Cabinetmaker goes against the grain.
Premium finishes and numerous style and color options are typically not strong selling points for stock cabinets. One cabinet company that is on a mission to change all this is Brandom Manufacturing Inc. of Keene, TX.
Brandom is one of the cabinet industry's fastest-growing players. In the past five years, the company's sales have soared, increasing by more than 25 percent annually. In 1996 its plant processed more than 2 million board feet of lumber and produced 200,000 cabinets.
While more and more stock cabinetmakers are looking at home centers for the promise of higher sales volume, Brandom is taking a different track. The company is committed to selling through independent kitchen and bath dealers and providing the kind of quality and service that goes with the territory. This includes staying abreast of changing consumer preferences and continuously updating its operations to remain competitive. Recently the company took on a new challenge that sooner or later all large wood finishers must face - environmental regulation compliance. (See sidebar page 78.)
Located in the small college town of Keene, Brandom was built on the strong values and ethics of the local community. It was founded in 1956 and began as a workshop where students from Southern Adventists University could learn about the fundamentals of woodworking while earning money for their tuition. Pews, pulpits and cabinets were the company's original product line.
Much has changed since the first piece of oak entered the doors of Brandom's shop. Its work force has grown to 240 and the facility has expanded to a modern 175,000-square-foot plant. Many of Brandom's employees have more than two decades of experience in the cabinetry business. This is just one of the strengths that is helping the company grow in the highly competitive stock cabinet market.
Brandom's product line is composed of framed stock kitchen and bathroom cabinets. Customers can choose from 66 combinations of colors and styles of cabinets finished in oak, maple, decorative laminates or thermofoil white. Cabinets are also offered with a variety of options such as concealed or exposed hinges; etched, leaded or mullion-glass doors; all wood drawers; and adjustable shelving. In total, Brandom maintains 800 associated catalog items.
All of the company's products are distributed exclusively through kitchen and bath cabinet dealers in the United States, Canada and Mexico. Dealers are encouraged to provide feedback on the level of support furnished by various company departments. Brandom says it backs its dealers with a three-year, no-questions-asked warranty. If the customer is not satisfied with the product, Brandom will ship a replacement free of charge within five days.
The company has also worked out an arrangement with Sherwin-Williams, its finishing materials supplier, that allows the customer to walk into any one of the paint manufacturer's 2,200 stores for an exact stain match.
Eldon Spady, general manager and executive vice president of Brandom, said the company has a different formula for success than most stock cabinetmakers. "In the past it was not feasible for a stock cabinet company to offer a wide assortment of cabinet styles and options. Today, due to advances in woodworking machinery and computer-based inventory systems, almost any type of customer preference can be met economically. As far as distribution, for us, it just made good sense to stay with our dealers. While home centers may offer the potential for higher sales volume, you lose control over quality and customer service - selling benefits that helped build our company."
Brandom's business strategy appears to be paying off. In 1996 its sales topped $18 million. Spady said he anticipates that the company will achieve comparable growth this year and, as a result of NAFTA and Brandom's strong presence in Canada and Mexico, should realize double-digit sales increases for several years beyond 2000.
The Finishing Process
One of the most striking features of Brandom's cabinets are their deep rich finishes. To achieve this look, a combination of advanced finishing procedures and specially formulated products are employed.
Quality control steps begin when wood shipments arrive at the dock. Seasoned employees train their eyes to separate the wood based on color and grain characteristics for construction of raised panel doors and frames. Because Brandom limits its number of lumber suppliers, wide variations in these wood properties are uncommon. The separated wood is assessed by a computer program containing information about orders that need to be processed during the shift. The wood is then processed in the company's rough mill to obtain the greatest yield and tagged with an order number. Brandom makes approximately 95 percent of its doors.
After doors and frames have passed through a Timesavers planer/sander, they go through a series of sanding steps. The company has linked two widebelt sanders via automatic conveyors so the door components can be sanded smooth top and bottom - in one pass. To take out cross grain marks, the wood is then sent through an orbital brush sander with 60-micron (260-grit) sanding pads. Each piece is visually inspected and any defects are hand sanded.
