Canadian Company Becomes a Major Mouldings Producer
by Alan B. Goldberg
When E.L. Sauder opened a moulding plant in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1926, he never could have imagined that his business would pass from generation to generation, and, that one day, three grandsons would build it into a major producer of specialty moulding products.
Today, Sauder Industries Limited, with 78 divisions, has operations from coast to coast in the United States and Canada. The corporate office remains not that far from where the family business began.
“My father took over in the 50’s,” said Matt Sauder, vice president. “Both second and third generations are growth-oriented. Our aim is to be a complete provider of North America’s moulding items, and we are aggressively growing the company.”
Two of the eight manufacturing facilities are less than three months old, and the company will continue “to get more geographic coverage,” said Sauder.
The Ferndale operation was built nearly 15 years ago.
“Our facility was an old factory in downtown Vancouver which was no longer a viable place to be in the manufacturing business. The plant was boxed in which made expansion impossible,” Sauder said.
Today, the Ferndale facility operates in 160,000 square feet with room for expansion.
Sauder pointed out that part of the goal to be successful is to invest in the best machinery available. Consequently, all the facilities have state-of-the-art equipment. For instance, at its Richmond, Va., facility, the company is installing a vision scanning automatic variable rip saw. Boards will go through a bank of cameras that take pictures on both sides, detect defects and board size and then position the saw for the best recovery out of the wood. Upgrades or improvement in machinery is an on-going process. Ferndale is no exception.
Equipment at Ferndale includes high-speed Weinig moulders, high-speed Ferrari re-saws, a variable ripping and self-centering planing, and computer-optimizing cross-cut saws. Laser eyes scan the surface, mark shoring knots and tell the saw what needs to be cut out.
From Lumber to Mouldings
The process of making mouldings begins in the yard.
“We buy green lumber. The wood—which is the best grade for our moulding products—is dried in our own kilns so we can manage
our own wood,” said Scott Burton, sales manager. The drying process takes 10-14 days, and it is critical so the wood does not split.
The temperature is monitored by computer.
In the initial process, Time Saver sander belts establish the right thickness by taking off the top and bottom layers so the operator can see what the wood is like and determine a level of quality and how it is going to be used. Wood that is rejected for mouldings follows a different path, where it is sorted for thickness or grade, and, depending on the use, cut into specific lengths to meet orders.
Every operator works off of a production list showing the number of pieces of different lengths for a certain use. For example, spindles and ballisters are made from wood that has been rejected for full-length moulding. No wood is wasted.
“Ferndale is one of the largest and strongest of the facilities. It is considered the flagship plant because it is the successor to the original business,” added Paul Douglas, general manager.
The company makes its moulding products using fir, hemlock, knotty pine, solid pine oak and medium-density fiberboard (MDF), though the Ferndale location focuses on hemlock.
Employee empowerment is the key to the quality control program, explained Douglas.
“We give them the tools they need. We give them digital calipers to make checks. And most important, we give them the power to shut down lines, if need be,” Douglas said.
“The opportunity to pull a product off the line so it doesn’t go through is so essential to maintaining quality,” added Burton.
Sauder underscores the critical nature of quality control because of the way the company does business.
“Using our proprietary equipment, we take a customer’s sample or product and reproduce it with the highest accuracy and the most consistency in our industry.”
He pointed out that the company is focused on getting the best appearance of the final product. People working on the line are committed to making a quality product. They always ask the question, “Does it look good?”
“If it does not,” said Sauder, “the product comes off the line, even if it meets the specifications.”
The Ferndale plant employs 125 people. Company-wide, there are more than 1,000 employees. All the plants run two to three shifts and will work weekends if needed, depending on the facility and demand.
“We work the hours, overtime if necessary, to get the work out as needed by our customer,” added Douglas.
Eight Small Businesses
Sauder explained that the hallmark of the company is the way it is structured. The organization is flat and everyone is kept close to the customer. What makes it exciting and challenging is that the company is organized into eight small businesses, each of which is encouraged to be entrepreneurial.
“Each manager is instructed to operate as if they own the business. ‘Look after the customer and be successful,’ they are told ,” Sauder said.
He pointed out that there is no centralization of functions company-wide. Every unit is self-sufficient. Every plant has its own internal maintenance and technical teams to make themselves self-sufficient. One unique quality of the company is the location of the plants—which are strategically placed so they are near raw material providers and close to their markets.
Supporting the Customer
Sauder said there is great emphasis put not only on servicing and supplying internal and external customers, but also on supporting them.
“We do business with an internal distribution group, and we maintain a strong commitment to the success of independent distributors so we have a large field sales presence. We make joint sales calls, we provide a broad array of merchandising materials and maintain a library of end-use applications,” Sauder said.
The company also supports its customers’ customers—the retailers as well as the supply/install companies.
“We are always looking for ways to improve everything we do, while reducing costs and growing our business,” said Sauder.
He mentioned that the company is in the process of exploring technology to reduce customers’ inventories which will help lower their cost which he pointed out ties in with being responsive to customer needs.
A company-wide management-trainee program with management development practices has proven to be very successful. Many employees started in this program and gained experience by being moved from one operation to another. Two of those people, Sauder pointed out, were Burton and Douglas.
“We are very strong on promoting from within. We have seen a lot of success. When we opened the two Baltimore operations, we were able to send five management people from our ranks rather than hire an outside staff.”
Management views the company as being unique in many ways—ardent support for customers, strategic location of plants and a determination to remain in the forefront of technology.
Sauder said, “Our aim is to be North America’s largest and most complete provider of specialty moulding products,” a vision that reflects what was passed on from generation to generation.
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