Arbor Mills pays attention to the details that customers can see, and the ones they can’t.
The Lockport, Illinois, company makes high-end cabinets with special construction, one-of-a-kind product details and high quality finishes.
Daryl DelSasso, Arbor Mills president, defines the company’s market as luxury residential. DelSasso defines quality as not only the way things look, but the way they function.
“We manufacture framed and frameless cabinets, premium quality, and we feature things that no one else does. The cabinets are designed to be easy to use and enjoyable to use,” he said. About 70 percent of cabinets are frameless, 30 percent frame.
“We are very detailed oriented, both in the manufacturing process and the finished cabinet. We have a person hand fitting the doors. Cabinet Vision does everything accurately, but the hand-fitting process does everything perfectly. That gap is part of the design. Gaps have to be perfect. That’s important to us.”
Arbor Mills has been a family-owned company for more than 60 years, working with luxury homebuilders and interior designers throughout the Chicago area. “Both have a stake in seeing that their customers are very happy with the products they buy,” DelSasso said.
Arbor Mills has long-term relationships with many of these companies. They know what Arbor Mills and its 46 employees can do.
A definition of luxury includes both construction techniques and visual preferences. “Customers want things done the right way and consistently,” DelSasso said. “Everything should fit together, and it has to look like it’s done the right way. People appreciate that. Also, a cabinet should last 25 years or more.”
“Finishing is a big part of our business, and it’s a big part of every product, no matter what it is,” DelSasso said.
Arbor Mills is using Sirca Wood Coatings polyurethane finishes from Italy, and Gemini Coatings conversion varnish. Gemini also supplies the Sirca finishes. The plural-component polyurethane finishes used here are still not common in North America.
Some smaller shops are using polyurethane for the quality and appearance, but DelSasso believes no large-scale companies are using this finishing technology. Arbor Mills has been using polyurethanes for about two years.
Varnishes allow moisture to transfer from the environment to the door, and back again, so there’s a moisture exchange, DelSasso said. Polyurethanes don’t allow that transfer, or it’s so small it hardly exists. Polyurethanes can offer more in shrinking, expansion, and moisture protection beyond what a varnish can offer.
A polyurethane finish is much more flexible, he said, and offers more flexibility after it is applied. It’s also harder and more durable than varnish, and the appearance is better. Polyurethanes wrap around profiles well. Polyurethanes don’t work as well with layering of multi-coat finishing. Conversion varnishes are better performers for multi-layer coatings. Arbor Mills works with Gemini, but they’re always looking for better technology, in process and finishing.
By using both the polyurethane and conversion varnish finishes, the company can meet any customer requirement.
Three cabinet lines
Arbor Mills makes three lines. The Mills House line uses traditional American face-frame construction, with beaded frame and non-beaded frame inset cabinets
A second line, Heritage, is a European 32mm construction system, doweled and made very differently than Mills House, but shares the same drawers and accessories. Both Mills House and Heritage are custom made in Lockport, and come out fully assembled, rather than in separate, individual boxes.
A third cabinet line provides premium-grade specs but at a lower price. Arbor Mills is an integrator and assembler of this product, with outsourced doors and drawers. It is sold to kitchen dealers.
Showroom shows big ideas
There is plenty to see in the Arbor Mills showroom
Start with a large eight-foot wide drawer. It features bin storage with a wide variety of moveable and interchangeable parts. The customer and salesperson brainstormed and asked “What if?” They prototyped and experimented with the idea, and found that hardware was available.
“Why have an eight-foot drawer? Because there’s no looking for anything,” DelSasso said. “We sell a lot of product that’s very visual and very easy to use. You open a drawer and everything looks good. People like owning that product.”
Related to the large drawers is the Bin system, which was developed to provide different storage configurations that aid the workflow in the kitchen, and can be changed by the customer without buying anything additional. With three to six sizes and 35 different components, a customer can have a thousand different configurations. It also offers an open feel to large drawers, and two-tier organizers. Components include flatware trays, knife blocks, wooden bin boxes, plate racks, spice racks and tea drawers.
More difficult to develop was the vertical pullout system. It took several months to develop that exact hardware, with the steel ball bearings and track systems. It was based on a proven guide in the Blum undermount. Everything is made in an exact constructed form, made primarily of wood. “It’s amazing how rigid this wood system is, and it functions correctly from the start,” DelSasso said.
Another detail, the dust rail between the door and frame, was developed from a customer interaction with a salesman.” There are so many advantages to the product. You have four points of contact between the door and carcass. Why not see if something can be done beyond the norm, to make everything better. So we did.” That product came to be after a very short time.
Sliding marble panels are another unusual feature. The HAWA Junior 120 system has a 264-pound capacity with custom soft close system by Arbor Mills. The marble panels are supported within a welded steel tray that fully supports the weight of the stone material and provides for panel tracking and centering. The steel tray can accommodate any kind material including tiled panels.
Hardware is an important part of these products. Blum is the major hardware provider, with hinges and drawer slides. Accuride products are also used, with some Fulterer slides used for heavy-duty 450-pound drawer systems. All illumination was switched to Hafele LED lighting a few years ago.
