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California manufacturer in it to the finish.

Instead of fleeing San Diego-area environmental regulations and moving its production facilities to Mexico like some other wood products manufacturers have done, Martin Furniture has stuck it out and, with the help of its suppliers, is making more products while using less finishing materials.

Located about an hour north of the U.S./Mexican border, it would have been a short trip for Martin Furniture to move its production facilities to Mexico to escape the onus of Southern California's wood finishing regulations.

The company gave thought to the possibility of a move, but ultimately decided not to. Instead Martin Furniture took a long look at its finishing operation and researched the market for new materials and equipment to help reduce the amount of solvents becoming airborne.

"We like San Diego and we don't want to leave," said Rich Hartig, operations manager for El Cajon-based Martin Furniture. "We are willing to go the extra yard and so far it has been doable."

It has been 'doable' in part because this OEM manufacturer of entertainment centers and office furniture was willing to invest money and time for a new finishing system in an attempt to reduce VOC emissions.

In mid-1994, the company switched from a compressed-air high-volume, low-pressure (HVLP) finishing system to a turbine-powered HVLP finishing system designed by Can-Am Engineered Products.

HVLP systems produce an air stream that consists of high volumes of air in excess of 11 cfm while the pressure is less than 10 psi. The low pressure translates into greater transfer efficiency and less overspray. Because of this, HVLP systems are one of the few systems that are allowed under most state regulations and newly proposed Clean Air Act Amendments.

There are two basic types of HVLP systems. Those that are powered via compressed air and those that are turbine powered. The compressed air systems cost less initially and hook up to air compressors - a common piece of equipment at many woodworking shops. While the turbine-powered system costs more initially, Hartig said that the company is getting a greater level of transfer efficiency than ever before and, as a result, is using less finish.

This fact is demonstrated by Hartig's numbers. Since purchasing the system, the company is manufacturing more, with less finishing materials. Today it produces 300 cabinets daily, as opposed to 250 produced daily in 1994. During the same period, Martin Furniture has experienced a 40 percent reduction in the amount of stain used and a 20 percent reduction in lacquers. Hartig attributes this to the higher transfer efficiency provided by the turbine-powered system. "That saves us roughly $350 a day," Hartig said.

Beyond the savings on finishing materials, the new system has meant using less ancillary materials such as rags and air filters, plus clean-up time has been reduced. Filters that needed to be changed daily are now charged twice a week. Daily clean-up time that used to take 30 minutes now takes 20 and the company gets an extra 10 minutes of productivity a day.

The new system also freed up the air compressor which was on the verge of being "maxed out," Hartig said. The company uses pneumatic hand sanders in tits finishing process and the combination of the sanders and the finishing system was placing a strain on the air compressor system.

"The biggest thing we had to over come was asking ourselves why we were paying the $50,000 (the cost of the turbine-system) seemingly for air and a fancy vacuum cleaner," Hartig said. Martin Furniture purchased two turbine systems, each supplying power for two spray guns, and recouped the cost of the system in about six months.

On the growth path

Martin Furniture was rounded 15 years ago in El Cajon, Calif., about 15 miles east of San Diego. The company currently has a 53,000-square-foot production facility in El Cajon that employs 155 people and a 56,000-square-foot facility employing 175 people in San Diego. The company is in the process of purchasing an 80,000-square-foot warehouse down the road from its production facility in El Cajon.

The new warehouse will free up 20,000 to 30,000 square feet of space currently being used for warehousing at the El Cajon plant. This space will be used for production and will help the company to meet a fairly aggressive sales goal.

Currently, Martin Furniture sells about $25 million worth of products each year, much of which is distributed to warehouse club outlets. In the next two years, the company hopes to raise its sales to $40 million, about a 67 percent growth.

Martin Furniture's sales goal may seem a little optimistic, but this would not be the first to time the company has undergone significant growth spurts. As recently as eight years ago, Martin Furniture was a $2 million concern "Five years ago," Hartig said, "we started to take on bigger business. We started selling to warehouse clubs and our sales began to grow."

As the company grew, however, it faced a daily dilemma. With each new order and each new project, it came up against Southern California's strict finishing guidelines which threatened to slow production capabilities.

Martin Furniture was initially limited, by permit, to using 100 pounds of finish a day. But because the company was able to show the Air Pollution Control Division - the, local governing agency in San Diego County a - commitment to reducing its VOC emissions, the company received a variance allowing it to use slightly more finishing material.

