Sometimes you can find cutting edge technology in an unexpected place. Hiland Wood Products, located in the heart of Amish country in Holmes County, Ohio, recently purchased a new-technology ripsaw, optical scanning system, crosscut saw and material handling equipment.

Hiland, located in Walnut Creek, Ohio, traces its origins back to a woodworking business started by Sam Schrock on the family farm in 1918. The original company, now known as Schrocks' of Walnut Creek, makes custom cabinetry, baths and kitchens next door to the Hiland plant. Hiland was formed in 1970 to make raised panel cabinet doors and mouldings from rough lumber. Today Ivan Schrock, Sam's son, owns both businesses.

Hiland makes all kinds of custom millwork, such as glued-up tabletop stock, drawer components, face frame material, pedestals and other components in addition to the mouldings and cabinet doors. The company does almost no external marketing, relying on word-of-mouth and its reputation for quality.

Likewise, customers generally come to Holmes County to buy furniture from one of the many manufacturers and showrooms here. Schrock says there are many small manufacturers in this quiet setting, where it's common to see horse-drawn carriages. Hiland's workforce is Amish. The workers don't own or drive cars, so a van picks up employees each morning and drops them off at the end of the day. Many Hiland employees are also farmers, although the number is decreasing.

Despite the local preference for traditional values, Hiland has pursued the latest and newest in technology. Raimann USA Inc., the U.S. subsidiary of Interholz Raimann and maker of gang ripsaws, optimized ripsaws and systems, worked with GreCon Dimter and Scanimation to create a state-of-the-art rough mill. (Recently the Interholz Raimann company, based in Freiburg, Germany, was acquired by the Weinig Group, parent company of GreCon Dimter).

The components of the modular system, delivered to Hiland in January, include a new Raimann KR US 3BV 18-inch ripsaw with three movable heads that reportedly has boosted productivity 36 percent.

Scanimation, a maker of ripsaw scanning systems, crosscut scanning systems and sorting/grading systems, provided its ScanCore 2D platform. Scanimation's double-sided scanner takes an image of both the top and bottom of the board. The focus is on usable yield rather than material yield.

And from GreCon Dimter, a maker of crosscut saws and material handling equipment, an Opticut 304 crosscut saw and conveyor system are used after the pieces are ripped.

Josef Zerle, CEO of Raimann USA, says that Hiland saw the opportunity that the movable saw blade offered to do shorter runs while maintaining product quality and achieving higher yields. The next step, Zerle says, was integrating the higher productivity with a scanner, using the scanner to its full potential and taking advantage of these technology improvements.

The moveable arbors on the Raimann ripsaw allow Hiland to rip many different sizes without removing the arbor for setup, and the rough mill can simulate its cutting list using information already stored in the computer from previous runs of similar materials and sizes. The combination also permits greater processing flexibility of both small and large orders. When the machine is engaged in a production run, the operator can break into the production schedule and do an urgent short run without shutting down the machine.

Hiland can scan stock going through the Scanimation scanner, spot defects in the board and rip it accordingly. Boards offering a poor yield can be rejected outright. Boards can also be ripped while taking into consideration the lengths into which they will be cut later.

Also, material can be handled more efficiently with the ripsaw connected to the GreCon Dimter chop saw by a conveyor system. This allows Hiland to reduce lead time for moulder orders since process time from rip to cut to moulder is faster. All told, Hiland reports a yield increase of 5 percent.

Raimann says this system will soon have the capability to eject boards with a crook, rip trim with a lower grade wood and determine final piece counts of ripped and cut-to-length pieces at any time in the production cycle.

In order to make best use of the saw combination's capabilities and features, Hiland set up an order analysis and processing department to consolidate orders together to create the best flow of work through the system. Personnel in the plant are trained and cross-trained on the various stations of the Raimann and chop saw units so there are a number of people familiar with each part of the system. Hiland has also paid special attention to having the right personnel to remove cut material to the proper locations to fully take advantage of the efficiency gains of the system.

In its plant, Hiland also has a Raimann KR US 2 BV two-blade ripsaw, bought in 1999, with material handling on the outfeed of the ripsaw. Four Taylor clamp carriers, several Timesavers widebelt sanders, a Costa & Grissom sander and a Maxym tenoner are also used to make glued-up panels and components. Orders are completed on a just-in-time basis with almost no component inventory.

Zerle believes traditional residential furniture manufacturers will employ new technology to make smaller batch sizes, and will gain back the making of components that are now being outsourced from overseas. Also, he says that companies that are most interested in new technology are medium-sized, like Hiland, with $7 to $12 million in annual sales and 50 to 100 employees. These are the companies that are doing the shorter runs, can react more quickly and make decisions faster, and are the most likely to be innovative.

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