Since 2009, Home Depot has been using the slogan “More Saving. More Doing” in its circulars, print ads and television commercials. Before that, it marched to the tune of “You Can Do It. We Can Help.”
For approximately 15 years, Howe Wood Products of York, Pa., has been helping the giant home improvement company make good on its words.
Founded in 1997 by Michael Howe, Howe Wood specializes in providing custom-cut plywood products for customers, including lumber yards and wood manufacturers located all over North America. While it sells to professional industry members, the company’s output often winds up being used by consumers.
Mike Howe reports that his firm’s signature project for Home Depot is the production of “handy panels” made from MDF, particleboard or plywood. These are 4 x 4 foot or 2 x 4 foot components, cut down from 4 x 8 foot full-sized boards. The smaller pieces are attractive to consumers as carryout items, and they relieve in-store staff of the burden of having to cut hundreds of pieces to size each day.
Howe says his company has been relying on Schelling equipment from day one. “We started with one Schelling saw and five employees cutting five truckloads of panels per week for Home Depot,” he says. “Currently, we have 25 employees and cut 25 truckloads a week, all of them earmarked for Home Depot’s eight East Coast distribution centers.”
Upgrades in equipment and systems made the extra volume possible. Howe recalls, “In 2007, we purchased a new Schelling saw and developed a custom-made label line to apply bar codes to each cut piece. It also counts, stacks and rolls units out to material handlers for strapping.”
According to Howe, “The new label line did away with physical labor that we had been doing for 10 years—applying bar codes by hand, counting and stacking. Schelling worked with Creative Automation in Abbotsford, Wis.,—an American company—to design and build the line to our specs.”
In 2012, he says, “We added a small 5-inch book height panel saw from Schelling to do small odd jobs that were tying up our large saw.”
Howe continues: “We also added a new IMA edgebander this year to do white melamine shelving for Home Depot. This is a new item for us, and we are doing a truckload per day now.”
Growth through the years
Howe Wood Products’ first home covered 13,000 square feet, says the owner. “Since then, we have taken over more space through the years as it became available. We currently have 62,000 square feet in an industrial park in York.”
Howe adds, “We usually have over 100 trucks of material here at all times to make certain we can keep up with the client’s needs.”
Most of the handy panels delivered by Howe Wood Products are 24 x 48 inches. Mike Howe says, “We cut four equal pieces out of a 48 x 96 inch sheet, and the cut parts are pushed directly from the saw onto the label line. The current saw and label line run 11 to 12 hours per day, five days a week. By overlapping labor schedules, we are able to work right through breaks and lunch hours. We cut a unit of plywood every six minutes, and we never turn the saw off during the workday.”
Looking back, Howe remembers considering three makes of heavy-duty saws when he got started. “My previous employer had three light-duty panel saws that were cheap and easy to pay for, but he also had a full-time maintenance man who spent all week working to keep the saws up and running. They were always breaking down, which made it difficult to put out product.”
Howe decided he didn’t want to be always maintaining equipment. Durability, reliability and service were what he wanted from a manufacturer. He chose to go with Schelling, and is glad he did because “they are always attentive to any issue or problem, even responding after hours or on weekends.” On one occasion, he recalls, “They flew parts to my local airport on a holiday, so the shop would be operational on Monday morning.”
He sums up, “If you want to deal with the ‘big box retailer,’ you’d better have the product out on time and not make excuses.”
Describing the process
The parts Howe Wood Products makes for Home Depot are cut from an 8-inch high book of material, and then each part gets an individual label with bar code (you see them on all parts at Home Depot). The challenge was to print labels on each part because of the high volume. Schelling had a special label application line built that singularizes the book of material, e.g. 2 x 4 inches high, ½-inch particleboard, that is 16 pieces, into single units and then applies a preprinted label. The label line handles two parts side by side, up to 160 parts per minute and automatically stacks the parts to desired height, and that means any height Home Depot wants for the particular material and thickness. After it leaves the label line, the stacked book can move out either left or right to the strapping line and stretch wrapping.
At this speed, Howe explains, it is vital to keep the saw loaded with raw material. “We have three forklift operators who load and remove the finished product. It is a non-stop operation all day long, and we did over 4 million pieces last year.”
The equipment list at Howe Wood Products includes two panel saws—Schelling’s FsH 580, and Fh 6. Both are cut-to-size machines with rear loading. There also is an IMA edgebander, the Advantage 500L, which was introduced to the United States in August at the IWF show held in Atlanta.
Two CNC routers—a Komo VR1605TT with 4- 16 hp routers and eight position tool changers, and a Hendricks Twin Table router w/ 4- routers and eight position tool changers—round out the lineup of major machinery.
In addition to the Home Depot panel-cutting assignment, Howe Wood Products does sub-contract work for packaging companies, store fixture manufacturers, cabinetmakers, furniture manufacturers and other plywood wholesalers. Despite this seeming variety, Howe Wood Products remains pretty much of a specialist in its operations; Mike Howe says, “We do only machining—no sanding or finishing.”
By sticking to one goal, planning and preparing carefully, and choosing and using the right equipment, Howe has kept his company humming.