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Norwalk ready to take Atlanta by storm.

IWF '92 is the next stop in Norwalk Furniture's never-ending search to upgrade its manufacturing operations.

Norwalk Furniture Corp. is no follower. While others may have echoed the economy and "recessed" their efforts over the past three years to save money, this $100 million in annual sales firm has taken those flat years and turned up the steam, investing significant dollars in new equipment and restructuring itself to aggressively gain market share.

"We recognized that the amount of disposable income the consumer is spending on furniture has been declining steadily, and we believe strongly that it takes a consumer-oriented focus to identify why the industry has failed them," said Jim Gerken, vice president of market services. "We're thoroughly reorganizing to address consumer needs and how those needs reflect on our machinery buys."

Norwalk recently implemented a CIP plan - Continuous Improvement Process - which includes:

* Seeking the involvement of suppliers to remove non-value added activity from the distribution channel, or in other words, meet Norwalk's specifications so time and money do not have to be spent on reinspection.

* Improving machining tolerances to much closer than what was acceptable before.

* Redefining quality and style by brand name to meet specific needs of consumers who have been identified along Norwalk's three distinct product lines: special order business; Hickory Hill, typified by styling at a price value; and Hampton House, typified by comfort and durability.

* Transferring ownership, in part, to workers to give them more say in how and why a product is made.

35 strong at IWF

These factors, and others, will be guide- lines when Norwalk takes 35 of its factory personnel on a shopping tour of the International Woodworking & Furniture Supply Fair in Atlanta.

"We learned the consumer has tremendous value orientation today, and that is requiring us to look at new equipment and new ways to do things," Gerken said.

"The primary thing that will shape us in the 90s is that we are going to have to be more competitive in terms of response time, cost and look," added Richard Campbell, president of Norwalk Furniture Corp. of Tennessee, the company's wood division. Campbell, who is a member of the IWF '92 board and chairman of the Challengers Awards committee, added, "That means the factory must be more flexible. There will be no room for added costs.

Quality has been redefined. In the past if stripes didn't match, it wasn't bad quality; now it is. As scale and tailoring become more precise, it telegraphs right down to the wood parts underneath," Campbell said.

Campbell also observed, "Years ago, everyone band sawed the wood on barrel chairs and they might have a three-piece assembly on the top rail, the back center rail and on the bottom rail. Those pieces might not match but between the cardboard and padding it was covered up. Not anymore! Now those pieces have to match. Correcting problems is too expensive."

To get closer tolerances, Campbell said he expects that, "We'll probably be incorporating more CNC-type applications. The scale for what's right keeps moving up. Tolerances that were acceptable in the past are no longer right. CNC is not only more flexible, but it is probably going to be less costly over time because it allows smaller runs and quicker setup and typically provides better quality because of the control of the position of the tools."

Best of all worlds

Campbell and his team will be shopping both American-made and foreign-made equipment at IWF. "We go with our eyes wide open. We'll have a shopping list, but we also send our people to search the fair for whatever turns them on, be it a tool or a technique. We have no specific budget. We do, however, have a return on investment criterium. If we meet that, the purchase is pretty much automatic. We bend on the side of making the expenditure."

Already in place at Norwalk is a new CNC double-end, feed-through machining center with touch screen set-up ability and a new six-headed, double-sided profile shaper. At IWF '92 the Norwalk crew will be looking at CNC routers, rough mill optimizing equipment and robotics

Campbell said he expects Norwalk's CIP plan to take two to five years "to realize a real benefit," but the goal is set.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Vance Publishing Corp.
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Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Norwalk Furniture Corp. plans equipment purchase at the International Woodworking and Furniture Supply Fair in Atlanta
Publication:Wood & Wood Products
Date:Jul 1, 1992
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