22 Tips to improve woodworking productivity: WOOD 100 Strategies for Success

These woodworking manufacturers are at the top 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 2017 WOOD 100 class, which includes cabinet manufacturers, residential and office furniture producers, architectural woodworkers, wood component manufacturers, closet companies and more.

Ultimate Cabinets, Vera, OK —  Sales at the cabinetry and components manufacturer rose 50.9% in 2016, and should be even better in 2017.

“Over the last two years we have made a dedicated shift toward cutting cabinet components for multifamily contractors and other cabinetmakers,” said Owner Jeff Finney. ‘We have also invested in new technology and equipment to provide a ready-to-assemble product that is unmatched in the marketplace.”

Ultimate Cabinets now offers RTA cabinetry using Lockdowel technology. In addition to a Laguna CNC drill and dowel for the Lockdowels, the company also purchased a CNC edgebander with return conveyor.  Plans for 2017 include constructing a new facility and the purchase of flatline spray equipment. “We also are adding a second CNC line to gain additional capacity.”

Inova LLC, Altamont, NY —  “We attribute our success over the last year to Lean Principles, introducing new products and focusing on reducing defects,” said Sarah Bucey, director of finance at Inova, a maker of multi-functional furniture for hotels, student housing and micro-apartments, including Sofa-WallBeds, TableBeds and WallBeds, as well as cabinetry.

“Our Director of Operations greatly increased productivity by adopting lean principles and 5S into our daily work lives. He encourages employee development and promoting within, which has also encouraged better work from our staff.”

In 2016, Inova added a second production line, with a Holzma saw, Homag edgebander, and two Weeke CNC machines. And in 2017 Inova is doubling its size, from 36,000 to 72,000 square feet, and adding a master line with multiple sub-lines feeding off an Intellistore panel management system. More technology is also planned in 2017, including a Makor spray system.

“We are constantly looking at ways to improve our product for our end customers,” she added. A 2016 introduction is already a high grossing item, and the 2017 shallow depth Sofa-WallBed is expected “to become our most popular product within a few years.”

Canyon Creek Cabinet Co., Monroe, WA —   Improvements in productivity and new products helped spur the cabinet manufacturer’s sales to rise 19.2% in 2016.

“Over the last five years, Canyon Creek has implemented and upgraded to the latest equipment and production technology focused on standardizing and improving manufacturing production processes,” noted Cindy Draper, marketing manager. “This has eliminated redundancies and variances in its cabinet parts and has provided customers with consistent, dependable and quality products.”

Among the equipment upgrades in 2016 “for quality, efficiency and capacity” were CNC routers, a panel saw, sanders, and dovetailers. Planned and made purchases in 2017 include: a veneer sander, paint mixing system and frameless assembly equipment.

Canyon Creek manufactures four product lines: Cornerstone, a custom framed cabinets line; Millennia, a custom frameless cabinetry line; Katana value-priced frameless cabinets; and Canyon Creek Closets Plus for the home organization and storage market.

Goebel Fixture Co., Hutchinson, MN —  Looking to improve productivity and automate the material sorting and retrieval operation in its Minnetonka facility, the store fixture maker installed a Homag IntelliStore panel storage and handling system.

According to supplier Stiles Machinery, the IntelliStore will load, stack, retrieve, prioritize, sort and store panel materials, reducing labor costs and maximizing yields.  “The ability to keep inventory in control, neat and organized is huge,” said Troy Rohach, plant manager.

“Our staff no longer has to lift heavy sheets or manually load them, it’s all done automatically. The area, which had required two or three workers, is now run by just one,” said Rohach. Goebel also plans to implement an ERP system and add 3D modeling capabilities.

More Top Producers

5-Acre Mill, Hicksville, OH
GM Tim Becker attributes the company’s continued lean implementation with helping the hardwood component manufacturer’s sales grow 13.5%. “We have the gambit of woodworking operations, supporting the office furniture and door industries.” Aiding productivity was the purchase of a CNC cutoff saw.

Augusta Cabinets & Casework, Evans, GA
“We focused on our quality and would remake anything that was not up to our standards,” said Frankie Jordan, COO.  Sales grew 78.6% at the architectural millwork and custom interior firm. Productivity gains also came from new equipment, including a panel saw and edgebander from Stiles Machinery, with purchases of a beam saw, case clamp, vertical CNC, material store system planned.

Advanced Cabinets, Hayden, ID
“We implemented some new ERP software and have started to lay up our panels and veneers in-house. This has led to shorter lead times and higher quality,” said Joe McCormick, managing director of the custom millwork and casework firm. Also added was a new moulder, sander, edgebander and a second manufacturing location, 2016 sales rose 64.6%.

