IMA-Schelling tour offers North American executives a look at the latest panel processing, laminate and component technology in Italy.
In early May, 24 manufacturing executives representing 14 cabinet, furniture, fixture and millwork companies from throughout North America joined IMA Schelling for a tour of factories throughout Northern Italy.
High-volume edgebanding and laminates
The first stop on the IMA Schelling Technology Tour of Italy was at CLEAF (www.cleaf.it) where the group toured a museum-quality showroom and highly automated laminated and printed panel operation. CLEAF is a 50-year-old global company with 200 employees and annual sales exceeding $93 million. The tour included three melamine press lines: one short cycle producing 7 x 9 panels for special orders and two full-size lines running the larger 7 x 18 panels.
In other plants, the company is producing edgebanding material, including laser edgebanding and components such as cabinet doors. CLEAF is constantly innovating with their designs, bringing out new collections on average every three months. The group saw imitation leather, fabric, digital stone and a full range of textured embossed wood grains. One Canadian high-end cabinet manufacturer on the tour is a steady customer, having discovered the CLEAF line at Interzum in Cologne, Germany, several years ago.
Laser edgebanding technology was on full display at the second visit to nearby BBF (www.bbf-spa.com). In business for 26 years, BBF is a global panel components manufacturer serving the kitchen cabinet, residential, office, shipboard and hotel contract furniture sectors. The group saw a Novimat Performance and Combima Perfomance U-Line Laser edgebanding line. Another highlight was a BIMA Px80 V producing cabinet components. One U.S.-based components producer was interested to see the BIMA as he is getting two installed this year. There was also Schelling fh 6 for panel sizing in action
Kitchen cabinet manufacturer Terragni was the final stop of the day. This highly automated production line featured BIMAcut technology and a large material handling set up. This large capital investment in integrated panel processing allows Terragni to do more than $7.5 million annually with a minimal labor force.
Furniture and components in Veneto
On the second day the tour headed east into the Veneto region of Italy where there is a high concentration of cabinet, furniture and component manufacturing. The first visit was to Top Linea (www.toplinea.com), a producer of laminated panel products including cabinet doors, shelving and components. The tour began in the extensive showroom and then the group of 24 spent an hour in the firm’s four-year-old main manufacturing facility. Most were very impressed with the layout, cleanliness and color-coded plant organization. Technology highlights included an IMA Combima II Line with Laser and IMAGIG flex along with a Schelling rib and crosscut saw. An extensive catwalk system traversed the entire facility which made for in-depth viewing of all the processing in this highly productive plant.
In the same region was the next stop at BACO/ Battistella ( www.battistella.it). The company has been producing home furniture since 1953 and was a pioneer in children’s laminate bedroom furniture. They have made extensive investments in the latest technology as evidenced by the impressive collection of machines running at full speed. The group saw a Meinert board storage system with 500 different materials organized for rapid selection. There was also 3Tec software, a BIMA Px80 V and a BIMA CC and Combima Performance. The IMA Batch Size One solution was producing 1,700 finished parts every 15 hours. Each part was different and all four sides were finished. This BACO plant, like most on the tour, allowed photography and the group was firing away on their cameras and phones capturing the hum of productivity.
The afternoon stops began with a visit to STILCURVI (www.stilcurvi.it) a manufacturer of laminate and veneer panel home furniture and kitchen cabinets. There was a large Schelling ah8 angular system in action in a dedicated building which fed machines down the line such as the BIMA Px80 V, a Combima II line and a Combima II with laser. Sophisticated handling systems connected the various lines. There was also a veneering operation for pine veneer cabinet doors.
Armory (www.armorycucine.it), a kitchen cabinet manufacturer in the Veneto region, was the day’s final visit. The company does 500 cabinets a day in their 90,000 square foot facility. Started in 1976, selling only in Northern Italy, Armory has grown into a successful international business. There was a Schelling fh6 in action sizing panels along with an IMA Advantage, Novimat Performance, BIMA CC and Combima Performance. A major highlight was the two dedicated drilling lines from Priess and Horstmann. One handled cases and the second, which was just installed, was doing drawer fronts and doors. The newest machine produced four doors a minute. The material was flowing through the plant with material handling equipment.
