July 22, 2022 | Bill Esler
Headquartered in Holstein, Iowa, VT Industries, Inc., is North America’s leading manufacturer of architectural wood doors, postformed laminate countertops, and architectural stone surfaces. Since 1956, VT Industries has been committed to providing the highest quality architectural and home building products and services in the industry. The company is formed by more than 630 people and it operates from 11 manufacturing facilities strategically located throughout the U.S. and Canada.
The story between VT and Biele (IWF Booth B7523) began 8 years ago and keeps going after several projects for different facilities through this time.
In 2014, VT Industries was immersed in a business growth strategy that required from an investment in a 2nd CAM Line (Door Core Assembly Machine line) in Holstein, IA, so that production capacity could be increased and additional capabilities could be integrated. Thus, Biele was selected to be the vendor to provide the line that would improve current capacity of the original line and increase the production efficiency.
After this first project, Biele continued working on the capacity increase of the factory, and already in the expansion of the building carried out in 2016, installed further handling solutions for new CNC lines.
The most recent project between VT and Biele took place in 2021, once VT acquired Eggers Industries and started a growth plan for the facilities located in Neenah. Given the age and manual nature of the previous core processing equipment, VT decided to invest in a new automatic CAM Line to replace the existing one. Considering the quality of the product to be produced and the high performance needed, Biele was selected again due to the positive previous experience VT had with Biele’s line in Holstein.
The main challenge of the CAM Lines was to achieve the maximum optimization of the boards, regardless of the size and material-type that was introduced into the line. The key aspect was to maximize the use of the raw board by means of a good optimization and processing of the infeed boards into final core dimensions, in a way that the line could provide maximum efficiency and flexibility for single batch size door production.
Regarding the CAM Lines, both projects developed in 2014 and 2021 were divided into two different parts, the Core Optimzer, where different panels are cut and glued together until the desired core size is completed; and the Frame Assembly, where rails, stiles and lock blocks are added.
The Composer is the part where the infeed panels need to be optimized, in a way that regardless the size of the infeed panel, the final composed core can be delivered on a batch-size 1 basis. This may result in final cores composed by multiple different infeed panels, with a minimum waste of raw material.
In the Composer, the infeed panel is trimmed and profiled, and glued with EVA hot melt glue in the short side of the panel first, which is glued together with the next one, producing a continuous length panel, that is cut to length according to the size of the core to be produced.
The operation is repeated with the long side of the panel, in a way that the final width of the core is produced.
This panel optimizing logic could not be understood without the Production Control system developed by Biele. This software, called Production Control, brings intelligence to the whole production line, specially focused in the panel optimizer area. This logic is not just a static calculation of the infeed panel sizes to glue and cut them until the desired size is achieved. It goes beyond that, since the Core Optimizer is able to use a cutting logic that measures the deviations of the first cut and compensates for it with the second cut in the next board, to stay within the established tolerance range, significantly reducing reject material.
The second part of the line corresponds to the frame assembly section, where the stiles and rails are glued and placed around the previously composed core.
First, the front and back rails are glued and placed around the core, and after they are cut to size. Second, the same operation is done with the two stiles. Finally, the excess of length of the stiles is cut resulting in the final dimension of the core.
Biele also equipped the lines to have the capacity to introduce lock blocks (0, 1 or 2) into the core, something that was included in the CAM Line in Eggers. The Eggers line also allows for an additional slot on the sides so that cables can be inserted for electronic-opening doors. To finish, the door is sanded from both top and bottom faces.
By means of these two lines, VT Industries managed to increase consistently the production volumes as planned.
In the Holstein facilities, the CAM Line was targeted at higher capacity rates and with additional functionality. Thanks to the new CAM Line, “VT was able to achieve capacity targets, streamlining product, and process redundancy,” says Keith Horan, Engineering Manager at VT Industries. “The integration of additional CNC equipment into the line helped us to keep product orders together, eliminating manual processing and sortation.” This was a complex project which integrated three external vendors’ equipment, one third-party software system, and VT’s ERP data.
“Due to the additional capacity of the new line we were able to reduce from three shifts down to two,” says David Streu, Automation and Engineering Manager in Eggers Division.
From Biele’s side, this eight-year collaboration with VT Industries has provided a valuable experience to enrich the door manufacturing knowledge we have been acquiring since our foundation. The continuity of the relationship with VT Industries, including various projects in the last eight years, makes us proud of our work..
A collaborative working philosophy in this relationship was there from the beginning. “The Biele team functions as an extension of the VT team,” says Streu. “Their willingness to communicate and learn our processes was key to the success of this project.” A seamless understanding between the engineering teams of both companies combined Biele’s knowledge in automation and panel optimization, and VT’s expertise in door manufacturing.
“Biele was a new vendor for VT and their approach to the project was impressive,” says Horan. “They were presented with a short time-frame for development and concept proposal. They helped us develop clear requirement for the process needs, and openly discussed solution concepts and business opportunities.”
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