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Machinery investment pays off for VT Industries.

Since 1984, VT Industries has invested between $6 million and $7 million on new woodworking machinery. The payback has been an increase in productivity of about 500 percent.

Being the country's largest producer of postformed decorative laminate countertops, postformed components and decorative laminate architectural doors is consistent with VT Industries' strategy to integrate new technologies into its operations.

In the past 11 years VT, based in Holstein, Iowa, with four other plants spread throughout the country, has spent approximately $6 million to $7 million on new machinery. This willingness to invest in the future has kept the family-owned business on the cutting edge of the woodworking industry and earned VT the coveted 1992 Innovator of the Year Award given by the Woodworking Machinery Importers Association.

These capital improvements have paid off in many ways for the company. Since 1982, productivity has increased 500 percent while staffing has only increased 15 percent. Since 1984, sales have grown by 300 percent while costs have actually decreased by 30 percent.

"To us, the challenge is to constantly anticipate the market needs and meet those needs with high-quality products at the lowest possible price," said Doug Clausen, president of VT Industries. "VT has always been first to invest in the technology we consider necessary to meet these challenges."

At its main plant in Holstein, a town of 1,500 people situated about 45 miles due east of Sioux City, the company has invested heavily in automated machines for its architectural door division and its Casemate postformed component division. The two divisions are located under one roof and encompass approximately 200,000 square feet of manufacturing space.

VT also has smaller manufacturing facilities in Indiana, Texas, Georgia and a brand new plant in Oregon. Last year, sales totalled more than $70 million.

Postformed components

VT's component division in Holstein manufactures anything with a postformed edge including countertops; cabinet doors and drawer fronts; desktops; and furniture components.

High-tech machinery abounds in this half of the VT plant. One of the high-tech machines is the Homag Direct Postformer (Stiles Machinery Inc.), which gives VT the option of offering melamine postformed components in addition to high-pressure laminate parts. "It is the only way in the world to postform melamine panels," said Clausen, "which gives you a lower price point than high-pressure laminate."

For its postformed melamine products, VT purchases pre-laminated melamine panels which it cuts-to-size on a Giben panel saw. The sized panels are fed through the Homag Direct Postformer which cuts away a section of particleboard while leaving a melamine lip. It then mills a radius and postforms the melamine, all in one continuous operation on one machine.

The Direct Postformer is not the only high-tech machine on the Casemate side of the building. High-pressure laminate products are still an extremely important part of the company's business. One of VT's strengths is its ability to offer laminate in just about any available color or pattern, Clausen said.

The company utilizes Giben SPT 2000 and Giben Prismatic panel saws, Homag tenoners, a Wemhoner single daylight press, a Biesse crossmatic panel saw, Homag single- and double-sided edgebanders and an Alberti machining center (GPM Technologies).

As with most plants, the first station is the panel saw. Industrial grade particleboard is cut-to-size and then taken to the tenoners to be radiused. The particleboard goes to the Wemhoner press line where the top and bottom faces of high-pressure laminate are bonded using a PVAc adhesive. From there the panel goes to the postforming line where the long edges are wrapped.

"At that point the panel may be a finished product for some customers," said Clausen. "For others we offer further services including cut to length, cut to width and edgebanding, and in some cases machining and drilling."

If the panel component is to be cut to length, it is taken to the Biesse crossmatic panel saw and then to the Homag edgebander for edging. The company utilizes single- and double-sided edgebanders and offers customers a choice of HPL, thin PVC edgebands and 3mm PVC. If further machining is needed, the panel is routed to the Alberti machining center.

Star Wars comes to Holstein

One of the company's mottoes for its door division is: "VT Doors: Designs to Meet Every Architectural Need." The company is able to offer a variety of door styles including HPL decorative doors, seven-ply wood veneer, bonded and hot pressed, and a 5-ply wood veneer door featuring a designer-styled edge. One of the reasons VT can offer these designs and a variety of other styles is the flexibility of its automated architectural door processing line.

In 1987, VT says it became the first company in the world to install a door core composer. The automated line was developed by the German manufacturer Wild. Technicians from Wild spent three months in Holstein fine-tuning and training VT workers to operate it.

