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Wisconsin company makes doors a family tradition.

The Combination Door Co. has successfully combined customized interior doors with more than 80 years of history.

Many parents dream of having their children carry on the family business. That dream has been realized several times over at the Combination Door Company in Fond du Lac, WI. Four generations of the Schmidt family have been involved in the business since its inception 86 years ago.

Combination Door Co. was started in 1912 by L.C. Schmidt, who ran a lumber mill and a wood box company in nearby Appleton, WI. He decided two of his four sons should go to Fond du Lac to start a door plant to diversify the family business. Soon after, the Schmidt started making wood combination doors, which are storm doors with interchangeable glass and screen inserts (as opposed to taking a screen door off its hinges in the fall and replacing it with a storm door).

The company has grown with each succeeding generation, manufacturing combination doors, screen doors, and, on occasion, sashes. Over the last 10 years, the company has manufactured interior doors. The most recent evolution has led to the manufacture of custom interior doors, which it has done successfully for two years.

One constant is the family's ownership. Dave Schmidt, great grandson of L.C. Schmidt, is the current president of the company. His son Dan, who started with the company in 1984, is the executive vice president/chief operating officer. During his time with CDC, the company has undergone a major shift in its production and product line. While the exterior doors are still a large part of its catalog, the company has found success in the interior door market.

"In the past, we were very seasonal," he said. "Manufacturing storm and screen doors is basically a spring, summer and fall item. It gets very soft in the winter. So for the last 10 years or so, we've been striving toward interior stile-and-rail doors to even out some of that seasonality."

Schmidt said that his company takes orders from one to 5,000 doors. CDC offers many species, sizes, designs and shapes, all of which can be customized to the customers' preferences. "A lot of homeowners and builders with office complexes are looking for more upscale rather than just the ordinary six-panel door designs that are available," said Mike Klich, Combination Door's sales and marketing manager. "They're looking for something with more design and a wider variety of wood species."

"What we've done with our interior door line is to allow our distributors to go out and offer a wider range of products, something they used to not be able to do," Schmidt said. "Now, they've got a new product where they can go out and say, 'We can get any kind of door you want. We've got a source for it, and it's a good quality door.'"

Among the popular species are poplar, oak, cherry, maple and knotty pine. The most common design is the six-panel door design, but CDC also sells many French doors, especially prairie-style French doors (nine-light doors with a large central light).

While the company works with standard designs, it also takes requests from their customers. "We have customers who fax in information for special panel designs, special layouts and applied mouldings, due to the fact that we're real flexible in producing custom work," Klich said.

Custom doors now account for about half of all business. The size of the company makes it a rarity in the custom field; Schmidt said that most companies who do this much custom work are smaller firms or custom millwork shops. Schmidt said that CDC is able to keep an efficient operation by using standard profiles as much as possible. Once the moulder or tenoner is set up for production, workers need only to adjust the size of the part going through. As long as they don't need to change the knives, they can batch many parts at once, even if the parts are of different species.

Keeping Up to Date

The original Combination Door Co. plant consisted of two buildings joined by an elevator. In 1968, the company moved into its present location, which totals 95,000 square feet. The most recent addition was a 4,400-square-foot expansion completed in April to store raw materials.

Schmidt said the company tries to buy as many components cut-to-size or dimension-stock as possible for increased manufacturing efficiency, but it also manufactures parts.

"We do some cutting and gluing, and we do edge gluing and veneering, but we try to outsource as much as possible to keep our people assembling doors rather than assembling parts," Schmidt said.

In all, there are 57 employees working in the four major departments in the plant. The machining department machines all the parts, and the assembly department assembles both the standard and the custom items. All the doors are inspected in the sanding/patching area and are then sent to the shipping department. CDC can ship an order in four weeks, but there are enough machined parts to do a job in two days in special cases. The doors are then sold to distributors nationwide, who in turn sell them to retail lumber yards.

The plant itself has been the source of a major reorganization to improve the flow of product. "In the last six months, we've eliminated a few product lines where the sales have been dwindling and taking that space and really doing some plant rearrangement," Schmidt said. "Prior to eliminating these product lines, we had parts scattered throughout the plant, and we've been able to combine them and make them all easily accessible for the assembly people." The reorganization has also allowed for new machinery to be brought in to make the facility more efficient.

The newest machinery purchase was a Timesavers sander the company brought in last year. Schmidt said it has greatly increased the quality of the finished products. The new sander has platens, instead of rollers like their older sanders have, and that has given the doors a more even finish. It also has a better tolerance, so parts can be sanded to the desired dimensions. To further improve production, the company also ordered a transfer table to join a Mereen-Johnson double-end prefit saw to the sander. The hook-up will involve two sets of rollers. One set rims doors through the saw, and the other then takes them automatically through the sander.

