TC Millwork is in the product innovation business.
“We look at problem solving as a challenge here,” says company owner Art Kubach. “When customers come to us, they want to us to build upon our existing knowledge, experience and technology to develop innovative and cost-effective solutions.”
To be successful, Kubach says that TC Millwork has to make a product that is unique, can be made in a quantity of one or 10,000 at the same price, and use raw materials not available in the U.S., or too costly to buy here.
“We’re using China to our advantage, to make our products here,” he explains. “It’s been a global market since the early 1980s. American manufacturers have to be innovative enough to compete globally, and I think we can. We just have to be smart about how we do it.”
There are three companies at same location in Bensalem, Pa., just outside Philadelphia. TC Millwork designs and manufactures wood and metal store fixtures serving the retail and casino markets. Spectrim Building Products specializesin architectural millwork and serves the health care, hospitality, long term care, and GSA contract markets. Tricon Construction handles installations, turnkey projects, retail build outs and acts as a full service extension of TC Millwork.
The company’s primary markets are store fixtures, health care and casinos. Customers include Macy’s, Yankee Candle, Pier 1 imports, Lord & Taylor, Burlington Coat Factory, Jones New York and Clarks Shoes.
Much of the company’s work centers around products developed in house. One such product line is casino slot machine bases.
“We have the original patent on the wood Ergobase, and we have sold those for years,” Kubach says. “We got our start in Atlantic City in the 1970s, and with many of the big-name casinos in Las Vegas and on Indian reservations.” They also provide slot bases to corporate accounts, and have converted much of the industry to newly developed Hybrid slot bases that uses the same paradigm of combining materials from Asia and combining domestic materials and domestic labor to achieve a cost-effective product.
LEDs drive innovation
Film technology, miter folding and LED technology are key development areas. LED lights drive a lot of TCM’s product innovation. “The whole thing is based on 24 volts,” Kubach says. “I can’t drive an incandescent lamp at 24 volts, and fluorescent light would have to be converted. LED lends itself to low voltage. My entire display at Global Shop last year, with 60 or 70 light pucks, only used 280 watts.
“We have the best puck light in the market. We’re taking a light that is 3.7 watts per puck, and we’re generating almost 850 lumens at 16 inches. The color rendition is in the high 80s. We’re continuing to improve, and we’re on our third generation of puck lights. We’re all over any new LED technology”.
LED technology is at the heart of TCM’s Smartwall. Using the company’s Leggero lightweight shelves, proprietary wiring harnesses are built into a shelf core and wired to embedded LED puck lights. The shelf then makes its connection to the powered standards. The lit shelves can be placed anywhere on the wall and it lights up and connects automatically. “You bring the light directly to the product. It’s totally seamless and wireless for the customer,” Kubach says.
TC Millwork makes a wide variety of display products for use on their Smartwall to include straight and slanted shelves, shadow boxes, step shelves and a lit clear shelf with a proprietary design strip LED light with a groove that it fits into. There are no wires, only two magnets that are used with the contact points inside the shelf.
Laminate and miter folding
Miter folding, using high-gloss, high-quality laminates, is another important product area.
“We can laminate virtually any material to any other material,” Kubach says. “We’re using PUR glue and no contact cement.”
The PUR lines are fairly new. It took several years to completely understand PUR adhesives. “Once we figured it out and used it to our advantage, I couldn’t imagine how we could go back to using contact cement or PVA glues,” he says.
“Using our proprietary Ven4ma PVC material, an entire typical display table for retail can be miter folded, which offers a better appearance, and significant labor savings. One table display now has five pieces instead of 21.
“We don’t need a skilled mechanic to post laminate, and we can use semi-skilled labor to do the folding so there’s cost savings for us and the customer,” Kubach says.
“The second thing is that as the parts come through the mill we don’t have to keep track of each of them separately, we keep track of one part that’s all together.
“The third advantage is it’s so much easier to fold four sides to create a table top or create a leg than it is for us to machine the edge, wrap the edge, glue the apron around it and post laminate.”
The third company housed under the same roof is Spectrim Building Products. Spectrim uses high end film veneers to create architectural millwork that is made from a combination of wrapped mouldings, membrane pressed components and high end wall protection made from composite materials.
Another product, Ven4ma, is 50 to 60 mil thick material. TC Millwork is importing a high-quality film from Japan and laying that up on panels. TC Millwork has two PUR laminating lines in the plant, and is adding a third one.
Vertically integrated manufacturing
One of the main goals at TCM is the vertical integration of its manufacturing, design, sales, project management, and ERP system to cover the wide verity of markets that are serviced under one roof.
“This allows for overhead costs to be spread over a wide array of customers and markets which help us and our customers especially as markets fluctuate.
Drawings are done in AutoCAD Inventor. Work goes basically from screen to machine. TC Millwork’s flow of work includes laying up panels, creating panels from multiple materials, taking them to the machining area, and then into a large assembly space.
“Sometimes they come back to laminating to be folded. Anything that requires folding over a core will come back to PUR,” Kubach says.
Kubach says a Biesse Stream edgebander was a good addition, and allows TC Millwork to process large quantities of 2 and 3 mm edgebanding quickly and accurately.
An 11-year-old Biesse flat-table Rover is one of the workhorses of the shop. It was seen making V-grooves during a recent visit. The Biesse Rover B7 point-to-point CNC router is relatively new, with automatic positioning for pods, has also been used for many jobs.
The flat table routers are all used for the V-grooving, and have aggregate tooling heads. Point to points are used for machining, including light puck holes on shelves.
Also here is a Holzma Optimat HPP350 panel saw, Altendorf F45 sliding table saw, Weeke Optimat BHP 200 machining center, Brandt edgebander, and Koch Sprint PTP dowel inserter. A C.R. Onsrud Panel Pro CNC router is used to V-groove corrugated material for continuous ceiling beams.
The company uses a variety of high-end films, so finishing is not as important as it once was, although it has a finishing booth. “They’ve almost made in commercially unviable to finish in this country,” Kubach says. “So the more composites we do, the less we have to finish.”
Large assembly and staging
A large staging area is required so they can build multiple displays for shipment. The company has 435,000 square feet overall, with 400,000 square feet of plant space in Bensalem. There are 102 employees, all at this location.
TC Millwork is making store fronts for Yankee Candle, and does a lot of miter folding for these. “We take a paintable film and make 14-foot members that into v-grooved boxes that become the beams for the whole store front. Again, we’re handling one part instead of four.
“Our company is driven by supply and demand, an ERP system,” Kubach says. “Once everyone was able to understand if you put the correct information into the system, the customer’s needs and his schedule, will create demand which is going to turn up on the supply side. That’s the only way to run a business like this.”
In retail, the demand side is in spring and fall. "As long as you have a demand in the system, you’re able to keep inventory on the floor. We have to create unique products that there is a demand for, that we can outsource raw materials that are no longer made here. That’s what manufacturing is today. If you don’t do that, you’ve already gone out of business, you just haven’t picked the date yet.
“You have to create an innovative product and use China to your advantage. Everyone can grumble about China. Their labor rates kill our labor rates, but when I only have to handle five parts instead of 20 parts, that gives us a real advantage.”
After almost 20 years in business TCM has realized the importance of the vertical integration of processes, manufacturing, and innovative ideas to enable it to compete in the global marketplace now and into the future.
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