According to Randy Owens, Brandom's production manager, the elaborate sanding process is a basis for the company's quality finish. "Our sanding process utilizes both automation and craftsmanship. With the new sanding equipment we can obtain a much smoother finish without hampering production. There are still some things that a machine can't do, however, so we rely heavily on the skills of our work force to eliminate imperfections."
Doors and frames that have passed inspection are placed on a fiat-line conveyor that takes the components to the finishing area. Specially formulated stains from Sherwin-Williams are applied first using HVLP spray guns. After a two-minute flash-off period, the wood is coated with Sher-Wood catalyzed vinyl sealer. The product prevents the wood from absorbing or releasing moisture and creates a strong bond between the wood substrate and the topcoat.
A three-minute pass through an infrared gas-fired oven accelerates the curing process. After a light sanding and dust blow off, Sher-Wood water white catalyzed conversion varnish is applied. It is designed to provide a rich appearance, chemical and print resistance and fast-dry, high-build properties.
The 1,000-foot-long conveyor journey normally takes 55 minutes to complete. This is based on a line speed of 16 feet per minute. Owens makes sure temperature and hydrometer readings in the area are taken between each shift. Speeds are adjusted in accordance to changing conditions. Owens also closely monitors air flow and filtering in the area. In addition to being isolated from the rest of the plant, the finishing area is equipped with a positive air make-up system and has numerous exhaust fans and good circulation. This not only helps speed up the curing process, it minimizes the amount of dust and other airborne contaminants that can cause finishing defects.
The Road to Compliance
Owens is proud of the quality produced by the company's new finishing line. Reports also have shown that defects are significantly down. Even with this information, however, the company knew changes were necessary. While the plant was located in what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has designated as a "nonattainment area" and was not in violation of National Ambient Air Quality Standards, it decided to voluntarily reduce its volatile organic compound and hazardous air pollutants emissions before standards became mandatory regulations. Owens said he was particularly concerned about emissions generated from the stains that were used.
Owens worked closely with Sherwin-Williams technical experts to investigate possible options. The group ruled out switching to a water-based stain due to the large investment in equipment that would be required. Mark Miles, a chemist for Sherwin-Williams, suggested Brandom could greatly reduce its HAPs emissions by reformulating its stain. Solvents identified by the Clean Air Act Amendment of 1990 as smog-producing, ozone-depleting or health-endangering, and included on the list of 189 chemicals governed under HAPs standards, were removed and replaced with more environmentally-friendly substitutes. Then followed several months of testing to determine how much of the new solvents to add for duplication of Brandom's established colors.
With the successful conversion to a HAPs-compliant stain, Brandom is ready for the next step. The company is looking at the possibility of further reducing harmful emissions by reformulating its vinyl sealers and conversion varnishes.
RELATED ARTICLE: HAPs: The Next Wave of Wood Finishing Regulation
BY BILL BALLWAY
Wood finishers who are conscientiously minding their Ps and Qs regarding VOC regulations should be aware of a new breed of environmental mandates - restrictions against the emissions of Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAPs).
HAPs are the 189 chemicals - including the solvents toluene, methanol and xylene - identified in Title III of the Clean Air Act of 1990 as smog-producing, ozone-depleting or health-endangering. To comply with Title III, wood finishers need to meet certain air-quality guidelines relating to the application of coatings or adhesives containing these chemicals. Compliance deadlines are November 1997 for companies emitting 50 tons or more of HAPs annually and November 1998 for companies emitting less than 50 tons. New sources must comply immediately.
HAPs regulations apply to finishers of wood cabinets, furniture, fixtures, partitions or components having the potential to emit 10 tons of a single HAP annually or 25 tons of a combination of HAPs. These finishers must restrict their emissions to a level determined by the ratio between HAPs and solids. The acceptable level under the new regulation is 1.0 pound of HAPs per 1.0 pound of solids for an existing finishing line and 1.0 pound of HAPs per 0.8 pound of solids for a new finishing source.