“The Hafele (Loox system) has a wide range of systems, fixtures, transformers and controls,” DelSasso said. “They make a dozen fixtures, and each fixture can be used in a number of applications, including switches, motion sensors that control lighting, and sensors for sliding marble panels that are proximity switches. All of this is done through the Hafele Loox system. It sees a panel moving out of the way, and the light goes on. The panel closes and the light goes off, without any physical contact.
“We sell a lot of lighting. We’re very happy with the LED systems because they last for 2,000 hours, which might be 20 years. Some of the (older) halogen bulbs took a lot of energy and don’t last long.”
Shop attention to detail
The Arbor Mills attention to detail extends to its shop operation. The company has 40,000 square feet of space with a 35,000-square-foot production area. Plywood boxes and wood frames are made in a solid wood area. Mouldings are made on a Weinig Unimat 1000 moulder. Also here is a Razorgage
computer to machine system that provides feed, positioning, defecting and cross-cutting. A Whirlwind crosscut saw with TigerStop positioning system, straight line ripsaw, Timesavers sander, and Taylor clamp carrier are also used.
A Mayer panel saw starts the panel processing section. A Biesse Rover 4 was just added. Two Biesse CNC routers replaced a single machine that had both pod-and-rail and nested table. An Omal dowel inserter and Biesse Stream A edgebander are also used here.
In the machining area the company has Dodds drawer machines, a Morso hauncher for dovetail joints, Pade tenoner, Delta shaper, Unique fingerjointer, Voorwood dual spindle coping shaper, and Voorwood shaper/sander. The second Biesse Rover, a five-axis CNC router, pod and rail configuration, can do a single part and curved components. A new spacer ball inserter by Unique Machine and Tool Co., seen first at IWF, was recently added. An assembly area includes hand sanding and a Hess case clamp.
A specialty department makes mantles, hoods, and puts together islands to make sure everything fits. This is where the hand fitting of parts together is done. They pay attention to the gap as well as the door and frame. They assemble before finishing, then disassemble, and are looking to achieve a 3/32-inch gap. A Quickwood RO1100 denibbing sander is used before finishing
The finishing shop has a staining and toning booth, mixing station, color lab to make custom colors, and areas for application of glazes, stains, primers and sealers, and topcoats and sealers. About 75 percent of cabinets are painted today. Randy Parks, operations manager, said that the company performs steps in the process that no one else does.
“The purpose behind the room design is that that room can run five finishing schedules simultaneously,” DelSasso said. “We have four themes, 24 collections, and we have 31 schedules of different kinds of finishes. We can have a multi-step finish here and a polyurethane over there, conversion varnish over here.”
Focus on cabinets
Arbor Mills has a long history as a family-owned company, but is always looking at better ways to do things. “We’re still developing,” DelSasso said. “We’re always doing new things.”
The company did more millwork in the past, and also more residential doors and trim, along with fabricated countertops. “In order to succeed better with cabinets we eliminated countertops,” he said.
Arbor Mills does a lot of painted products, also a lot of wood. Ten years ago, carved wood and appliques were popular. Today, it’s weathered, glazed finishes. What’s next? Slippery finishes, smooth finishes, some embellishment, veneer, and back to anigre and sapele. A lot of styles are occurring at the same time, DelSasso said.
Depending on the economic and political situation, people will seek the more familiar and safe styles, he said. “People will gravitate toward the style that makes them comfortable in that situation. If the economy improves, you’ll see more exotic woods again, and shinier finishes. If the economy were to fall back, we would reach for the basics, weathered finishes, reclaimed woods, simple door styles.”
Moving to greater efficiency
Arbor Mills has been manufacturing in cells from the start. “It took us two years to study the Toyota Production System. “After about a year we actually began to understand it,” said Daryl Del Sasso. “In the second year we began running value maps on all of our products. We did more than 150 value maps.
“As you start to remove steps that are unnecessary (you have) the idea that the only work that’s done to the product is work that adds value. There are no correction steps needed anywhere along the way.”
So the factory was redesigned on paper. They also used DBR, drum buffer rope theory, that deals with constraints and bottlenecks.
Now, every operation has 5 to 20 procedures. A raised panel door has 24 procedures. After two years they were able to convert the factory. It cost the company about a half a million dollars to convert the factory from the way they were manufacturing to the Toyota Production System and DBR.
Within the first two months, Arbor Mills achieved a 40 percent increase in productivity. They were able to go from 70 to 35 employees. It cost the company half a million dollars. They also went from 130 machines to 114 machines. They did this in 2006, converted the factory in two weeks.
“Now we have departments that just cut wood, just join wood. There is no face frame department, not even have a door department, even though we build hundreds a week,” DelSasso said.
Custom face frame and frameless cabinets
Plant size: 40,000 square feet (35,000 square feet production area)
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Accuride International Drawer slides
Alexander Dodds Drawer machine
Biesse America Rover CNC machining centers, edgebander
Blum Hinges and hardware
Fulterer drawer guides
Hafele LED lighting
Mayer panel saw
Quick Wood denibbing sander
RazorGage Saw systems
TigerStop Saw positioning system
James L. Taylor Mfg. Clamp carrier
Timesavers Widebelt sander
Casadei-Busellato Omal dowel inserter 1300 (Delmac)
Unique Machine and Tool Co. Spacer ball inserter, fingerjointer
Voorwood Shaper-sander, shaper
Weinig Group Unimat moulder