Next, it was off to Central Italy by bus for the next round of tours. One of the many benefits of a weeklong technology tour is the comparative discussions among the manufacturers on their processes and solutions. It was interesting to hear the conversations as the group got to know each other and how they ran the production side of their businesses. Manufacturers on the tour represented companies making cabinets, office furniture, hotel furniture and fixtures, cabinet doors, laminated parts and millwork from Canada and the U.S.
First stop of the third day was a trip up the mountains from Pesaro to a large components manufacturer Pantarei. The 30-year-old company was housed in 250,000 square feet of manufacturing. At this very advanced panel processing company, 100 employees working three shifts produce laminated components for furniture and cabinets. The group saw the IMA Combima II line along with a Combima Performance U-Line with laser. The extensive fully automated material handling linked the panel manufacturing. There was a side line set up for drilling and dowel inserting producing 4,000 to 5,000 panels per shift. That was nearly 15,000 panels a day in output. Many in the group commented this was the most complete operation seen yet in terms of manufacturing efficiency running full out. Pantarei utilizes their impressive major technology investment at full capacity 24/7.
Just down the road, the final plant stop of the day was at Imab Group (www.imab.com). This 300,000-square-foot plant was one of several in the group that has more than 1,000,000 square feet of manufacturing space. The different plants make component parts for this
fully integrated company, which sells both residential furniture and kitchen cabinets. The components panel plant employs 150 workers. Technology highlights included a large material storage tower with 1,000 spaces for European 7 x 18 panels. First, the group toured a BIMA Cutting Center producing 2,000 parts per shift. That fed the two IMA Performance One edgebanding lines based on the Combima platform with each processing 1,000 parts per shift. Imab showed the group true Batch Size One production. In an adjoining building was a Schelling ah8 angular plant with fully automatic sorting and stacking. This set up produces more than 120,000 parts per week in three shifts.
Under spectacular weather, the group was treated to a wonderful seven-course lunch beside a lake shaded by ancient trees at the 400-acre Urbino resort which is owned by the family behind Imab Group. Then it was on road for some sightseeing in Urbino, the historic mountaintop college town.
San Marino on agenda
The fourth day began in the hill country west of Pesaro at Topstar (www.topstarpostforming.com) a manufacturer of postformed and edgebanded work tops and countertops. The 24-year-old company has invested heavily in new technology to produce 750 tops per shift with 90 employees in their 180,000 square foot plant. The group walked freely throughout, inspecting a wide range of lines like the BIMA 400D, the BIMA P780 V D, a Combima Performance and Combima II with Laser. The systems were driven by 3Tec software.
After an hour bus ride, the group left Italy temporarily to enter the nation state of San Marino. They arrived at what would be the largest company on the schedule: Colombini Group (www.colombinigroup.com), a fully integrated furniture, office and kitchen cabinet manufacturer specializing in juvenile furniture.
Colombini was started in 1980 and was organized around a then revolutionary just in time system specializing in fast turnaround with all products made to order. From the time the kitchen or furniture is ordered there is an eight-day cycle to delivery. The one-piece flow system is set up for small lots. There are six steps in the process: Cutting, edgebanding, drilling, quality inspection, assembly and delivery. Working two shifts, they fill 30 trucks for delivery each day. The product mix breaks down like this: 50 percent of the production is bedroom furniture, 10 percent kitchen, 15 percent office and the rest is a mix of other products all fulfilling the company motto of Accesible Italian Design.
The company organized a thorough tour of the production floors. With Meinart handling systems feeding them, there were Schelling saws sizing panels as well as IMAGIC Flex and Combima lines mostly producing colorful furniture and cabinets. The machinery was tied together with 3Tec software from IMA.
Colombini’s plant complex was the most unique of the trip. All parking was on a five-story roof with production stacked on each floor below, with extensive conveyors connecting the floors for rapid product flow. There were continuous metric and process improvement postings throughout the facility, including digital scoreboards at each step giving a running total of the current output vs. the goal.
After a change-of-pace visit to the Ferrari automotive museum on the return trip to Milan, the group had much to digest after another stimulating series of visits.
Appointment at Xylexpo
On the fifth and last day of the trip, the IMA Schelling Technology Tour of Italy group attended the Xylexpo machinery show in Milan with three halls of machines under power. That day-long visit was capped off with a scenic last dinner on beautiful Lake Como. It was a fitting celebration of a most interesting week.