Editor's note: This is the third installment of Wood & Wood Products' Editor-in-Chief Karen Koenig's travel blog, chronicling her ongoing visits to Chinese wood products plants as part of a delegation of U.S. woodworking executives. Photos were not allowed inside these two facilities.

In some ways, Chinese factories are like no others in North America. Even the smallest must have living quarters on campus for workers, have available meals, as well as provide other subsidies. And just like with the other wood products companies visited earlier on this trip, the owners of Fortune Furniture Co. and Decca Group, visited on March 3, must support and sustain more than 1,000 workers each — for as long as the workers choose.

But in other ways, they are similar to their North American counterparts. Despite the availability of labor, more and more Chinese companies are investing in technology as a way to increase the quality and quantity of their products, and to ensure they too remain competitive in the global marketplace.

Previously, I recapped the manufacturing at Kinwai and Oppein, toured March 1, and Hong Kong Royal Furniture and Sogal Furniture (Sofia), toured March 2. Below is a quick look at Fortune Furniture and Decca Furniture. Going on this week, the Tour of Technology to China is sponsored by Stiles Machinery in conjunction with Homag China Golden Field Ltd.

Fortune Furniture's manufacturing operation

Based in Hong Kong, but with a factory in Dongguan City, Guangdong, Fortune Furniture has, quite literally, made its fortune as an IKEA supplier. At the 245,000-square-foot Dongguan plant, 530 Fortune employees produce veneered Billy bookcases. According to Chan Oi Man, Fortune board chairman, sales of the bookcases were 1.3 million units in 2010; he anticipates that figure increasing to 1.5 million for 2011. 2010 annual sales for the entire company were $100 million.

The Billy bookcases constitute 50 percent of the company’s products; the remaining production is divided equally between OEM products and Fortune’s own brand of furniture, which is sold in 100 retail stores around China. The three plants combined constitute 645,800 square feet of manufacturing capability.

“To be an IKEA supplier, you have to be competitive. It’s not only a matter of machinery, but you also have to have social responsibility,” Chan says.

For the manufacture of the IKEA furniture, Fortune uses panels that meet CARB 2 requirements. The company has three cutting lines, four veneer press lines, two lines for formatting/machining, two UV lacquer lines, four lines to handle packaging and three lines for loading. Fortune also has an in-house lab and climate chamber on the premises.

The machining process begins with the cutting of panels to size. Among the machines, Fortune has a large Holzma angular saw system that works in conjunction with a Liftomat stacker/sorter to move the panels to another Holzma front loader — this is reportedly the largest angular cutting line for a furniture factory in China. Overall, the cutting capacity of the three saw lines is approximately 161 square feet an hour.

The cut panels are veneered in-house on one of four press lines with a capacity of pressing approximately more than 7,000 square feet of veneer per hour. A typical line consists of a Kuper brush cleaner, glue spreader and Kuper press. Employees will hand trim the excess veneer from the panels as they exit the press.

The next step in the production process is edgebanding. The company uses a sequence of Homag double-sided edgebanders with turners in order to band all four sides in a single flow. Material handling is handled by Bargstedt equipment. From the edgebanders, a sequence of three Homag Optimat BST 500 machines drill holes and route for the baseboard before sending the panels to be split into two by a Homag throughfeed. According to Chan, the company has the capacity to produce 300 sets of bookcases per hour.

For the finishing touch, Fortune has two UV lines, incorporating Heesemann and other sanders. Combined, the finishing lines have a capacity of more than 12,200 square feet per hour.

Decca Group's manufacturing operation

Founded in 1973, Dongguan City, Guangdong-based Decca produces office and hospitality furniture for the U.S. market, as well as residential furniture for the U.S., Europe and Asian markets. At the 1.5 million-square-foot facility, Decca produces more than 19,000 pieces per month. According to Decca Director Tony Tai, the company employs 1,500 people at its factory and posted sales in excess of $100 million last year.

Approximately 16 percent of sales are from exports, mostly to the United States. Decca also has three offices in the United States: Minneapolis (office/Decca Contract), High Point (residential) and Atlanta (hospitality). Customers include: Four Seasons Hotels, Hyatt Corp., Ritz Carlton, Hilton and the Starwood Group of hotels.

The company uses a combination of solid wood and panel processing for the manufacture of its products. Decca has both cold presses and hot presses on the premises for the pressing and layup of veneer.

For the machining process, panels are cut to size on Holzma saws and edgebanded on a variety of machines including Brandt and  Homag edgebanders, the latter with premilling stations at the top and bottom. The company also uses vertical saws and Heesemann as well as other sanders. All of the CNC machining centers are centralized in one location, for both flat and 3D routing of solid wood and panel parts. Decca uses a combination of Homag and other CNC machines for the routing process.

What stands out about Decca is its successful merging of handcraftsmanship with technology. Located around the corner from the bank of CNC programmers, six employees spend their day hand carving intricate designs for the company’s residential furniture pieces.

For the finishing application, Decca uses both a UV flatline system and Venjakob sprayers on the flat parts. Spray guns are used to finish non-flat parts, which are then moved through a series of ovens for drying.

Tour of Technology to China
Stiles Machinery sponsored the tour in conjunction with Homag China Golden Field Ltd. The tour began on Saturday, Feb. 26, and runs through Saturday, March 5. Among the companies to be toured are: Kinwai Furniture, Oppein, Sogal, Royal Furniture, Fortune, Decca (group picture) and Mingzhu Furniture.

In addition to myself, those on the tour include: Craig Elias - executive vice president, AWI Quality Certification Corp.; Fari Vakili – owner, Cabinets by Design; Jay Streu - president & CEO, Mary Streu – vice president of operations, and Ann Duebner – vice president of sales & marketing, Eggers Industries; Peter Funder – president, Funder America Inc.; Tim Schad – chairman & CEO, and Mike Fedrigo - vice president of operations, Nucraft; Dan Sauder - vice president product & process engineering, and Steve Jones – vice president of manufacturing, Sauder Woodworking; Todd Wegman – president, Stevens Industries; Eric Wolff – president & CEO, the Stow Co.; Doug Clausen – president, and Jason Farver – vice president/architectural wood doors, VT Industries; Jim Elliker – owner, Victory Woodworks; and Ricardo Villarreal – vice president of engineering, WoodCrafters Home Products LLC.

Participating from Stiles Machinery are: Dave Rothwell – executive vice president, Steve Waltman – vice president/sales & marketing, Russ Suor – vice president/technology, and Doug Maat – Homag product manager. Those from Homag China Golden Field include Addie Kwan - managing director, Sandy Ho – director, and Alan Ho - CEO.

For information on upcoming Stiles' Tours of Technology, visit stilesmachinery.com


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