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Cabinet doors are this company's specialty.

Using a wide array of CNC and dedicated panel and solid wood processing equipment, plus bar codes to track order processing, Decore-ative Specialties has stepped up its ability to better deliver what its cabinet customers order.

Solid wood cabinet doors built to order in any number of species, styles and sizes have long been the strong suit of Decore-ative Specialties Inc.

In the words of Jack Lansford Jr., president and son of the founder of the 28-year-old Irwindale, Calif.-based company, "Solid oak square raised panel doors have been our number one seller for as long as I can recall and they still are. But whereas they may have made up 75 percent of our business a few years ago, they might only represent 55 percent today."

The percentile slide by no means reflects any reduction in popularity for Decore-ative Specialties' solid wood raised panel doors. Instead the dip more aptly represents the strength of the company's push to beef up its production of laminated and veneer raised panel doors. From a relative blip on the screen two years ago, high-pressure laminate and rigid thermal foil doors and drawer fronts now account for about 20 percent of the Southern California company's business, Lansford said.

"We've offered high-pressure laminate doors as part of our product mix for quite a while," Lansford said. "But only since we opened a plant dedicated to manufacturing laminate doors two years ago have we been able to fully capitalize on that segment of the market."

Company backgrounder

Decore-ative Specialties was founded in 1965 by Jack Lansford Sr., a cabinetmaker by trade. Lansford Sr. is now the chief executive officer. A second son, Eric, is senior vice president.

The company initially specialized in the manufacture of hollow core cabinet doors featuring corrugated plywood veneer construction. "Hollow core doors were the cabinet doors of choice out here at the time," Lansford Jr. said. "We still make them, but they are a very small part of our business."

Today, Decore-ative Specialties and its 680 employees operate out of three plants totaling about 250,000 square feet of manufacturing space. Solid wood doors and drawer fronts are produced at facilities in Irwindale and Elk Grove, Calif. The new laminating plant also is located in Irwindale. In total, the plants ship more than 10,000 cabinets each work day.

The laminate plant

Todd Shapiro, plant manager, was a cabinetmaker and customer of Decore-ative Specialties before joining the firm to help start and run the laminating plant.

In addition to some high-pressure laminate presses designed and engineered by the company, the plant features two Wemhoner membrane presses on which the rigid thermal foil products are made. Complementing the laminating equipment are two Homag edgebanders from Stiles Machinery Inc. that are used to apply everything from thin PVC material to 3mm PVC and hardwood edgebands. An Ocmac edgebander is dedicated to applying hardwood lumber edge treatments.

"When you get into membrane pressing you must commit big dollars to inventory because lead times to get a fresh supply of foils can be as long as six to eight weeks," Shapiro said. "Our philosophy is not to say no to a customer. That's why we stock five whites of foil. We also inventory more than 200 colors and styles of PVC edgebanding materials."

Decorating the faces and edges of a panel is only part of the battle to satisfy the individual wants of customers large and small. The plant is well armed with an arsenal of CNC and dedicated woodworking equipment to help keep production humming.

For starters, two Holzma CNC panel saws are used for sizing particleboard and MDF panels to fill big orders. A Hendricks panel saw, with a single blade scoring saw for cleanly cutting high-pressure laminated panels, is used for sizing pieces to fill smaller orders, while an Altendorf sliding table saw tackles specialty pieces and reworks.

For making one-piece, membrane-pressed, profiled doors, MDF is routed on a Heian CNC machining center from Stiles Machinery which has eight heads and a split table. The table has been outfitted with vacuum table hold-downs developed by Decore-ative Specialties to expedite small order processing of parts. Two Shoda CNC routers are also used to help fill custom orders.

In contrast to the high-degree of automated machinery used at the laminating plant, one area that remains largely labor intensive is the sanding department. A half dozen employees use portable orbital sanders made by Aro, Sioux Tools or Dynabrade to bring panels to a smooth, swirl-free finish. This step is especially critical for the profiled MDF doors that will be sprayed with a heat-reactive polyurethane glue and united to a foil in one of the membrane presses.

"The rigid thermal foils, and especially the high-gloss materials, are very unforgiving. The panels have to be totally void of defects and dust or they will be visible in the final product," Shapiro said.

Using bar codes

Perhaps the greatest challenge Decore-ative Specialties faces each day is efficiently processing the vast variety of orders placed by its diverse customer base. At any given moment, the production department juggles a mix of low- and high-volume orders. "We're beginning to do a lot more high-production runs the past two years," Shapiro said, "but our average custom size order is still 14 pieces."

To help process orders at the laminate plant, the company uses bar coding. As each phone and fax order is entered into a computer, an order ticket is produced bearing a universal bar code similar in appearance to what is commonly used by supermarkets.

"We started using bar coding just over two years ago to help maintain our production flow," Shapiro said. "The code reflects important information including the date the order was taken, when it is required to ship, and the color, door style and number of pieces."

Some 25 bar code readers are located throughout the plant at virtually every production station. The operator at each station scans the code with a wand before processing the part. By doing so, the central computer is able to keep track of the progress of each part on its flow through production. Updated reports gained through bar coding help the company keep tabs on individual operator productivity.

Prior to implementing the bar coding system, Shapiro said the company used an order-tracking system consisting of cards filled out manually by operators that were gathered three times a day to monitor the progress of each order. "Now I can get an update about every three minutes." The ability to almost instantly identify where a given project is at in the production pipeline has proven to be a beneficial customer service tool, Shapiro said. "About 20 to 30 times a day, a customer will call to change a detail about his order. With the bar code system we know right away how far along that order is. For instance, if a customer calls to change an edgeband color, we can quickly track what stage his order is at and tell him right away if the part has already been banded or not. If it hasn't we can make the change order with minimal cost to him."

In terms of bar coding, Shapiro said the next step is to purchase a bar code printer that will produce a peel-off sticker to attach to each workpiece. "The peel and stick stickers will help our operators instantly identify the dimensions of each piece," he said.

The solid wood plant

Following the lead of the laminate plant, Lansford said the Irwindale solid wood door manufacturing facility is making the move toward bar coding. "We have seen the advantages. It's another tool for improving our overall efficiency," he said.

The wood plant features a large inventory of kiln-dried lumber, with the heaviest emphasis on red oak, white oak and alder. A Mid-Oregon overhead stock feeding system is used to inspect and grade lumber. Like many woodworking operations, the company is striving to optimize yield of its lumber supply. Consequently its use of a Barr Mullin Compu-Rip and Mereen-Johnson gang ripsaws has taken on even greater importance to reduce waste and contain costs.

One of the solid wood plant's newest pieces of equipment is a Globe membrane press that is used to press veneer over profiled particleboard cores. These cores are united with solid wood stiles and rails. Like the Wemhoner presses, the Globe press features a silicone membrane, some of which are supplied by Goodyear Rubber and Supply.

"The Globe press gives us another way to produce raised panel wood doors at a competitive price," Lansford said. "Right now, we are equipped to offer our customers any style or color imaginable. The only thing we don't do is wet finish, and while that's not a direction we plan to head to, you never know."
COPYRIGHT 1993 Vance Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Decore-ative Specialists Inc
Author:Christianson, Rich
Publication:Wood & Wood Products
Date:Oct 1, 1993
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