The door composer, nicknamed "Star Wars" by plant personnel, is used with particleboard or other substrates specified by customers. Roll conveyors move the panels from station to station. The line is computer controlled and programs are downloaded via a personal computer.

Sheets of the door core are cut-to-length in strips and are glued together using a fast curing hotmelt to the appropriate width of the door.

"This way there is virtually no scrap," Clausen said.

Hardwood rails and stiles are glued to the door core. A pressing jig is used to apply pressure to complete the bond. Using the hotmelt, it takes only about 15 seconds to attach a secure bond, so glued parts can be processed right away.

A CNC panel saw cuts the rails flush to the top and bottom of the particleboard. An Elmag sander (European Woodworking) then lightly sands each door front and back to ensure that the stiles and rails are flush with the particleboard.

"At this point the door does not have faces on it; it is only raw particleboard and lumber," Clausen said.

The door faces are primarily laminate and veneer. The laminate is tacked onto the panel and then pressed with a Sergiani LAS 3300 press. If the door has laminate edges it is cross banded and sent to a Schwabedissen combination machine where it is cut to exact width before HPL edgeband is applied.

In cases where a laminate edge is not used, the panel goes through the Schwabedissen, is cut-to-size, sanded and then finished on a UV-cured flatline finishing system. In 1990, VT says it was the first company in the nation to incorporate UV cure finishing into its door operations.

A Lehbrink CNC machining center (Schmidt Industrial) machines the door for the hardware which will be installed at the end of the automated line. A scanner reads a bar code on the panel which programs the machining center to make the required cuts to achieve the desired design.

If the door is to be finished, it goes through the UV-cured finishing line, of which the first station is the Heesemann polishing sander (European Woodworking). A Buerkle machine (European Woodworking) stains the edges and faces. The water-based finish is dried in a gas fired oven. A Buerkle roll coater and IST (European Woodworking) UV lamps seal coats the panel. It then goes through a Heesemann sealer sander. It then goes on to be topcoated with UV material.

Doors needing additional hardware cuts on the top and bottom for door closures are cut on a CNC machine. The door is then inspected, cleaned, polybagged and stacked for shipment. VT owns its own shipping company, VT Transportation, and ships its products across the country.

Shipping products across the country is a far cry from VT's humble beginnings as a two-man shop to the industry leader it is today. This growth was the result of a continual process of innovation and investment, and those dual ideas will not change in the future.

"Our basic philosophy is to remain a leader in the industry," said Clausen. "It is dog-eat-dog out there and we will try anything to stay one step ahead of the game."

A COMMUNITY LEADER AS WELL AS AN INDUSTRIAL LEADER

VT was started in 1956 by Roger Clausen, now chairman of the board, as a two-man shop specializing in countertops. While the company has grown to be one of the woodworking industry's largest suppliers of components and doors, it has not forgotten its roots.

In winning the coveted Innovator of the Year Award from the Woodworking Machinery Importers Association the company's community and corporate achievements were lauded. "VT Industries was selected because the company has been a consistent innovator and leader in its field," said John Derda, WMIA president, in announcing the award. "The firm is an outstanding corporate citizen, concerned not only with its employees, but with the woodworking industry and its plant communities as well."

Education, both within the plant and in the community at large, is one example of the company's commitment to the community. The company provides ongoing training for its employees in the areas of safety, machine operations and maintenance. It offers a tuition share program to its employees and sponsors a scholarship to a local college with priority given to VT employees and their families.

A major supporter of Iowa State University, located in Ames, Iowa, Roger Clausen has served on the board of directors of the school's industrial engineering program. Two interns from that program are on the VT staff at all times.

VT Industries and the Clausen family are also active in community activities in Holstein, sponsoring a local taxi service for the elderly and supporting programs for Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, local churches, and school and sports activities.

The company also demonstrates leadership within the woodworking industry. Both Roger and Doug Clausen are past presidents of the Decorative Laminate Producers Association, and the company is a member of the National Building Materials Distributors, the National Wood Window & Door Association, Architectural Woodwork Institute and the Door and Hardware Institute.
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:The Competitive Edge; VT Industries Inc
Publication:Wood & Wood Products
Date:May 1, 1993
Words:1657
Previous Article:The WMIA: bringing global technologies to American woodworkers.
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