Overhead Conveyors for Small Wood Shops

by Sep, 2007Articles, Paint and Finishing, Woodworking

When it was time for expansion this wood finisher thought ‘over the top’.

small wood shop uses overhead conveyor
Monorail conveyor for wood working operations

Small and mid-sized furniture manufacturers are often threatened with high volume, low margin orders, meanwhile, small facilities and manual handling methods can lead to disastrous quality and financial results. Canadian furniture supplier Contract Supply based in Mississauga, ON needed to automate its finishing operation in an already tight space.

Contract Supply (CS) has manufactured chairs and tables for the restaurant and hotel industry for over 20 years. Within their 65,000 square foot facility, CS handles all design, upholstery, assembly and finishing operations. As with most small and mid-sized furniture manufacturers, these processes were generally done manually. The company supplies high quality wood and metal products primarily to the commercial food service market including: hotels and resorts, restaurants, food courts, shopping malls, libraries, schools and healthcare facilities. They will even tackle large volume refurbishing and refinishing of customer’s existing chairs and tables.
As business grew for CS so did the size of their jobs and eventually, CS was faced with the following production issues:

  • There was a need to increase volume to accommodate the larger customers;
  • Current space was limited;
  • Their (wood) finishing process in particular (from sanding, staining, sealing and lacquering) was ‘back breaking’ and time consuming;
  • Smaller ‘special’ batch jobs were still an important part of the business.

Shopping for ideas

Eugene Honcharuk, president of Contract Supply knew something had to be done to meet production demands and maintain efficiency so he went to a trade show to shop for ideas. One option Honcharuk was presented with was a cart-type floor conveyor system to move wood parts through the finishing process. Although this system would help improve production capacity, there were several drawbacks for CS. The cart system would require drying ovens that would add to energy costs and would make the work environment hotter. In addition, the cart system would require an increased use of the already limited floor space.

Finally, Honcharuk was introduced to Pacline Conveyors of Mississauga, ON and Buffalo, NY and was presented with a system designed to free up floor space by making use of the currently unused ceiling space for the finishing process.

“I was upfront in revealing that I did not have the capital to spend on a towline and ovens, particularly if it was going to increase my overhead and reduce floor space,” says Honcharuk. “Our paint shop was already full of drying parts.”

PACLINE engineers assessed the situation at Contract Supply Corp. carefully reviewing all aspects of their finishing process including: space, production needs, variable parts sizing, drying times between the three finishing operations, etc. and the need to be able to continue to “batch process” the way they always did.

Freeing the floor

Overhead conveyor in wood shop frees up floor spacePacline recommended an overhead chain conveyor to create an automated finishing line that would allow increased production while freeing up valuable floor space. Pacline designed a system using their enclosed track conveyor. On a single conveyor line, wooden parts are taken through the entire finishing process (staining, sealing, drying, sanding and final lacquer, drying). Pacline’s system was designed to convey product from each spray booth up to the ceiling area and off the floor entirely. The ceiling area proved particularly useful as the warmer air helped accelerate the drying time between stain, sealer and lacquer applications.

“Many of the small shop owners we meet have small environmental rooms and don’t want to disrupt or renovate in part because of the lost production time, as well as permit requirements,” Pacline’s General Manager Karl Scholz, explains. We were able to add the overhead conveyor to CS’s shop without moving a single thing.”

The new Pacline system allowed Contract Supply to take on high volume, low margin jobs effectively without interfering with their previous operation. They could continue to store small batches of low volume, specialty items on the floor beneath the overhead conveyor without interference.

“We mounted the conveyor track at seven feet off the floor to allow batch carts and personnel to travel beneath without any restrictions,” says Scholz.

Special considerations

Custom hooks and rotators allowed the parts to move easily through all steps. Operators can spin the parts through 360 degrees so that all sides of the product could be finished. The conveyor was designed to travel through two elevations in the staining booth to accommodate staining of longer items. This ensures the correct ergonomics for the operator.

Results

CS’s investment in its business resulted in:

  • Increased production capacity within current limited space.
  • Reduced number of operators on finishing line.
  • Improved ergonomics for operators.
  • Low capital investment – Cost was <60K.

“I got everything I asked for and more” says Honcharuk. “My floor was cleared up, and I can still batch process awkward pieces. But I also got some things I had not counted on. The finish conveyor has become an assembly line that is continuous and it regulates my employees. At first, our employees were apprehensive but now they are firm believers.” He continues, “Ergonomics are improved, and we only load once and off-load once. They can see the product all along the moving line and know when they will be required at the various operations.”

Honcharuk concludes, “Overall, I am producing higher quality products than my unautomated competitors, and at a better price, and that is what capital investment is all about.”

Published in Canadian Finishing & Coatings Magazine, September 2007

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