Volume 7 Issue 6 June 2006
At Lincoln Woods, No Shape is Left Behind
by Alan Goldberg
For nearly 60 years, Lincoln Wood Products Inc. has been dealing with shapes of all types. Founders Carl and Jane Bierman shaped a dream into reality when they renovated an old dairy in Merrill, Wis., in 1947 to make finely crafted patio doors and windows. As Lincoln approaches its 60th year of operation, it exemplifies how adapting to change can lead to survival in a market that has grown increasingly competitive.
Today there are four facilities, all in close proximity to each other. They encompass more than 500,000 square feet and have a work force of 500, operating on one five-day shift and a small seasonal 2nd shift during the summer. The company now serves a residential and light commercial market on a national scale through a network of distributors.
But not everything has changed since the business began. A Tradition of quality craftsmanship remains the company’s signature. Customer service is still the highest priority. The company prides itself on being responsive to shifts in the market. The best example is the formation of sister company Timeline, more than a decade ago, to produce vinyl units (see DWM, May 2005, page 54).
The corporate structure also remains relatively unchanged. Lincoln Wood is still a privately-held, family-owned business with Jane Bierman, as president, still running the company. Because it is privately held, annual sales and volume are not disclosed.
Wood and Composites
The fabrication of wood and aluminum-clad doors and windows is a two-facility operation. It begins with machining in a 94,000 square-foot building and ends in an adjacent 160,000 square-foot plant where insulating glass is made and doors and windows are assembled. What the two locations have in common is that change is evident in both, says Jay Wojcik, marketing director. For example, a rip saw line, once very active as raw wood came in by rail car, is now used sporadically.
The company is now working with multiple species of wood. Dennis Krueger, assistant general manager, explains that the market wants species like oak, mahogany and other fine woods for high-end residential use.
He points out that many windows are aluminum-clad and are available in standard or feature colors.
In the late 1990s, Lincoln Wood started using composite materials.
“The demand for cPVC and fiberglass has been on the rise because it does not rot and doesn’t have to be painted,” says Krueger, “and we continue to expand our use of it.”
On the next level, wood is machined using tenoners, or tenon saws, for cutting and end work.
“All machining [for doors and windows] is done right here, in this machine room,” says John Tomjcik, shop supervisor. “We do a fairly large volume of work.”
The next step is moulding, a finishing operation, says Tomjcik.
“We use a lot of jigs and nine different cutting heads [spindles] to get the right mould,” he says, describing a new Weinig moulder.
“It operates at 160 to 200 feet per minute, it’s self-contained, it takes up less room [than the machine it replaced] and, because it is automated, it gives us quick changeover.”
Once moulded, the wood is finished, unless priming is required. Parts of the window that will be exposed to the outdoors must be treated for moisture protection. A water-based material is used to protect the wood at the construction site.
Alongside the moulding operation is the special shapes area.
“We begin with veneers,” says Krueger who explains that the thin layers of wood are stacked–sometimes as thick as one inch. These veneers are then shaped in the PT-6 bender made by Pro-Tech where each shape is first programmed into the system for accuracy.
In the next step, the glued pieces are planed and shaped into the specified parts for special shape windows, for jambs on casements or as vertical parts for doors. Once the various pieces are fabricated, the window is built manually.
“This [special shapes fabrication] is a very labor-intensive operation because every window is different,” says Krueger.
He points out that the shapes are endless.
“In the late 1980s we started making shapes. In less than 20 years, we experienced phenomenal growth in this area, possibly as high as 400 percent,” adds Krueger.
Assembly of standard doors and windows takes place in the next building. Raw materials enter one end and finished products go out the other. Production lines move in a sequential order so as doors and windows are completed, they can be loaded easily onto trailers.
“We don’t keep product here. It is fabricated, packaged and shipped,” says Krueger.
The procedures are similar for all windows. The line for double-hung windows is fully automated.
A Dakota Automation cutting saw optimizes and cuts lineals with minimal waste. It runs on a software program that establishes the number of cuts based on deliveries for that day.
Low-E glass is supplied by Cardinal Glass Industries. Glass cutting, also an automated operation, is part of a GED Intercept line. As with the Dakota unit, the glass cutter is optimized so that cutting is based on each day’s truck load orders.
One of the goals is to operate with minimal to no waste.
“For example, in the machining operation, we use every sliver of lumber. Even saw dust is sold where it is processed as pellets,” says Krueger.
While glass is going through the washer, tin plate is being roll-formed into spacer material, above the washer, using Bostik’s warm-applied, one-part butyl and warm-applied Matrix, explains Tracey Schenzel, IG supervisor.
“We installed Edgetech’s SuperSpacer in 1995,” she says.
The automated unit cuts spacer into lengths, based on daily requirements. The material is formed manually into a frame.
“Bending the spacer at the right place to form a frame requires a skilled person to do it right, without wasting material,” says Schenzel.
The spacer frame is placed on a conveyor so it can meet the glass coming out of the washer, where one lite of glass and spacer are joined. A second lite moves along a parallel conveyor. Both components come together on a butterfly table to form a finished insulating glass unit which is heated and pressed. In a final step, the unit is filled with argon gas through a small opening in the spacer which is sealed when the fill is complete.
Another programmable Dakota unit performs five automated steps in sequence.
Mike Berndt, the supervisor for the sash line, explains how it attaches aluminum clad to double-hung windows in the first stage; routs the frame for hardware in the next; applies screws and tilt pins; inserts locks; and in the final stage, inserts the tilt latches. The program will determine which color—one of six—has been specified for the hardware.
“It’s quite an incredible machine,” says Berndt. “It will do about 80 sashes per hour.”
In the final assembly area, sashes are put together; the sides are squared by machine; silicone is applied as a bedding; glass is set into place and the wood stops are installed. Simulated divided lites are also applied in this area. The last step is packaging and loading. The company has its own fleet and also uses common carriers.
The steps for the fabrication of doors are very much like the window operation, says Steve Oberg, supervisor of the patio door line. He points out that the panels are doweled instead of tenoned. The most significant change that has taken place is the addition of a new automated CNC router.
“This replaces an old unit. It is our first CNC attached router,” he says.
Oberg says doors are tested on site for air, water and structural specifications based on American Architectural Manufacturers Association (AAMA) standards. Similar tests are also performed for windows, says Krueger.
“In addition to our testing, we do quality checks at various points along the production line,” he adds.
A quality control department does offline testing through a random selection process. Labels on the product indicate inspections have taken place.
All employees also participate in a formal safety training program. The company uses certified AAMA programs for training.
“We cannot underestimate the importance of proper installation training,” adds Krueger.
While the company does not see its business directly impacted by globalization, the signs of foreign imports are visible in the marketplace.
“We’ve been approached by vinyl extruders and hardware suppliers about making a change. Our suppliers, particularly hardware, are being impacted by all of this,” says Krueger.
For Lincoln Wood, its biggest challenge—keeping up with a market that is competitive, demanding and constantly changing—is not new. It is one the company has faced throughout its history which is why customer satisfaction will always be a top priority and no shape will be left behind.
Alan Goldberg is a contributing writer for DWM. He has 31 years of experience in the insulating glass industry.
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