CNC machining center handles all kinds of jobs

Watson Furniture is a large operation making workplace furniture, but it can handle small quantities. The Poulsbo, Wash., company’s manufacturing process is designed for continuous improvement, while benefiting the environment and its employees.

“From a design standpoint we’re heavily European influenced, says Ken Baker, director of manufacturing engineering. “From a manufacturing standpoint we’re good at making long-term decisions that are healthy and balanced for the environment, for the health of the company, employees, and Kitsap County. We try to look at the big picture, and grow intelligently.”

“We don’t shy away from custom orders at all,” Baker says. “If a customer needs something a half-inch taller, we embrace that. We don’t have minimum order sizes. We’ll take a two- and three-piece order. Our average order size is 8 to 10 pieces, three to four thousand dollars.

“(Working for these larger customers) has made us better, because their demands and requirements have pushed us to be a better manufacturer, with better quality and better delivery.”

Most wood products manufacturing for workplace furniture in Poulsbo flows through two areas, table tops and components.

Watson Furniture has had its IMA BIMA 400V CNC machining center for six months, the centerpiece of the tops area. It uses a pod setup, with saw, router, 18-tool changer (including a large aggregate), and contour edgebanding.  On one common piece made for a large customer, a single blank is set up on the left hand area of the machining center.

“You load a blank on and you get two finished parts off of it,” Baker says. “It cuts the blank into two pieces. We re-position the large top in that left-handed field, and re-position the smaller top and move it to the right field to do the final trim and benchwork. By feeding blanks into that machine, the way those two parts fit together optimized our yield.”

Baker says the BIMA has the capability to do everything in the woodshop. He compares it with a large linear edgebander also in the shop, a massive piece of equipment. “IMA took all that capability and mounted it on one-half of this machine, and they gave it the ability to go around corners. We bought that and calculated a two- or three-year ROI, and I think we’ve paid for 25% of it in the first six months, based on some large orders that we ran through it.”

Before, the pieces going through the IMA machine may have had as many as 12 different people touching them in five operations. “Now we have three people touching them in two operations. It has reduced the throughput time by over half (compared to doing the operations separately).”

Although Watson has other machines that can do most of the other tasks, automated contour edgebanding is something they couldn’t do before. It was all a manual process previously.

He said that IMA’s service has been very good. “ They’ve overcome issue after issue. They’ve been right on top of it, and provided a high level of support.”

Last year, Baker was part of an IMA-Schelling technology tour of Europe. “It was eye opening,” he says. “The biggest thing I learned was the differences between the European and American mindset, starting with ROI. The Europeans have a 20-year vision plan. They’re accepting of 10- and 12-year ROIs. If you compare that to America, we think a five-year vision plan is too long, and we’re not willing to commit to that.”

For the future, Baker plans to convert the component line to dowel assembly in three to five years. And to go from a nested-based to a cut-to-net system, with cutting, edgebanding, machining and deliver to assembly.

“The biggest thing for me is instilling a culture of continuous improvement,” he says. “(We never want to say) ‘We’re good enough.’”

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