Wilco Cabinet Makers Inc., Green Bay, WI
“For nine years now (and counting) Wilco has been practicing lean manufacturing and with that we have been able to ‘cut the fat’ and focus in on what is right for our clients,” said Brandon Raven, design/sales. Quality control and service are a priority “and we truly strive to meet or exceed any expectations.” Wilco added a beam saw and vacuum lift in 2016, and is purchasing another CNC machine. Sales grew 12.6%.

Lexington Manufacturing Inc., Coon Rapids, MN
“A more intensive focus on strategic planning initiatives and accountability measures directed at product development, sales and productivity,” helped spur sales 11.5%, said Bill DeWitt, sales manager. The components maker also upgraded its ERP and shop floor controls to streamline communications and added more profile wrapping and material handling equipment.

Crestwood Mfg. Inc., Paoli, IN
The residential furniture maker is optimizing production by “developing new ways to use existing machinery,” said Chip Dooley, plant manager.

Coriander Designs, Woodinville, WA
The commercial furniture maker attributes its success to “reorganizing and helping our management team get back to our lean philosophy,” said Ryan Brown, VP of marketing. “This help us to improve meeting lead times and reduced on rework.” It also added a more efficient SCMI CNC.

Ackerson-Stevens, Ware Shoals, SC
“We have been increasing our capacity each year, adding storage, machinery, personnel and fleet services,” said Ralph Campbell, president. The custom mouldings and flooring firm has a $4 million lumber inventory and 18 moulders. 2016 sales rose 7.1%.

Dunning Displays, North Walpole, NH
Sales at the retail fixtures and display firm grew 8.1%. “We increased our marketing efforts, purchased new equipment and technology and added quality personnel,” said Todd Walker, president/CEO.

A-LAM-COR, Placentia, CA
Improved processes, quality control, and “Doing it right the first time,” helped the manufacturer of Euro box cabinets and solid surface tops grow sales 3.3%, said    Howard Pyle, president.

Shaw Woodworking, Cotuit, MA
“Our continuous improvement is in our product, our processes and in ourselves.  We make those changes while keeping an open mind on the impact that they have and still allowing us to be creative and innovative giving our clients superior results,” said James Shaw, president of the custom cabinet & millwork firm.

Exotic Hardwoods & Veneers, Oakland, CA
Sales at the architectural panel and veneer maker grew 7.1%, due in part to increased throughput and process improvements, said Don Kemp, plant manager.

CSD Custom Woodworks, Lindstrom, MN
CNC machinery and new software helped the cabinet firm’s sales grow 36.6%, said Chris Dalbec, owner. CSD purchased a CNC edgebander and laser, and plans to add more shapers and door equipment.

California Woodworking Inc., Oxnard, CA
“The key steps that led to our success in 2016 included the ability of the company and its employees to respond to demand from our numerous customers,” said Luke Vickery, president. A new edgebander in 2016 reduced fabrication labor and a laser templating device cut installation time resulting in higher margins and accuracy, he added. 2017 plans call to add a Manufacturing Execution System to better monitor progress of multiple projects on the shop floor. Sales at the fixture and commercial cabinetry maker grew 22.3%.

The Closet Doctor, Lincoln, CA
Customer service, “beyond their expectations,” helped the storage solutions firm’s sales grow 6.3%. “We achieved this through a lean sales and design process as well as focusing on lean manufacturing techniques that allow us to meet our customer’s needs quickly and more economically than our competition,” said Derrek Holland, president. “We do this by choosing great employees and growing together to be a better company.” New equipment included a Biesse nested CNC.

Caldwell Cabinets of NC LLC, dba Caseworx, Hudson, NC
The custom cabinetry, millwork, closets and components firm grew a whopping 254.8%. “We focused on efficiency, from estimating through installation, and recognizing the talent to place individuals in roles where they can be successful,” said GM John Bostian. In 2016, the company purchased a larger spray booth to increase finishing capacity and a grinder to eliminate scrap disposal costs. Focus this year is on software and hardware to streamline processes.

RTE Cabinets & Millwork LLC, Baton Rouge, LA
“We developed a company-wide production schedule that allows everyone to know what’s coming and going and if we’re on track,” said Rodney Tassistro, owner. Engaging the team in key processes helped improve productivity and grow sales 143.7%. 

Cabinet Component Innovations, Bessemer, AL
President Horace Ward said, “streamlining production operations, combined with market growth in new territories,” helped the custom components maker’s sales grow 27.3%.

Read more 2017 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]