Dimensions

Tech tour delivers first-hand experiences

If you want to see the most advanced panel processing technology in the world, you have to travel to Europe.

In mid-March, 30 manufacturing executives from the United States and Canada joined a team from Schelling and IMA for a weeklong technology tour of European factories. The trip included visits to a variety of highly automated plants showing the North Americans a wide range of innovation using the latest Schelling and IMA technology.

The bus tour covered five woodworking plants in four different countries along with factory tours of hardware and machinery manufacturing. There was time for some sightseeing in France, Germany and Austria. The trip concluded with a day in Nuremberg, Germany, at the Holz-Handwerk Trade Fair.

The first stop was the Homanit thin board MDF manufacturing plant in Losheim, Germany. Homanit is a large manufacturer of MDF and HDF. The plant produces over 2 million square feet of 3 millimeter board per day. There were four Schelling angular saw systems in action. One uses fully robotic stacking and another utilized a custom developed grab arm stacking technology. The other systems in this cut-to-size operation were dedicated to handling a heavy volume of both large and small parts. Also at Homanit is a finishing operation offering 290 solid colors, 650 wood grains and digital printing for a variety of graphics. One highlight of the operation was a nip roll in-feed system Schelling developed featuring twin vacuum pods handling 22 thin boards per minute.

Then it was off to France to visit Cuisines Schmidt, which is the fifth largest kitchen cabinet firm in Europe. Schmidt is a high-end cabinet producer and one of three divisions of the parent group SALM which also manufactures the mid-range Cuisinella cabinet line and the EMK brand of RTA furniture. Schmidt sells 84 percent of their products in France and everything they make is built to order. The Schmidt plant in Selestat, France, produces 3,000 boxes per day in 50 different colors; a true batch-size-one operation. The tour group saw two Schelling angular saw systems with full conveying, turning and crosscutting. Also running were two IMA U-shaped lines with two Combima edgebanders each. The lines were connected with IMA’s Meinert material handling division systems for conveying products efficiently through the line. The plant burns all its waste for heat. Schmidt also employs an ongoing apprentice program with 25 people year in training every year, to ensure a future supply of qualified workforce.

Next, the group of 30 left for Dietlikon, Switzerland, and a tour of Bruno Piatti AG, a mid-sized manufacturer of high-quality contemporary kitchen cabinets. Most of the Piatti kitchens are sold in Switzerland. The company invested $7 million in their plant over the last three years. They build 40,000 kitchens a year in two shifts. Piatti runs two Schelling angular saw systems with vacuum loading. There is also a Schelling automatic labeling component adding to the efficiency of the line. One highlight of the IMA U-shaped combination line was the Plasma edgebanding system that is the result of a 2011 retrofit. Piatti can manufacture a full kitchen in is little as eight days.

Then the tour visited two supplier factories in Austria. First up was the highly automated Julius Blum drawer slide plant No. 4 in Bregenz where they build the Tandem and other slides with almost entirely company-built machinery and a full stable of robots. The impressive Blum plant is very efficient as illustrated by the average time a pallet stays in the warehouse after manufacture—only six hours. Blum also has a strong apprenticeship program to deliver a steady qualified work force for the long term.

Then just down the road was the groups’ visit to the Schelling factory. Wolfgang Rohner, an owner of Schelling, welcomed everyone to Schelling’s panel cutting system facility.
The Schelling technology can be found in a variety of markets including woodworking, plastics, circuit boards, aerospace and both ferrous and non-ferrous metals.

The next day, it was back to Germany for a fascinating visit to the new $10 million Waldner lab furniture plant. Finished in the last year, this highly automated and fully integrated batch-size-one operation features a Schelling panel saw with custom material flow systems feeding in and feeding out, an IMA BIMA cutting center high speed nesting system connected to an impressive storage retrieval systems and full U-shaped IMA edgebanding lines. The new factory is all about flow, as in how to make products flow faster through the line. Waldner uses a label-based piece management system custom developed for them by the engineers at IMA. Incorporated into the line is a high rise sorting buffer for delivering products back to the line to match up with other parts coming together for assembly. All products are built to order and must be on time. Since customer orders are mixed, the manufacturing has to be flexible. Waldner on average processes 2,800 panels and builds 300 boxes per shift. The new plant has just eight workers on the panel processing line and another 12 in assembly. The estimated payback for this new plant and technology investment is estimated at less than two years. This division of Waldner does 145 million Euros per year.

Our final visit was to the Schuller Kitchens factory in Herrieden, Germany. Schuller is one of the top five kitchen manufacturers in the world. The new facility is rimmed with an impressive eight-story rack and retrieve-based material storage system. The production machines are a new Schelling angular saw system, IMA Combima U-shaped edgebanding lines set up for four passes, and a contour edgebanding station on the IMA machining center. The new line is linked together with an IMA-developed material flow system that is fully integrated with additional machines from varied suppliers.

After an eventful overnight stay in the beautiful medieval town of Rothenburg on the Tauber, the group headed out for Nuremberg and a day at the massive Holz-Handwerk show. The show was split with several halls dedicated to the window and door market and then a half dozen halls featuring woodworking machinery and systems for both panel and solid wood processing.

During bus rides between stops and over nightly meals the group of 30 North American manufacturers traded notes on what they were seeing and how they had their businesses organized. There was much conversation that a great deal of what they witnessed was applicable to their future and the entire trip was an extremely valuable experience. Seeing technology solutions in action is what the 2012 Schelling IMA Technology Tour of Europe promised and then delivered for this group over six very pleasant days in the heart of Europe.

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