The company also improved the efficiency of the plant when it purchased an RFS radio-frequency glue press three years ago. It replaced a slower pod press and hot press.

"If we're edge gluing, the cycle time might only be a minute and a half, and the glue is 90 percent cured at that time," Schmidt said. "Within two hours, we can run any part through any of our machines. With the old system, we had to wait at least 24 hours for the glue to completely cure."

The company's other major machinery includes three double-end tenoners, one Greenly and two Jenkins, and five Mattison moulders. The employees who do the custom work run special parts and curves on two SCMI shapers. They also use two Challoner stile borers; dowels are inserted by Koch three-in-one and a five-in-one dowel-insertion machines.

Another recent addition was a third dust collection center, from Torit Products, boosting the suction capacity from 54,000 cfm to 78,000 cfm. It is a closed system, so the dust is deposited directly into waiting tracks while the air is filtered and sent back into the plant.

Schmidt plans to add more technology. He has ordered a Weinig moulder and grinder, which will broaden CDC's custom capabilities. The company also bought a Challoner single-boring unit and attached a Tiger Stop system from Precision Automation to it. Once all the programs are entered and stored, Schmidt said the unit will automatically bore holes for different-sized stiles easily. CDC will then be able to run special sizes or one or two stiles without much setup.

A Tradition of Craftsmanship

CDC has recently released a new line of doors to capitalize on its custom market and its heritage. The L.C. Schmidt Signature Door series is named after Dan Schmidt's great-great grandfather. "It's real hard to build brand identity," Schmidt said. He explained that, by naming the doors after the founder, "we were able to tie our modern equipment to the history of the company and old-world craftsmanship."

Klich said, "We wanted to build a product line based on tradition and integrate it into our current manufacturing process. We can build pretty much what the customer needs in the mid- to the upper range of product."

With this new line of doors, CDC said it offers something that few companies can provide: "Nearly 100 years of craftsmanship behind every beautiful door."

Klich said CDC's 86-year history sends an important message to customers. "We're established. They see stability, and they like what they see as far as the quality products we've had for many years," he said. "They like to see the innovation we're going through now with expanding our lines and creating a broader market of products for our company."

CDC has also released a line of louver doors that are designed to match the look of its other doors. The stiles and rails are in the same location, making them as architecturally correct as the other interior doors. They are also as customizable as the other interior doors.

Having to back up claims of "nearly 100 years of craftsmanship" is the responsibility of all the employees. Schmidt said that they know what the company expects from its doors, and that anyone can pull a part or a door from the line.

Schmidt said, "We've got our manufacturing techniques down pretty tight through years and years of experience. When we're assembling product, our people know what to look for, they know what's expected of the product.

"As we explain it to our door assemblers: A part before it goes into a door is worth maybe $5," Schmidt said. "If there's any defect in the part, before it's in the door it's about $2 to patch, once it's in the door it's about $20 to patch, and if that defective door gets out and comes back to us, then it's a $200 part. So it's very key that the employees are using good judgment on what goes in the door. We don't want to get doors back."

RELATED ARTICLE: Incentive Program Has Made CDC's Factory a Safe Place to Work

One of Dan Schmidt's projects has been the implementation of a successful safety incentive program. Up to four years ago, the company reported about 28 accidents per year. To cut down on the injuries, Schmidt began extensive employee training, including lifting and backbelt seminars, and stretching classes. Safety glasses became required, and, to leave a lasting impression, some rather graphic slides and videos of people who did not follow proper safety procedures were shown.

Schmidt also brought in small forklifts so people working the sanders could just drop a door from the lift onto a sander instead of having to pick one up off the ground. Flashing blue lights were placed on the shapers, too. "A shaper is a dangerous machine in itself, because your hands are only a few inches from the head," Schmidt said. "So when a person is running it, we put a blue light on there so someone doesn't walk by and startle the person when he's feeding the shaper." The safety programs have paid off for the company. In the first years of the program, Schmidt said the number of reportable accidents has dropped to 15, then to 11, and then to four last year.

Another great incentive for the employees is the drawings for prizes. At the end of every quarter, employees who have not had an accident get their names placed in a hat, and the employee whose name is drawn gets a prize (usually money). "And at the end of the year, if we meet our yearly goal, everyone who has not had an accident gets a major prize," Schmidt added, "and then we draw for a prize of $500 cash for one person. The excitement level is extremely high."

"The worst thing for us is to have an employee have an injury and be out for a month, because every employee is so vital to the operation," Schmidt said.

Sam Gazdziak
COPYRIGHT 1998 Vance Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1998, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:includes related article on the company's incentive program; Combination Door Co.
Author:Gazdziak, Sam
Publication:Wood & Wood Products
Article Type:Company Profile
Date:Jun 1, 1998
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