For Foliot Furniture “continuous improvement” is more than a vague concept, it is a practice that gives the company a definite advantage in the competitive market segments of hospitality, residence hall and military furniture. Company Founder and President Daniel Foliot understands that to serve his clients, he has to bring custom design, high-volume capability and just-in time production together in one system. To accomplish this, the St. Jerome, Quebec based company invests heavily in high-tech equipment and relies on high-performance engineered materials. “The reason we are still here today in 2010 is because we work hard on our productivity and quality,” says Simon Perreault, Vice President of Foliot Furniture who heads engineering and IT for the company. “We are constantly improving and re-improving. It is an all the time, real time process.”
Foliot Furniture’s most recent improvement is a fully automated 310,000 square-foot manufacturing facility located in Las Vegas, that opened June 1, 2010. The company, which was founded in 1991, also has a 250,000 square-foot panel-processing facility in St-Jerome, near Montreal and a 125,000 square-foot seating and softgoods facility in Tennesee. “We knew that the west coast was not well covered, and there was a market there for us,” says Foliot. “If you want to serve the people, you have to be there to serve them.” This is particularly true for customers in the hospitality, residence hall and military furniture segments. Not only does proximity translate to LEED points but also to on-time delivery of assembled goods. “Timing is huge. People are waiting for hundreds of rooms, so there is no way we could be late. It has always been one of our priorities to be on time and we are really good at it.”
According to Joel Dupras, design director for Foliot Furniture, “Contemporary-style furniture is very hot at the moment, and it’s getting hotter.” That same clean, modern look that dominates TV shows and fashion magazine is steadily gaining ground in the furniture industry. Foliot Furniture’s clients, which include illustrious names like the Stratosphere hotel in Las Vegas, specify big wall units with everything (luggage bench, TV, drawers, outlets, ipod stand) integrated into one neat wall mount. “We are flexible in our style,” says Dupras. “Our focus is the new contemporary that is very young, very boutique. We look a little more edgy. We try to bring new looks to the market, new ideals, not to just do what we have always done, what everybody has always done. Instead we bring in new materials and new ways of thinking about hotel rooms and residence halls.” Dupras and his team often travel to Europe to see what is new in the market in terms of material and hardware.
Foliot Furniture's new Las Vegas facility takes advantage of the alliance between Uniboard and KML to offer the same surface designs to customers east and west.
High Performance Materials
The European sensibility carries over into Foliot’s philosophy about engineered materials. “Engineered is good, it sounds good,” says Foliot, “whether you are re-engineering for cost savings or re-using materials for environmental benefits, the word “engineered” has value.” Foliot Furniture uses reconstituted veneers, solid wood legs, Wilsonart HPL and HTFL. That’s right HTFL, high-temperature fused laminate, not TFM. “I want to get away from the word ‘melamine,’” says Foliot. “It is a word that carries negative connotations from back before there was technology to machine and edgeband properly, when the focus was about processing for economy, not quality. Now we have the technology to make very nice things out of engineered materials.” With this approach Foliot Furniture has great success convincing clients of the value and performance of engineered materials. Foliot Furniture takes advantage of the alliance between Uniboard (eastern North America) and KML (western North America) to offer the same HTFL designs to customers, with short leads times, regardless of their geographic location. Once a design goes through R&D and engineering, Foliot Furniture creates 3D renderings of complete rooms. They also develop prototypes using different materials so that clients can see and feel the benefits of engineered materials. “We educate all our reps about materials,” says Dupras. “And we present two versions, one in solid wood and veneer, and one in laminate so they can see there is not a difference in appearance, but there is a difference in cost and quality for long term use.”
To fulfill custom designs just in time and in high volume, Foliot Furniture has very flexible, automated manufacturing. “In St-Jerome our main production line is equipped with a completely automated system. There is no material handling from the saw to the end of the edgebanders,” says Foliot. The new Las Vegas facility is also fully automated, appointed with Ima, Schelling and SCM equipment and Hytrol conveyers. The facility is equipped with several Schelling saws, 6 drilling machines three edgebanders and a contoured edgebander from Ima. Foliot Funriture‘s new facility also features a Cefla UV line. The company uses a parametric casegoods application from Microvellum to run production. “Everything really starts with Microvellum, it is the central brain of our operations,” says Perreault. “Starting with the engineering department we process all orders through Microvellum. Once we create the different parameters and formulas in the library all we have to do is input data and all the cutplans, all the drilling plans, all the recipes, all the bill of materials and all the workload information are sent to the different departments. Everything starts there, the barcodes and scanner information, is all automated and the equipment is all CNC. Basically, we send a program, answer a few questions, push the green button and the machines do the job.” Foliot Furniture’s investment in equipment and technology give the company the flexibility necessary to produce large quantities of furniture within short lead times. The company’s commitment to new design and new materials allows them to deliver distinctive, durable furniture to hospitality, residence hall and military customers throughout North America.
Simon Perreault, Vice President of Foliot Furniture is in charge of engineering and IT for the company. He identifies the greatest challenge facing the panel processing industry in North America as the lack of trained machinery operators. “In Canada nobody offers a technological furniture program, so we have to do a lot of training here in house. We have to train everybody.” Perreault acknowledges the value of the “old school” way of building furniture by hand, but that method does not translate to producing high-volume for many different customers. “With high-tech equipment you need to be able to program it and operate it, that is a big difference from the old ways,” says Perreault.
Foliot Furniture is not the only company aware of the increasing need for craftspeople with technical skills. This year at IWF the Woodworker Career Alliance of North America (WCANA) announced the new Skill Standards program. The basis of the program is a set of observable, measurable operations for tools and machinery. Professional woodworkers across all market segments can be evaluated on their knowledge of procedures and safety for those operations and tools. Their progress will be documented in a passport that functions as a permanent, portable record. Not only does the Skill Standards program make it easier for employees to fi nd work and for employers to find trained operators, it also adds a level of prestige to the increasingly high-tech industry of furniture manufacturing. The WCANA is currently seeking experienced professionals to train to become paid evaluators, with the goal of having the program fully functional by the close of 2010.
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