AIS boosts furniture edge quality with dedicated machine
October 2, 2017 | 4:51 pm CDT

AIS needed a dedicated machine to produce a tapered edge that its customers were asking for.

The Leominster, Massachusetts, company makes commercial office furniture and seating, and it consolidated several manufacturing locations into an efficient, cell-based, lean workplace in 2015.

Volker Braun, AIS plant manager, knew a large, million-dollar machine was an option that could do the job, but his company was seeking a smaller, dedicated machine.

Customers were requesting this tapered edge for desks and tables. Braun looked for a contour edgebander that could produce the knife edge, and Vitap worked closely with AIS to develop the machine they needed, using the Vitap Eclipse contour edgebander.

That included making modifications to the machine that AIS required. There are some 850 Eclipse machines installed around the world.

“Vitap was the only company who said they can do it,” Braun said. Vitap modified the trimming head for them, so the cutters could be as close together as AIS specified.

The top cutter is a custom cutter head. Vitap also modified the top and bottom wheels that move the part into position. Because of the knife edge the wheels had to be moved. The part is moved by these rollers in relation to the cutter head, and that also had to be modified. They were made for straight edges.

In addition, Braun said that AIS worked closely with the edgebanding supplier and glue provider to ensure the right edgebanding performance and glue consistency. They are applying a smaller edgeband that is narrow and flexible,

The edgeband used is so thin so they had to make sure it didn’t get too hot. If the temperature is too high, the edgeband is heated and it stretches. If the edgebanding starts stretching, the amount needed for the workpiece will be off.

Braun said they haven’t had a problem with the edgeband adhering to the smaller work area.

Another potential problem was that if the table parts get bigger they may bow a little, throwing off the smaller edgeband. The table itself has to be level, and can’t be warped even if it is a larger size, or the edgeband won’t work and the table will have to be scrapped.

End product

The edgeband on a finished table or desktop, for example, is a 2-1/2 mm thick edge, and it is 3/8 inches wide. It could be any contour the customer specifies, including a variety of inside and outside curves. On this machine, it goes through the same process whether custom or catalog item.

AIS has a catalog, but everything is custom as far as sizes and colors. “We are very flexible with custom sizes,” Braun said.

“This was a new detail for us, so we needed a machine that was very reliable, with consistent quality, and a reasonable price.”

Even though the Vitap is a new technology, the operator has to be skilled at operating this process. On the Vitap they are heating and applying glue in the standard edgebanding way. It’s not a matter of flipping a switch. “It’s still an edgebander,” Braun said.

Braun created training documents and defined a standard work routine, taking pictures of the process so everyone does it the same way.

Another company could offer this edgebanding process, but it would be much more expensive. It could be done on a million dollar machine, but to make it on a $50,000 machine adds value to the process. Also, the operator needs less expertise than on a large machining center. 

Lean in Leominster

AIS consolidated its main manufacturing operation in Leominster from several other locations, including the former main location in Hudson, Massachusetts.

“We didn’t  miss one order when we consolidated,” Braun said. ”We worked ahead a few days, moving one machine at a time, over a period of months. The customer didn’t care about that. They wanted their product on time.”

The AIS manufacturing operation is a showcase for lean, and Braun can point out many areas in which product quality and productivity are measured and improved.

Work routines are spelled out on charts. Each team meets every day. The chair team, for example, talks every day about their particular process. Using Internal Process Audit, AIS measures the processes to make sure the final product is according to spec. They don’t wait to inspect the product at the end.

“We’re not inspecting the product itself, we’re inspecting process parameters,” Braun said. “How much glue is applied?  What is the viscosity? It’s called a process audit.”

AIS is a 170 million dollar office furniture manufacturer. They make partitions, desks, benches, casegoods, tables and seating. AIS won the Shingo Prize for Operational Excellence back in 2006. There are 10,000 solar panels on the roof generating half of needed energy for the AIS building.

AIS has a web-based system in which customer can enter an order, and the system will process the information seamlessly. Stiles Software woodCAD/CAM is integrated software for 3D design and manufacturing.

AIS can do any custom color, fabric, or custom size. “If the customer wants a custom fabric or custom size of work surface or cabinet, we can do it,” Braun said.


Atlantic Machine Corp.  Vitap Eclipse contour edgebander