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April-May-June 2002

ARROW INSIDE
Inside VT Industries
        Where Unique Manufacturing Approaches Make All the Difference
by SAMANTHA CARPENTER


VT Industries (VTI) located in Holstein, Iowa, has been in the manufacturing business for more than 45 years. Roger Clausen founded VT Industries in 1956, and today the privately held business continues with his son, Doug Clausen, as president and chief executive officer.

What does VT Industries manufacture? Since the 1960s, VT Industries has been manufacturing doors for the commercial segment of the building industry. The company originally was known as Van Top; and manufactured post-formed counter tops for kitchens and baths and other uses. After VT Industries started manufacturing doors, it changed its name.

VT’s architectural door division manufactures five types of doors, all of which are made to order. These include: decorative laminate-faced wood doors, wood veneer-faced doors, fire-rated doors, acoustical doors and lead-lined doors.

VT1                              VT2                              VT3
From left to right: Private dining area at Harvey’s Hotel & Casino in Council Bluffs, Iowa; Galva Middle School computer lab in Galva, Iowa; Holstein Elementary School in Holstein, Iowa.

Materials Used in VT’s Doors
While VTI manufactures a variety of products, Rick Liddell, vice president of its architectural door division, said the company makes its doors by beginning with a core made up of particle board, structural composite lumber, stayed lumber or mineral core.

“This is pretty typical in the industry; most of our competitors do the same thing. We actually cut the core material to size and do the same with the stiles and rails. Then the stiles and rails are adhered to the core. The unit is then sanded on both sides simultaneously, creating one monolithic core,” Lidell said. We then bevel the core, prior to adding either the -inch matching wood edge, used on our SolidStyle™ wood veneer doors, or matching laminate edge used on our PermaClad™ decorative laminate doors.”

Different Manufacturing Processes
So what does VT do different than its competition when manufacturing doors?

“A major difference between us and other manufacturers is that we apply the stile edge to the core first, and then we hot-press the face material on both sides. This locks the edge in. It’s really been received well by architects, since edge-before-face construction methods address both durability and aesthetic concerns,” said Liddell.

If you tour VT’s 300,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Holstein, Iowa, you can tell that the company has a unique way of manufacturing doors.

In most cases, VT hot-presses its doors. “We only cold-press specialty items, such as our lead-lined doors, that cannot feasibly be hot pressed,” said Catherine Wilcke, marketing coordinator for the company’s architectural door division.

VT also has a good balance between automation and people. “We really do pride ourselves on utilizing the most technologically advanced equipment available, but we also recognize that computers and technology cannot fine-tune everything. That’s why we have people manually inspecting veneers, even though they’ve arrived at our factory presorted. We also have individuals inspecting doors at each work station,” said Wilcke. “This allows us to correct a door at any time during the manufacturing process if it doesn’t meet our quality standards.”

VT4 VT5 At left: Along with its emphasis on automation, VT doesn't forget the human factor. Doors are manually inspected at regular check points throughout the manufacturing process to ensure only the finest quality products can proceed. Below: Each door manufactured by VT Industries carries a bar code containing all data required to manufacture and machine it. Bar code readers check the informationat each station throughout the plant to verify doors are being handled correctly.

VT Machinery
Most of the production equipment used by VT was manufactured in Germany, Italy or Japan, according to Tom Hoffert, technical development manager for the company’s architectural door division. “The machinery manufacturers send technicians from their facilities to set up new machines,” Hoffers said. “These technicians train our people here to operate the equipment and handle much of the maintenance ourselves.”

Quality-Control Procedures
What kind of quality-control procedures does VT use in the manufacturing process?

“Quality control is basically ongoing. Each station throughout the plant is responsible for its own quality. Once it leaves an area, it’s supposed to be top quality. We inspect every door, and if the plant workers see anything wrong with it, they’ll take it off the line,” said Hoffert. “Before being individually poly-bagged and palleted for shipment, each door is inspected and cleaned one final time.”

“Each door is identified with a bar code. This bar code is read at every workstation, measuring for width and length, reading component requirements and fire-rating and hardware requirements, among other things. We have machines that are reading the bar code placed on each slab before it’s machined, so we don’t prep a door incorrectly for hardware,” said Randy Carpenter, customer service center manager for VT’s architectural door division. “We have quality control written into our computer programs, so we keep our mistakes down to a minimum. In most cases, you cannot make an incorrect entry because the program will not allow it.”

Employee Incentives
How does VT get its employees involved in the manufacturing process?

VT has incorporated self-directed work teams, called “JobShots” into its culture. “Each JobShots team meets at the beginning of its shift and focuses on ideas that will affect productivity, quality of product, customer service and safety. This provides employees with the opportunity to lead the company by using their knowledge and expertise in effecting positive changes,” said Liddell.

Codes and Standards
Codes and standards are always a concern in the manufacturing process. VT’s fire-rated doors had to adhere to the new positive-pressure requirements for fire doors, but they do something unique when doing so. “More and more areas of the country are adopting UBC 7-2-97 and/or IBC 2000 code requirements for positive-pressure fire doors. Basically, this means doors are now tested with the point of neutral pressure located at 40 inches above the finish floor, instead of having the neutral pressure plane located at the top of the opening as done prior to UBC
7-2-97. VT has met this demand by developing fire doors that meet ITS/Warnock Hershey Category A guidelines, meaning that ‘no additional edge-sealing system is required.’ In order to maintain aesthetic quality as well as life-safety requirements, VT goes one step further, concealing intumescent material behind our stile edge so every door has the same, seamless appearance,” said Liddell.

VT6
VT Industries has been a leader in testing and manufacturing positive-pressure fire doors. Its doors meet ITS/Warnock Hersey Category A guidelines stating, "no additional edge sealing system required." Better yet, it conceals the intumescent behind its matching hardwood stile edge to meet aesthetic needs as well as life-safety requirements.

Lifetime Warranty
VT Industries has a unique way of manufacturing its architectural doors for the commercial market, by always applying the edge prior to the face material, whether on its five-ply wood veneer doors or three and five-ply decorative laminate doors. VT also offers a number of value-added extras for its customers, such as pre-drilling pilot holes for hinges and face plates; factory-sealing top and bottom rails on all doors; individually poly-bagging doors for shipment; and transporting doors on VT-dedicated trucks with VT-dedicated drivers, said Wilcke.

The company believes in its products so much that it offers a lifetime warranty. “Not everyone does that. They’ll have a limited warranty, and they’ll replace the door or refund the money. But we will literally replace the door, including re-hanging and re-finishing costs. We don’t have to do that often because of the quality of our products,” said Liddell.   


Samantha Carpenter is the editor of DWM/BCM.

 

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