17 tips to improve productivity in the woodshop: WOOD 100 Strategies for Success

These woodworking manufacturers are ahead of the curve when it comes to optimizing productivity. In addition to lean manufacturing, new technology and training methods, a successful strategy requires a commitment by all employees to the process. What follows are some of the methods put in place by the 2016 WOOD 100 class, which includes cabinet manufacturers, residential and office furniture producers, architectural woodworkers, wood component manufacturers, closet companies and more.

Yoder Lumber, Millersburg, OH —  Capacity has doubled at Yoder’s Hardwood Components division since investing in technology, lean manufacturing and Six Sigma program. Along with cross-training, older employees work alongside younger ones to assist with workflows.

“At Yoder Lumber we are committed to improving communication and integrated many new systems and visual cues to help provide quicker feedback,” said Dennis Hange, marketing manager.

“As a company we are proud to set many new milestones of growing our production figures, thanks to our wonderful workforce who saw this an opportunity to practice their new skills and lean manufacturing principles learned throughout the year,” he added.

An  optimizing line of  a WoodEye scanner and Talon Saw (Eagle Machinery), Cresswood grinder and Opti-Match were also added.

Inova LLC, Altamont, NY —  Sales jumped 44.0% in 2015 and look to be even better this year for Inova, a manufacturer of home organization and space-saving products, including Sofa-WallBeds, TableBeds, and WallBeds for  hotel, government and residential customers.

Continuous improvements in production helped spur the success, noted Sarah Bucey, financial manager. “We adopted a lean manufacturing philosophy, and started by doing a deep clean of the factory and offices, as well as our overall processes and procedures. We also switched to a one-piece flow and encourage our employees to focus on small, daily improvements and teamwork.”

The firm doubled its capacity in 2015 and also invested close to $750,000 in new equipment, which included a panel saw, edgebander, two CNC machines, a dovetailer and widebelt sander. "Depending on our future sales, we may expand to a third machine center, which would require us to buy an additional panel saw, edgebander, CNC machine and finishing equipment," she said.

ConceptWorks, Elkhart Lake, WI —  The display maker has grown sales in part through market diversification. "We used to be only in the point-of-purchase sector, but we moved into healthcare, architectural, retail, restaurant and trade show displays," said President Adam Schneider. Today, about half of the business is in retail displays, 20 percent in trade show displays, 10 to 15 percent in speciality architectural projects and the rest in other types of jobs.

Lean manufacturing techniques are also evident throughout the 20,000-square-foot plant, including Kanban tags and production status boards.

ConceptWorks also uses vendor-managed inventory to fulfill its supply needs. "We don't have to tell them," Schneider said. "[Fastenal likes] it because they have a strong hold on our business. We love it because we never have stock outs."

Here's more productivity enhancements.

Lean manufacturing

Elias Woodwork, Winkler, MB
Sales for the wood, thermofoil and DLV cabinet components manufacturer grew 15.3%, due in part to improved technology and processes at the 285,000 square-foot facilities. “We have detailed quality tracking at each manufacturing step,” said Jeremy Funk, sales & marketing manager. Elias also performs a “careful analysis of each metric with decisive action taken to remedy any issues.” Along with investments in machinery, the company has state-of-the art finishing systems.

North American Plywood Corp., Parsippany, NJ
The plywood and components maker grew 10.7% in 2015. “We constantly increase productivity through employee training and purchasing state-of-the-art machinery,” said Donald Kuser, general manager. “We work directly with panel product manufacturers to increase quality and value pricing.” Boasting the largest UV coater in the U.S., the firm purchased a Superfici UV edge coater as well as a custom automated drawer side machine and another twin-table Northwood C axis router.

Pacific Crest Cabinetry, Ridgefield, WA
Sales grew 22.3%, and the custom cabinet manufacturer looks to do even better in 2016. “Through waste reduction in all aspects of our business, we have been able to make a product that is a leader in our market in quality, lead time, and price,” said  Brian Boggs, general manager.

