Q: Waste materials are a byproduct of upholstery manufacturing. What do you see as the most efficient and economical ways for manufacturers to handle the waste issue?

A: Waste equates to bonuses underpaid, wage increases not given, employees laid off, profits not made, jobs not created, products non-competitive, plants closed or moved overseas. Anytime I am allowed to tour a plant, a quick look at the dumpster and at the restrooms will tell me everything I need to know about the management of the company.

Several years ago, I toured a plant where the production manager told me in no uncertain terms that they did not need anyone looking at their plant, as they had everything under control. I asked him if he would have his supervisory people meet me in the parking lot with gloves after quitting time. We proceeded to dump the day's accumulation of trash into the parking lot.

I then had them sort it by material such as cotton, poly and cardboard. Then with some scales, we weighed each type of material. There were hundreds of pounds of cotton, foam, leather scraps, fabric scraps and office paper.

I then asked that the weight be converted to the price paid for the original commodity. The final number was in the thousands of dollars, excluding the wood waste we didn't count. On top of that, they paid their friendly trash hauler several hundred dollars to take the load to the dump.

Reducing waste

My take on waste is that zero is a good, though perhaps unattainable, number. So let's see what we can do to reduce waste.

First, a truly engineered product enables purchasing to buy all parts prefabricated. There is no excuse other than rank laziness or unsophistication to put a product in production and give an upholsterer a slab of poly, sheets of cardboard, a roll of cotton, and a yard or so of fabric and tell them to build an arm.

A plant, intending to survive, will have made the effort to have engineered the product and know that there is no waste in the padding because it is purchased cut-to-size, and know the exact amount of expected waste in covering and in plywood. An added bonus is that you know your real estimated costs, and you know that an arm built today will be the same as the arm built a month ago.

A good vendor will be much more able to keep from generating waste or using it in other products than you ever will be. The argument that you will have to pay their overhead and profit simply doesn't fly because you don't know your true costs of product and your cost of non-quality ("Quality = the absolute adherence to specification.") to compare to the vendor's charge.

What about the packaging materials waste from your vendors? Why do springs come in boxes rather than on returnable carts? The same goes for sleeper and recliner mechanisms that are packed on pallets that must be disposed. These should be delivered on carts by production schedule anyway.

How about buying legs pre-packed to go to your customer? What about using smaller router bits, slowing the machine to save bits and waste? Do you know how much waste you could save by going from a 1/2-inch bit to a 3/8 inch or to a 1/4 inch?

You should be able to use your software to tell you what the yield and speed would be for various configurations. Can you lay out cardboard patterns the same as plywood patterns and cut them on a router to save the labor of doing this on a band saw or on the production line?

Managing wood waste

Wood waste must be managed. I read recently where Duke Power is building two dozen wood burning generation plants to burn wood waste. I think we could have fed their plants for several years with the trees Hurricane Ike downed in Houston recently.

There is also a lot of work being done by companies such as Advanced Recycling Equipment to bring power generation as well as heat and AC to small plants while meeting air quality standards.

FDM magazine produced a Webinar recently on pelletizing wood waste to heat homes and plants. The present problem has to do with the glue used in plywood manufacturing containing formaldehyde. I noted recently where Australia has taken action against China for the amount of formaldehyde contained in its wood products.

Green Initiative for Furniture and Textiles worked with Linda Arye, founding president of Quilts for Kids, www.quiltsforkids.com, to produce 60 quilts for a children's hospital. This project would be good to train sewers and give you some positive publicity about your "green" effort.

So, if you engineer your products to enable purchasing the materials ready for assembly, go "green" with your fabric scraps, making quilts for homeless or hospitals, have your vendors deliver on returnable carts without packaging materials, use your wood waste to heat your plant and use the idea for a paperless office as covered in a previous article you should be close to zero waste.

Then, you can use the savings for better wages, fringes, bonuses or simply having a better chance for survival in today's economy. Good luck. If I can help, let me know.

Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.