Not all the chemicals in the regulation are treated equally. Among the 189 HAPs are certain volatile pollutants. These chemicals are of even greater concern because they are known to be toxic, cancer-causing or likely to produce undesirable health effects. They are subjected to even closer scrutiny and stricter usage levels as follows:
* Dimethyl Formamide, 1.0 ton/year;
* Formaldehyde (if used as a chemical reactant in coating), 0.2 ton/year;
* Methylene Chloride, 4.0 tons/year;
* 2-Nitropropane, 1.0 ton/year;
* Isophorone, 0.7 ton/year;
* Styrene Monomer, 1.0 ton/year;
* Phenol, 0.1 ton/year;
* Diethanolamine, 5.0 tons/year;* 2-Methoxyethanol, 10.0 tons/year; and
* 2-Ethoxyethl Acetate, 5.0 tons/year.
If a wood finisher exceeds these amounts, the company is required to develop a plan to bring its usage level down.
How to Comply
While virtually all wood finishers will have to make at least minor modifications to their finishing operations in order to comply, HAPs regulations are achievable, largely due to options that were added to the mandates at Regulatory Negotiation, or Reg-Neg. During Reg-Neg, representatives from the wood finishing and coatings industries met with environmental groups and state and federal environmental agencies to hammer out a set of standards that could be satisfied in a variety of ways. The compliance alternatives are outlined in the National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP), published by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
According to NESHAP, the HAPs standard can be met by:
1) using all compliant coatings;
2) averaging the HAPs emitted during the various phases of the finishing process such as sealer, basecoat and topcoat applications; or
3) using control devices such as incinerators or adsorbers that capture or destroy HAPs before they are released into the atmosphere.
Switching to compliant coatings is the most direct approach for achieving compliance. As happened when VOC regulations were imposed, coating manufacturers are quickly reformulating their product lines to meet the new HAPs mandates. This is being accomplished by developing new polymers and co-reactants that require lower percentages of hazardous chemicals or solvents to flow and level the same as traditional finishes. Certified Product Data Sheets and/or Material Safety Data Sheets available from coatings suppliers contain information the wood finisher can use to determine whether a particular coating complies. Still, it is the finisher - not the supplier - who is responsible for assuring that emission levels have not been exceeded.
The second approach, averaging HAPs emissions across finishing steps, allows a company to continue to use a product that is out of compliance as long as the average of the entire finishing process falls within the 1.0 pound HAPs per 1.0 pound of solids limit. This permits a finisher to combine tried and tested products with newer HAPs compliant stains, primers and topcoats.
Use of control devices such as incinerators and adsorbers, the third alternative, provides the wood finisher with even greater latitude in terms of finishing materials and application equipment used. However, since these add-on devices can be costly, flexibility of this kind may come at too steep a price for some.
When all is said and done, NESHAP could reduce emissions of HAPs from wood finishing operations by as much as 59 percent, a substantial improvement with significant potential benefits for the environment. The benefits are not without a price, however. The EPA estimates the cost of compliance for wood finishers at $7 million for capital improvements and $15.3 million in annual costs to achieve compliance.
For the Record
Simply complying with NESHAP is not enough. Wood finishers must prove they are in compliance by keeping accurate records. Finishers must keep a copy of a CPDS on file for every finish, thinner, adhesive, etc., used in the factory. Separate records for VHAPs also must be filed. If compliance is achieved by averaging, the finisher needs to record the calculation made each month. When add-on control devices are employed, documentation is necessary to demonstrate the system's efficiency. NESHAP also requires that certain reports be filed, including an initial and semiannual compliance report.
For more information on NESHAP and other environmental regulations, wood finishers should contact the EPA office in the state in which they operate.
Bill Ballway is director of chemical coatings marketing for the Sherwin-Williams Co.
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|Title Annotation:||Brandom Manufacturing Inc.|
|Publication:||Wood & Wood Products|
|Date:||Nov 1, 1997|
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