Woodtronics Millwork Corp., Yorktown Heights, NY
The architectural millwork and cabinetry continues to streamline production, for improved productivity, safety and service, said President Jan E. Efraimsen.

Koetter Woodworking, Borden, IN
The architectural millwork firm reorganized its order processing and invested in technology. This enabled it to cut inventories, reduce labor and shorten lead times on orders. Koetter won the 2016 WMIA Wooden Globe Award for Excellence through Technology.

Diplomat Closet Design, West Chester, PA
The custom cabinet, closets and home organization firm’s sales grew 25.1%. “We’ve increased production with screen-to-machine capabilities and renovated our shop, added employees and updated our processes from sale to install,” said Ryan Lindstadt, president. Also purchased was a Biesse router and Brandt edgebander.

Architectural Arts, Des Moines, IA
The architectural millwork firm has improved its turnaround time since transitioning toward producing kits on the CNC that contain all the required pieces for the products.

Employee skills/training

Giffin Interior & Fixture Inc., Bridgeville, PA
Sales for the architectural woodwork firm grew a whopping 101.6%. According to Gordon Giffin, CEO, the company invested in training and software and also focused on improving employee skills and implementing lean initiatives.

Lancaster Cabinet Co., Leola, PA
Sales grew a whopping 72.3% as the custom cabinet and millwork manufacturer implemented lean principles in equipment and inventory arrangements, said David Allgyer, general manager. “We also focused on great customer service and faster turnaround times.”

Toddwood Mfg., High Point, NC
President Todd Fuentes attributes his success –  and 28.2% sales growth – to his skilled employees. An OEM producer of products and furniture from solid wood and veneer panels, he said, “We are adding customers as we add capacity.” The firm also invested in a tenoner and plans to buy a CNC router this year.

Custom Creative Furniture LLC, Lawrenceville, GA
Sales jumped 49.5% for the custom cabinetry firm, which focused on improving productivity, including an upgrade of its finish quality. “We also added skilled employees and developed new skills from within,” said Tom Floyd, owner. “At the end of 2015 we purchased a CNC, as well as a building to expand the shop.”

Bernhard Woodwork Ltd., Northbrook, IL
The architectural woodwork and store fixtures manufacturer invested “in both human and physical capital – training and new machinery – to be more productive,” said Mark Bernhard, president. 2016 sales are expected to be even better, he added, and include plans for an integrated manufacturing system and automated inventory processing.

California Woodworking Inc., Oxnard, CA
Sales for the cabinetry and countertops manufacturer rose 4.4%. “Our ability to retain an extremely lean and highly skilled team contributed to our overall success in 2015,” said Luke Vickery, vice president. The firm also purchased a system that allows materials and labor to be tracked for job costing. “Using this system has allowed our company to adjust our figures for labor and materials so that they are in line with actual amounts required to effectively complete each project.”

American Millwork & Cabinetry, Emmaus, PA
“AMC has taken significant steps to increase productivity, hence becoming more competitive while increasing customer service, cross training and bringing value-added alternatives to our customer,” said George Reitz, president & CEO of the architectural woodwork and commercial casework firm, which grew 38.5% in 2015.

Read more 2016 WOOD 100: Strategies for Success

Marketing Initiatives
Go-to-Market Strategies
Business Strategies
Productivity Enhancements
Technology Integration
Product Innovations
Customer Service
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About the author
Karen Koenig | Editor

Karen M. Koenig has more than 30 years of experience in the woodworking industry, including visits to wood products manufacturing facilities throughout North America, Europe and Asia. As editor of special publications under the Woodworking Network brand, including the Red Book Best Practices resource guide and website, Karen’s responsibilities include writing, editing and coordinating of editorial content. She is also a contributor to FDMC and other Woodworking Network online and print media owned by CCI Media. She can be reached at [email protected]