In the nearly 25 years since Scott Bechhold and Sam MacNeill opened Oak Ridge Cabinets in Chico, Calif., in a barn donated by Bechhold's father, the business has come a long way. The company now has a 25,000-square-foot facility, 35 employees and posted over $4 million in sales last year.

It is also at a crossroads.

After its first year of operation, sales doubled each year for Oak Ridge. While 2005 showed an increase in sales, for the most part sales have been roughly level for the past four years.

Several things seem to be causing the plateau, but determining how to proceed is the biggest question on the table.

Should Oak Creek limit its work to one style? Change the workflow in the plant? Add CNC equipment? Invest in a dealer network or seek out additional contractors?

Scheduling challenges

Both Bechhold and MacNeill note that sometimes plant efficiency suffers because of the different types of cabinet jobs that come in. "The problem is we don't make one product, one type of door, one line of cabinets," MacNeill says. "It's constantly changing out there. We may do a lower-end kitchen, then the next thing we're doing is $100K worth of cabinets with an island and an entertainment center."

Bechhold notes that time spent with contractors is another challenge, depending on the job. "If we get blueprints for a subdivision where basically all the cabinets are going to be the same, I only have to go out once and have the basic blueprints signed off. But if it's a custom job, I might spend five days working with the contractor to get the final sign-off," Bechhold says.

"One of the things that has held us back is that we can only measure so much and meet with so many people," Bechhold adds.

Ample space

In the course of 25 years, facility expansion has been ongoing for Oak Ridge. The original footage of the facility was 8,200 square feet, then it was increased by 6,000 square feet, then by 5,600 square feet and then finished out to its current size.

Part of the expansion was necessary for Oak Ridge to upgrade its finishing capabilities. At first, several spray booths were purchased locally, but the booths were not sufficient for the peak times of manufacturing, so a tow line system was purchased from a closed furniture plant down South.

Production process

Flow through the plant works reasonably well. For each job, engineer Dave Gibson does the take-off in Cabnetware, details the job, orders any needed hardware or extras and then downloads the information to the appropriate saws. Plywood goes first to a Giben panel saw. It is then barcoded and goes to an SCM point-to-point and banded on an SCM edgebander. It is then moved into a prep area.

Hardwood goes first to a Raimann rip saw, then to a Weinig moulder, then to a Weinig Dimter optimizing crosscut saw. There it is cut into rails and stiles and sorted onto racks by size. All frame and door stock is dimensioned, downloaded and scanned. A chop saw is used for small manual cuts. Individual pieces go to assembly tables.

Cabinets then go through the tow line for finishing, after which doors and drawers are installed. Bechhold notes that since some contractors want to do their own finishing, some cabinets have to be diverted to another area, away from the tow line. This can occasionally be a problem as it makes it difficult to know how many workers to keep on the tow line.

As cabinets are completed, the barcode tags are removed, scanned and a software program calculates the total inches of cabinets, then divides it by the value of the job. The resulting number is the value per cabinet. Bechhold and MacNeill find this helpful as they can see how much was produced in a given day.

Crucial decisions

Bechhold and MacNeill are considering some of the things that might allow for more work to get through the plant. They recently hired a salesperson to initiate some projects in the spring, and Bechhold plans to have him begin developing a dealer network.

However, they realize there is more that can be done. Beyond setting up a dealer network, they can switch to a nested-based CNC router, reorganize the shop to maximize flow or specialize in a certain style of cabinet. None of these are easy changes to make, and the consequences could be costly. Understandably the two want to make the right decision. At this point, what that decision will be is not clear.

"We're doing the beam saw, point-to-point set-up," Bechhold says. "It seems to get to the capacity that we're trying to get to, unless there are routers out there that do more, it seems that the way we're doing is best."

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