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Arc Linea sets standards for Italian cabinet manufacturing.

Strip line paces just-in-time philosophy

Italian woodworkers have long been known for their leading edge furniture and cabinet design. Just like Italian food, the artistry of contemporary Italian woodworking is distinctive and meant to be savored.

And besides being on the cutting edge of design, Italy's cabinetmakers have never been afraid to automate. The latest in world-class panel processing and finishing systems can be found in several of Italy's leading cabinet manufacturing facilities.

It is against this backdrop that cabinet manufacturer, Arc Linea Arredamenti, operates--and remains a leader. Arc Linea's rise to the top in a demanding and competitive marketplace is a testimony to its dedication to innovation -- both in product design and on the production floor. Arc Linea's most significant production attribute is its adherence to the relatively new concept of strip panel processing.


Arc Linea was founded in 1930 as a small artisan shop by Sylvio Fortuna, who manufactured everything from furniture to general woodworking. The company was gradually developed by Mr. Fortuna's three sons and became more industrialized. Yet, it was not until the 1960s that Arc Linea began to truly prosper. Leone Battilotti, plant manager of Arc Linea, calls the 1960s the "Golden Era of Italian Cabinetmaking," a period in which Arc Linea began to flourish and the entire Italian woodworking industry also made monumental strides.

Battilotti spoke of important milestones that his company reached in the '60s:

* Arc Linea was the first Italian company to introduce kitchen appliances built into kitchen cabinets. Previously all Italian kitchen cabinets were more similar to a free-standing chest of doom and drawers. It was a time when manufacturers of appliances were not ready to produce an appliance that would fit inside a cabinet. So consequently cabinet manufacturers had to modify their cabinets while appliance manufacturers also had to make modifications.

In effect, according to Battilotti, Arc linea was the first to introduce to Italy the so-called "American" or modular kitchen. This was a major step because it created a need for automation to deliver more precise fits to accommodate the appliances. It was then that Arc Linea had to abandon its artisan's mentality and adopt production line manufacturing.

* Another important Arc Linea milestone was the introduction of wood and painted doors. Up until then, most kitchens had either metal or high-pressure laminate doors.

* Arc Linea was the first Italian company to embrace modern panel processing concepts. "Our history parallels the history of the kitchen cabinet in Italy," said Battilotti. "The first important technological development we embraced was the use of a double-end tenoner, followed by an edgebander (back in the early '60s). In the early '70s the company began using particleboard (instead of plywood) as a substrate for their cases. At the time it was a major step for Arc Linea -- to move into the laminated took. But the market drove them to continue pushing the laminate look, and they quickly adapted all the newest panel production technologies available.

Today Arc Linea is a $60 million kitchen cabinet company that employees approximately 300 people in a 460,000-square-foot plant. It is part of the Arc Linea Group, comprising seven different companies, which manufacture commercial, residential and office furniture. Arc Linea Group consists of 520 employees.

Arc Linea's forte is high-end kitchens, which retail for approximately $20,000. Arc Linea is partnered with another group member, Ayko, which offers more of a mid-range kitchen selling for 20 to 25 percent less.

Production philosophy -- Just-in-time manufacturing with the strip method

According to Battilotti, Arc Linea's production philosophy is to marry a Just-in-Time manufacturing system with complete elimination of inventoried parts where possible and flexibility in manufacturing being the critical concept. Using the strip concept of panel processing, Arc Linea keeps all components moving through the production line without inventorying them, with the exception of case components.

At the center of this philosophy at Arc Linea is an order-driven computer processing unit that controls all panel processing through shipping including sizing, drilling, and assembly. Bar coding is implemented in all of these areas.

In the strip concept of panel processing, the goal is to develop standard widths that are acceptable to as many components as possible. Then, when a panel is initially sized to a specific width, it may be put into production as a single strip, which can ultimately be crosscut into several parts of the same width but varying lengths.

Production time is optimized with the strip method because banding is performed uninterrupted on two sides of a long panel on a double-sided tenoner/bander that will ultimately be crosscut into several pieces. From the crosscut saw, the panels then are banded on the remaining two sides and drilled by means of in-line drilling.

An important facet of strip manufacturing is the use of computerized material handling -- conveyors, panel turners and feed mechanisms.

The strip concept forces a manufacturer to standardize his dimensions as much as possible. The inherent cost savings in standardization are increased even more as the process is brought closer to just-in-time manufacturing.

A strong link in the strip method used at Arc Linea is its Biesse Crossmatic saw, which performs the crosscuts described above. Its ability to crosscut at a rate of 10-12 panels per minute gives Arc Linea as much speed as it needs to move its cabinets out at a rate of 600 units per day.

Arc Linea also uses the versatile Biesse Matrix point-to-point thru-feed drilling and machining center which performs the final machining on the panels as they come out of the fine's two single-sided banders.

Battilotti said the single-sided banders actually give them more flexibility than a double-sided combination machine. Since 70 percent of Arc Linea's work is custom, panel sizes vary too greatly to make use of a combination machine's attributes. Consequently the two single-sided machines can do the job more quickly.

According to Battilotti, because Arc Linea is primarily custom, and cases must be bored with such wide ranging variables, it is more expeditious to divert the strips that will become case components from the strip line into a buffer area to keep the line moving. Battilotti said case strips are inventoried for no more than 15 days before they are put back into production for final crosscutting, banding and boring.

Today's Italian look in kitchen cabinets

Arc Linea relies on outside architectural firms for much of its design inspiration. Design concepts are then put into practical engineering internally.

Battilotti said solid wood is very popular now in Italy. Species in the greatest demand include domestic walnut, cherry and Oak, all in very light, minimal finishes. Contemporary Italian finishes on wood feature the least amount of finishing material as possible, according to Battilotti. "Customers have been demanding the perceived value in wood more than ever before in the last couple of years," he said. "Italians want to see and feel the texture of wood. Some synthetic material is acceptable, but you have to have some wood visible."

Arc Linea buys its solid wood doors from outside sources. Otherwise it produces all of its own high pressure laminate, lacquered and veneered doors in-house.

Battilotti said in the future, the company's goal is to employ the just-in-time concept even more fully, to include even more aspects of their full product range. The Biesse Engineering team, which can re-layout existing factories for better production output or new plants, is working with Arc Linea. Based on Arc Linea's track record, their goals are realistic.
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Copyright 1994, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Arc Linea Arredamenti
Publication:Wood & Wood Products
Date:Aug 1, 1994
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