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Harden Furniture invests in custom manufacturing

Heath E. Combs -- Furniture Today, December 6, 2012

Harden’s new HoltznerHarden’s new Holtzner CNC machining center will allow the company to convert most case goods production to a system offering a choice of cabinet woods, sizes and one-off manufacturing in most of its case goods collections.
MCCONNELLSVILLE, N.Y. - Greg Harden says he believes the future of his family's namesake company depends on what it does now.
     High-end manufacturer Harden Furniture is in the midst of about $3 million in upgrades to its facilities over the next three years as it rethinks its manufacturing processes.
     "We are at a point where we can't wait for the economy - we have to make some investments in technology if we are going to grow," said Harden, who is president and CEO.
     Employees are familiarizing themselves with a new Holtzner CNC Promaster woodworking center, machinery that will do the majority of woodworking for the exterior of cases. The center will give Harden the ability to offer alternate cabinet woods, sizes and one-off manufacturing in case goods collections.
     Harden said a team of four to six employees will work with the machining center to do assembly, sanding and other operations prior to finishing, which will continue to be done on the plant's current line. Jobs like drawer interiors and dovetailing will be done on other manual equipment.
     Harden also is replacing its rough mill with a more efficient system to improve raw lumber yield.
     Perhaps the biggest change will be one-off manufacturing. Like most of the industry, Harden has traditionally been a batch manufacturer, putting together stock as orders are received.
     But in more recent years as sizes of cuttings have decreased, it became necessary to reevaluate, Harden said.
     "We took a long hard look at what kind of investment it would take in equipment and in new manufacturing processes to start converting a lot of our collections to Batch One manufacturing - which is, we would make each piece individually to order," he said.
     Batch One offers flexibility, he said. The company is now better able to serve the once difficult and expensive customization requests that it formerly declined because set up and equipment reconfiguring pushed unit costs too high.
     "Down the road we should probably be able to say ‘OK, what size do you need it?' and the software is capable of rescaling the piece and then it's simply a question of downloading the instructions to the machining center," Harden said.
     Batch One also will allow Harden to keep better controls on inventory instead of being dependent on forecasting, he said.
     "We see a point a few years down the road where 80% of our production is being done one-off and we've got millions of dollars less inventory," Harden said. "We'll be calculating in hours, as opposed to days, the amount of time it takes us to build a case."
     The new machining center also does jobs like horizontal boring, one of the most delicate and difficult manufacturing jobs to set up, he said. Harden's Promaster is also one of only two machines of its kind that has a small circular saw for trimming, he added.
     The center also allows the company to work with a broader range of woods beyond the cherry it has mostly used. Customers can now choose other woods like solid walnut regardless of cabinet, Harden said.
     "We think there's an opportunity on the sales side. We think there's a big opportunity in the operations side as well," he said.
     In other moves, he said, Harden is reducing the square footage committed to the woodworking function of its facility by about 50%, partly because the new Holtzner center and other planned new equipment will take up less space, despite a projected increase in volume.
     Harden said New York state is considering some grant support to match the company's investment, which would allow its projects to move faster.

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