Martin Furniture is also in the process of experimenting with its finishes. The APCD allowed the company to use chlorinated solvent-based finishes, but the US. Environmental Protection Agency has disallowed the production of the material. Now, the company is using up the chlorinated solvent-based finishes that it has in stock - about enough to last through the year. In the interim it is experimenting, with help from its finishing supplier Lilly Industries Inc., with water-based products.

"Every time it comes to developing a new product we are faced with the finishing limits. We have to ask ourselves, 'What can we spray today?'" Hartig said. "It is not like Los Angeles. We have no grandfather laws that allow us to buy permits that allow a company to spray 15,000 pounds a day. We were forced to get our product out and stay under the limits."

Because of this Hartig, who constantly scans for new technology and machinery, began looking into the turbine powered system. He said he had his reservations. He worried about productivity falling off, or implementing a new system that would change the look of the product - a look that helped the company's sales rise by some 1,100 percent in eight years.

Things did not start well. The company brought in Can-Am engineers for a three-day testing period, and "For the first two days of the test, while they were learning our methods, the system was slowing us down tremendously. I said, 'This is not going to work, this is not what I wanted.'" Hartig said. But another five-day on-site demonstration by Can-Am engineers proved the worth of the spray systems, Hartig said. "Now we are doing 300 pieces a day, which is up from 250 pieces a day and the look is the same."

How they do what they do

The El Cajon plant is set up to look like two "Ls" facing each other. One "L" houses panel production machinery. The second "L" is where the other components such as doors, mouldings trim, 3/4-inch solidwood edgebanding and other pieces are machined. Both will be finished, separately, and eventually, the assembled case goods and components will meet in final assembly.

The company uses oak veneer plywood panels supplied by Fiberboard Wood Products of Standard, Calif. The company receives shipments of 40 units of 40 sheets each twice a week.

The 3/4-inch veneer plywood panels components are cut to size on a Holzma panel saw and are bored and routed on parallel Morbidelli CNC point-to-point boring machines. The point-to-point machines cut the dadoes and rout a variety of decorative looks including a new faux raised panel door and some complex curves.

Panels are then conveyed to two Olimpic edgebanders where 3/4-inch solid wood edges are adhered. The bander also trim cuts, router trims shapes and does some rough surface sanding.

The components are then grouped into "kits" for case goods assembly prior to finishing.

A team of assemblers constructs the frames. In addition to the dadoes, structural integrity is enhanced by pneumatically-fastened staples which are then hidden with putty and sanded smooth prior to finish.

Using Dynabrade pneumatic hand sanders and 3M abrasives, the company begins the finishing process by going over the piece with a 220 grit abrasive.

Working with the hand-held HVLP spray gun, an operator wearing a protective face-mask applies the stain to every square inch of the piece. The piece is then conveyed to a wipe-off station, where a two-person team hand wipes every unit that goes through the line.

After a 15-minute open air drying time, the unit is moved to the sealer booth. The company applies the sealer in two steps; the first is a thin coat to build a base and then, while the first coat is still tacky, a second, much thicker coat, is applied. The piece is then allowed to air-dry for about 10 minutes before it goes through pneumatic final hand-sanding with 1,000 grit abrasive.

Hartig said that because there is less buildup caused by excessive overspray, the time it takes to sand the piece in this step has been reduced dramatically and has allowed him to reallocate two, of what was a six-person team of sanders, to other areas of production.

The finished piece is then conveyed to the final assembly area where it meets up with the wood components such as the doors, drawers and shelving. Glass and hardware will be attached in this area as well.

The wood components travelled a separate path (the second "L") to get to this point. Solid oak lumber is cut via a 12-inch Mereen-Johnson gang rip saw; half of which will go for the edgebanding and the other half for moulding and trim.

The solid oak doors and drawer fronts are initially cut at the company's San Diego facility. Then, in El Cajon, they are run through a Tagliabue single side tenoner for squaring, and the CNC point-to-point boring machines give them a variety of decorative looks.

The components are then sanded using one of two Sandingmaster wide-belt sanders.

After the doors, drawers, glassware and other components have been attached, each fully-assembled unit is given a final inspection by a dedicated inspector. The quality assurance inspector works off a checklist, examining such things as how doors are hung and how the drawer pulls, as well as the quality of the finish and assembly.

"Making sure that our products are perfect before they get out the door is how we guarantee our future," Hartig said. "We believe that if we didn't guarantee consistent quality, we would probably be back where we were 10 years ago - working out of a garage with 10 employees and making about three pieces a day."
COPYRIGHT 1995 Vance Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1995, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Martin Furniture
Author:Adams, Larry
Publication:Wood & Wood Products
Date:Apr 1, 1995
Words:1868
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