets we're working with," he says. "We've tried to complete satisfy our customers.

The Cumberland, R.I., company has 100 total employees, including 50 in the shop, and makes high-end residential and commercial mouldings, cabinets, doors, and wood store fixtures. H&W has shifted from mostly retail to primarily high-end residential, a market that is upscale enough to escape the effects of the current recession - so far.

"We are busy right now which is an accomplishment in this economy," Bertram says.

Today, probably 10 percent of business is retail, 20 percent is commercial and 70 percent is residential. A typical residential job may be about $300,000, but the company has handled jobs as large as a $3 million commercial project last year.

Ken Bertram is president and handles project management and Henry Gauthier supervises production. Steve Brannigan is the controller, and Gary Rousseau handles sales and estimating.

Scheduling and databases  

H&W uses Microsoft Project as a scheduling tool with an Access-based database developed in house. That data comes initially from estimating done in an Excel spreadsheet and then exported into Project and into Access. Everything is defined in the Access program, including parts to be ordered and time to be spent on each job.

"The project manager lays out his schedule in Project," Bertram says. "Once he does that, he exports that information from Project into Access. That helps create the shop orders, and sets the schedule.

"I can look at the future workloads, look at what the CNC machine or fabrication will be doing. It takes the number of people we have multiplied by the number of hours per week, determines our total capacity and compares it to hours we're projecting, coming from MS Project."

In addition to AutoCAD, H&W also uses ProEngineer software to provide three-dimensional views.  ProEngineer can also be fed into H&W's Access program.

Bertram says that changes in ongoing projects can easily be made. If drawings have not been approved by the customer, for example, he can expand the overall schedule.

"It allows us to keep our manufacturing planning up to date sooner," he says. "We're addressing schedule changes sooner in the process. That includes lead times for materials."

If workflow is uneven, the production scheduler will try to level that work out. "It allows us to maneuver and level our capacity," Bertram says.

Bertram can also track profitability of each job while it is in progress, and of the company as a whole. A list of jobs in progress with the bid amount and how much has been spent to do the work so far helps identify problems before they are too late to correct.

"We can compare labor on any specific manufacturing order, plus our material budgets. That gives us a more specific version of how we're progressing on a job."

The project managers can check on the status of each job. In addition, a report generated out of Access shows the contract amount and the amount billed on the job. It also gives a cost-to-date number, so Bertram can look at a job that has billed $235,000, have has cost $207,000 to date, for example. "This gives me a good idea that our cash flow is keeping up with our costs," he says.

"I only get scared when the expense number begins to exceed the amount billed," Bertram says. "If we sold a job for $63,000, have recorded $57,000 in costs but have only billed $33,000, that's a problem. So the project manager needs to look at this billing versus cost report every month.

Cross training evens out workloads  

A good way to even workloads is through cross training.

A number of new jobs at one time can cause a bottleneck in engineering, and later in the shop.

"We take some of our senior people and train them internally in Access and AutoCAD, which is easier to learn than ProEngineer," Bertram says.

"Now we have half-dozen people that can work in either engineering or the shop. As engineering becomes busy and manufacturing slows, we bring them to engineering and they can help there.

"In some cases it works out well because they know what's happening up front. They've worked on the engineering aspect on some of the projects that are in the shop."

Access to cutting  

Gauthier says that H&W used to get architectural drawings that were perfect. Now, they have to do much more design-and-build, and they're much more involved in the design process.
H&W has always owned and maintained its own equipment, Gauthier says, often for the long haul. They've also had a longtime relationship with Boshco Inc., a Massachusetts equipment distributor.

Data goes from the Access database previously described into Pattern Systems, then into a Schelling panel saw that does most of the cutting. A Paolini sliding table saw was added to allow flexibility at the start of the process. H&W also bought several SawStop table saws, primarily for safety.

An IMA Bima point-to-point is used mostly for boring. An Anderson Exxact Plus dual table machining center cuts shaped parts such as curved mouldings. Also here are an IMA edgebander with Thomas return table, Raimann gang ripsaw, IIDA six-head Millennium moulder, and HolyTek resaw machine that cuts mouldings into pieces so they can be bent.

The machining and mill area uses mostly older machines, including an Oliver jointer still in action and four shapers. H & W also grinds their own moulder knives in a well-organized area.

Upstairs in the two-story building, a finishing department has five finishing booths. H&W can do their own color and stain matching.

Looking at bids and sales  

Business was good in 2008 and in early 2009, but the economic slowdown has put expansion plans on hold.

"With the present economic conditions, I'm feeling more of a need to pay attention to our sales," Bertram says. "We've always had a good backlog. We have a 30 to 50 percent hit rate on a lot of jobs that are bid, that's pretty good.

Customers are sending us jobs, we're be bidding them and getting them. So I'm implementing another database that will allow us to track the probability that we'll win awards and reasons for losing jobs. And we want to know who our competitors are for that job."

"We're trying to remain flexible, so we're going where the work is, but that means dealing with different quality levels."

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