Visits to Heister House Millworks, Conestoga Wood Specialties, and millwork firm Tilo Industries kicked off the plant tours at the 2014 Wood Component Manufacturers' Association Fall Conference.

WCMA members trek annually through different wood products manufacturing plants, this year centered in a one-hour radius around Lewisburg, PA.

The first stop was Tilo Industries in Kidron, OH. What began as a two-man moulding shop in 1998 in 3,800 square feet, is now a 25-employee operation serving cut-to-length wood components and moulding to a national customer base from its 24,000 square foot plant.

Surprisingly, especially for a company its size, Tilo Industries operates the factory with an ERP, or Enterprise Resource Planning system. An ERP goes beyond bar code production tracking of machinery and work in progress - it is an integrated suite of business applications covers end-to-end operational processes, integrating to finance, HR, distribution, manufacturing, service and things like the incoming lumber supply chain.

"That was a tremendous help to Tilo," said Keith Bingaman, who conducted our tour. "Most shops our size have nothing like this."

Even the profile knife cutting operation, for example, is tracked by Tilo's ERP. Knife sharpness, by the way, is strategic to Tilo Industries operation. Customers rely on clean, ready-to-finish mouldings cut so cleanly by the knives. "Because we keep our knives sharp, clients don't need to finish as much," Bingaman noted.

As we entered the plant we encountered a late-model Weinig Dimter Opticut S90 cross cut saw, and then another cool thing at Tilo Industries: a Profipress radio frequency gluing press, also from Weinig. The high-frequency radio wave technology shortens pressing times and joints are fully cured and ready for sanding and crosscutting right after they come out.

The plant is structured to allow Tilo to also qualify as an FSC-certified producer. 

Heister House Millworks, Pleasant Mills, PA, has been manufacturing mouldings and millwork since 1988. Its craftsmen take kiln dried wood from a their suppliers and convert it to bundles of hardwood flooring, moulding, and various degrees of finished products. Several skids of wood compenents - looking like fireplace mantels with dentile moulding - were wrapped and ready to ship as the WCMA tour walked through. More of the components were in production as well.

As might be imagined for such an established millwork operation, Heister Millwork's knife room has an extensive collection of cutters and profile knives. Drawers of sample wood profiles are coded to match the corresponding blades.

One of the first stops was at a Northwood CNC, which was wielding a sawblade to cut radius moulding from solid wood. Towering stacks of kiln-dried hardwood was processed through the numerous stages of planing, ripping and cross cutting. Planing flooring boards down to a uniform standard 15/16-inch thickness is the plant standard

A gang rip saw received boards delivered by a planer, then scanned by a Cameron Automation Quick Rip rip saw optimization system. In the same footprint as an operator hand feeds a stack of lumber,  the Quick Rip flash laser patterns on the boards designating the rip cut pattern.

"The laser tells the operator where it wants to rip it, and he can agree or disagree," said Lorne Nittle, a co-founder of Heister who oversees production.

After ripping, boards destined to become bundles of tongue-in-groove hardwood flooring were run through moulders and chop saws at various stations. Finally in a sorting room, a turntable for hand assembling finished floor board bundles were the last step before shrink wrap and strapping.

Conestoga Wood Specialties had two nearby plants - one in Beavertown and the other in Beaver Springs, PA. Conestoga, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, operates five plants altogether. The first stop was the 210 employee Beavertown plant, where the Hahn family greeted the WCMA group and hosted lunch.

In orienting the tour, plant manager Tom Gingrich noted, "We have enough capacity for our needs through the next couple of years." About six truckloads of lumber are delivered to the plant daily, Gingrich said. Lumber is checked for moisture content and for stress patterns, then moves into a Newman Whitney planer. Following Conestoga stages incoming materials through a Rip-First program and then a Chop First Program.

The Beavertown location serves as a dimension mill supplying Conestoga’s Custom and OEM divisions.

Beaver Springs, located a few miles from the dimension mill, is home to OEM and contract manufacturing for high volume products.  Overall, Conestoga’s manufacturing capabilities are spread across five facilities.

During our Beaver Springs tour, product from Beavertown was arriving as the raw material for solid wood, veneer plywood, and doors with a center panel of a center panel of decoratively routed MDF. Both are veneer and MDF styles are growing in popularity.

The 87,000 square foot Beaver Springs plant has 150 employees.

Conestoga builds its business on a reputation for dependability in product performance and on time delivery -increasingly critical in a just-in-time manufacturing world. One door run we saw included embedded RFID chips - which silently signal the location of component doors and drawers for the customer at  the next step in the supply chain.

On September 16, WCMA tour stops include Bingaman & Son in Kreamer, PA, and Wood Mode Industries, Kreamer, PA. Wood-Mode’s office and manufacturing complex of 1.3 million square feet employs more than 1,000 people, many of them second and third generation employees with their own family tradition for crafting Wood-Mode cabinetry. The company has a heritage of building the best cabinetry possible by combining the superior skills of these experienced craftspeople with the finest materials and most advanced technology.

Bingaman & Son, Kreamer, PA - Bingaman & Son Lumber, Inc. supplies kiln-dried Appalachian hardwoods for a wide variety of uses. The company is comprised of a main lumberyard in Kreamer, a second yard in Clarendon, and sawmills in Mill Hall and St Mary’s. All the company’s facilities are located in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains of Pennsylvania, a region known worldwide for the color and texture of its hardwoods. The BING label assures customers around the globe that they are receiving consistent Bingaman & Son quality. In 2006 Bingaman shares of company stock were purchased by an ESOP, making all eligible employees partial owners of this family owned business.

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