Forest Contracts is a market leader in the design and manufacture of hotel furniture. Its production is focused in two areas – bedroom, and front-of-house, public-area furniture. The company is one of the preferred suppliers for Hilton, IHG (Holiday Inn & Holiday Inn Express), Marriott, and other renowned hotel groups including Accor (Novotel & Ibis). It also supplies well-crafted furniture to independent hotels, bars, restaurants, hospitals, offices and domestic developments.
“The business was launched in 1997 by Kevin Bullock and Darren Taylor,” explains fellow director, Mike Jacklyn. “Our factory is based in the small village of High Easter, very close to Stanstead airport. We also have a design office based up north in Knaresborough.
“In September 2020 we moved into a new 18,000ft2 production facility about a mile from our original unit. The move was part of an expansion strategy that included a number of goals: firstly, we wanted more space to create a better working environment; secondly, as continuous steady growth is important to us, we wanted to establish new working practices that would help us achieve this.
“A major element of the plan included investing in all-new, high-tech machinery and software. The aim was to maximise and develop the skills of our current workforce whilst giving us increased throughput, efficiency gains, and maintaining the high-quality output and sustainability on which our reputation is built.
“The reason for moving just down the road from our existing unit was stability. We wanted to minimise the risk of losing the skilled and talented craftsmen who are the backbone of our business and have been with us for many years.”
Partnering with Homag UK
James Chalk, production engineer at Forest Contracts, takes up the story: “When it came to selecting the right machinery and software partner, our priorities were reliability and service support. Much of our business is based on quick-turnaround projects, so if anything goes wrong and there’s a delay, it can cause us serious problems.
“Homag’s reputation for service, support and machinery performance is unmatched in the industry. This was something we experienced first-hand when they set up visits to companies who had similar manufacturing processes to our own.
“Seeing these facilities enabled us to judge for ourselves whether the machines we were considering purchasing were right for our business. The visits also highlighted the ease at which all the Homag machines can be linked together to create a seamless production flow.”
Homag Drillteq V-500 – compact dowelling system for safe and fast production
Specifying the Homag solution
Forest Contracts wanted a complete manufacturing solution and, working closely with the team at Homag UK, they drew up the specification for the new production line. The final package consisted of five machines – a Storeteq S-200 automated storage and retrieval system, a Sawteq B-300 beamsaw, an Edgeteq S-380 edgebander with a Loopteq O-300 return system, and a Drillteq V-500 vertical CNC drilling machine.
James continues: “As a business, we’ve been moving towards a software-driven operation. Partnering with Homag has enabled us to achieve this. From the control of stock with the Storeteq S-200 storage system to the cutting, edging and drilling, everything is linked and controlled using Homag’s advanced, yet easy-to-use software.”
As Mike explains: “The Storeteq system has probably delivered the biggest step-change in the business. Previously, board stock was all handled manually, which not only gave rise to considerable health and safety issues, but also led to significant challenges in keeping track of stock movements.
“With the Storeteq, everything is automated. The boards are unloaded off the lorry straight into the Storeteq, which stores the material, so we know exactly what we’ve got and where it is in the system. When the boards are allocated to jobs, they are delivered to the saw for sizing. Off-cuts are automatically taken back into stock by the system for later use, maximising stock usage and minimising wastage.
“The other big impact on production efficiency has been the Loopteq return system – it allows us to run the edgebander with just one operator. Panels are automatically returned to the operator for the next edge process, eliminating the need for a second operative. That person can now be employed elsewhere in the business where their skills are more relevant.”
Reducing the need for subcontracting and boosting efficiency
Another objective of the investment was to reduce or eliminate the reliance on subcontractors for elements of the production process. “We needed to take control of every aspect of production,” explains James.
“The old machinery didn’t allow us to do certain tasks, so these had to be contracted out. Now, as the Homag machinery can perform these tasks, we have all-but eliminated our reliance on subcontractors, which is a real advantage to us.
“Overall, each machine has added to the efficiency of the business. The Storeteq has given us total control of our board stock whilst reducing wastage, and minimising health and safety risks.
“The advantage of the Sawteq B-300 beamsaw is its easy operation, which enables us to use less-skilled machinists. This gives us added flexibility as, with minimal training, any member of staff can operate it.
Increased production efficiency, with the Homag Loopteq return system for one-man operation
“The speed of the B-300 offers another benefit, by significantly improving our throughput. With the capability to handle a broader range of maximum and minimum dimensions, the saw also reduces the level of secondary operations required in the business.
“Combined with the Loopteq O-300, the Edgeteq S-380 has speeded up production, given us flexibility and enabled us to use a wider variety of materials – both edge tapes and thicker panels.
“Finally, the Drillteq V-500’s automatic doweling system has been a tremendous benefit, removing many manual processes in our furniture production. With a footprint of about a third of the size of the old CNC, it allows for a more compact production cell. It is also much faster and safer than our old flatbed CNC, as it eliminates the need for the operator to reach out and lift heavy panels on and off the machine.”
A guiding hand from Homag
Mike continues: “Throughout the process, it was reassuring to work with Homag. They were always there to hold our hand and guide us through every step of the process, which for us, as a small business, was not only beneficial, but also very comforting.
“Homag clearly understood our business and our needs, but they always questioned those needs. This led them to offer alternative solutions that enabled us to fine-tune the machine specifications and achieve the perfect production cell.
“The installation itself was superbly planned and implemented by the Homag team. In a phased operation, we transferred from the old site to the new facility, starting with the Storeteq system. We then installed the saw, edgebander, and finally the Drillteq. It was only when the new equipment was commissioned and running that we switched off the old manufacturing site.
“During the transition, Homag always had someone on-site to help us. The pandemic, however, meant pre-installation training had to be adapted. Rather than taking place in Germany and Castle Donington, it was successfully delivered via webinars. Final training was completed on the machines once they were installed.
“The whole experience of working with Homag has been fantastic – the people are all very proactive and positive. The level of support throughout has made us feel a valued customer, and our new factory has become a truly effective marketing tool for us. It’s a real asset – we bring potential clients to see the factory in operation and it gives them immense confidence in our capabilities,” concludes Mike.
For a demonstration or more information on Homag’s machinery or software, contact Adele Hunt at Homag UK on 01332 856424.