New World Millworks provided the interior for the W Hotel in Atlanta, Ga.
New World’s make-shift solid surface oven heats the solid surface material until it is pliable.
New World journeyman Bill Kendall then places the heated material into the form and clamps it down.
After the material cools, Bill Kendall and David Trejo remove the sink base from the form.
After cutting, seaming and sanding, the final product is ready for installation.
New World Millworks
Location: Castle Rock, Colo.
Products: Custom architectural woodwork
Annual Revenue: $15 million
Market Area: United States
Facility Size: 100,000 sq. ft.
Owners: Eric Peterson
General Manager: Robert Hott
Over the course of the last year, many businesses have been forced to take a closer look at their products and processes to seek out opportunity. For some it’s a necessity of survival mode; for others, it has been an opportunity to evaluate areas pre-recession workloads wouldn’t have allowed them to explore.
In the realm of solid surface fabrication, it’s not uncommon that the lines between countertop fabricator and cabinetmaker tend to blur.
Eric Peterson’s roots are in Corian countertop production. He spent the early ‘80s working at a “top shop” where he fabricated and installed countertops and tub surrounds. After five years, Eric transitioned into architectural woodwork, where he worked on the shop floor as a journeyman cabinetmaker, shop foreman and project manager. In 1990, he opened his own 15,000-sq.-ft. cabinet and countertop shop, New World Millworks. Slowly the company grew from $200,000 in annual sales into a $15 million high-end, custom architectural millwork firm. In 2007, Eric designed, constructed and moved the company into a new 100,000-sq.-ft. Castle Rock, Colo.-based manufacturing plant.
New World Millworks has a history of subcontracting its solid surface countertop work to two local shops; however, with of the reality of the economy, the company has opt-ed to keep some of its solid surface workload in-house.
Eric’s son, Casey Peterson, managing partner and estimator at New World Millworks, discussed the company’s decision to introduce countertop fabrication to its work flow.
Surface Fabrication: New World Millworks has such a strong reputation in architectural woodworking; how did the company decide to bring the fabricating of solid surface in-house?
Casey Peterson: Usually there is a 12- to 18-month lag between when new commercial buildings start up and when we install product. Gauging whether our sales would be up or down based on new construction starts, we saw the slowdown coming. The most important thing for us was to keep our employees working full time, 40-hours a week. This meant what we needed to do is sell manufacturing hours. With a relatively new facility, we have an overhead burden to cover. The decision to add solid surface countertops to our manufacturing process was an effort to boost the amount of shop hours.
Retaining our skilled journeymen is a top priority here. We can’t afford to lose them because they are so hard to find. Eventually when business improves, we’ll need to be ready with the right guys. Guys with this kind of knowledge are invaluable because they are so skilled in their trade. Losing these people cannot be considered as an option.
SF: How do you determine which projects stay in-house and which projects are subbed to the fabricators you’ve had a long-term relationship with?
Peterson: It’s a matter of whether or not we’re going to be short in hours. We’re not fabricating 100 percent of the solid surface in-house, it fluxuates with the schedule. If we have a full backlog, we still sub it out. We’ve been lucky; our backlog has been keeping our guys working full time so we haven’t had the need to bring in all the solid surface work, but we would be in the position to if we needed to.
SF: Did you have to provide any special training for this shift in production?
Peterson: Each of the 15 journeymen we have on the floor averages about 15 years of experience. Most of them have been in the solid surface field at some point in their career and have been certified to work with and install the material. That’s where we have the assurance that our staff knows what they’re doing in order to cover the manufacturer’s warranty.
The decision to keep something in-house is completely a scheduling issue; the level of difficulty doesn’t play too much into whether or not we should do it in-house or if we should sub it out.
SF: Since you don’t have a solid surface specific work area, how do you run jobs through the shop? Any special considerations made to accommodate this production?
Peterson: We use all existing woodworking machinery and did not have to rework or rearrange a special space for solid surface. We didn’t change a thing. We’re still in a work flow learning process for the solid surface portion of the business. Right now, sheets move through to machining to the custom bench where all custom journeymen are putting together unique work. If we dedicated a portion of the plant to solid surface, this process could be sped up, but we aren’t fabricating enough to do that; we’re still in the learning process.
SF: How are jobs coordinated between the wood and solid surface portions of the business? What kind of software do you use?
Peterson: All jobs are broken into manageable portions called “work orders.” An elevation of plastic laminate cabinets, a reception desk or solid surface vanity counters could qualify as an individual work order. Those work orders are managed through a TradeSoft scheduling program.
SF: What kind of equipment are you using to fabricate the material?
Peterson: We use the Star V Machinery linear v-groover for miter folding edges, and the WEEKE BP-200 for routing shapes. Cutting, routing, sanding — a lot of the fabrication is using hand tools.
SF: Over the course of the year, have you come up against any challenges?
Peterson: Yes. Recently we took on a wave-designed sink for a Steamboat Ski Resort lodge. We are the contracted millworker for the public areas of the resort. Originally the sink was supposed to be concrete, but the cost would have been so high we offered to do it in solid surface and they accepted the deduction to do it in ½ in. solid surface. This was all created at the custom bench, and our journeyman Bill Kendall had to figure out how we were going to do it. He built the form and then had to figure out how to heat the material for molding and that’s how our custom oven was born. Now we can use it for any kind of job. We couldn’t find an oven that was wide enough to form full sheets so we had to build one ourselves. Our guys built a box out of plywood, cement board and 3-mm commercial foil. They decided to use a propane heater, piping and a thermometer to keep a constant watch on the temperature in the oven so they could heat it to 350 F for 20 minutes and make the solid surface pliable. It was done outside with supervision and it worked out very well.
SF: Once business does pick up again, will you abandon solid surface?
Peterson: When the time comes — and we’re not projecting this to happen for awhile — we will have to reevaluate it. If we are successful and profitable and it is a benefit to keep it in-house — and it doesn’t interfere with our profit centers, which is the custom high-end portion — then, yes, we will focus on it. You start by trying something new; and if you don’t like it, you stop it.