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BWA Plant Tour Focus Group Attracts 40 Companies for Learning!

The BWA Plant Tour Focus Groups continue to draw members from far and wide from across southwestern Ontario. BWA members traveling from Chatham, Niagara, GTA, Owen Sound, and Barrie, and all stops in between representing cabinet shops, furniture manufacturers, commercial millworkers, CNC houses, and niche product manufacturers all showed up at this event because they share the same needs and interests: we all want to get better!

They gathered at George Guenzler & Son in Kitchener, ON for the BWA Plant Tour Focus Group Jan 23, 2018. These events focus on a challenge in the host company, and members learn from the host’s best practices and brainstorm solutions for the host. The discussion is dynamic with ideas and suggestions abound for all. This tour was special since we had the added bonus of BWA members Brad Cairns from the Centre for Lean Learning and Sepp Gmeiner of Lignum Consulting in the mix!

George Guenzler & Son is a custom manufacturer of wood components, supplying the industry for 100 years:
They have had a continuous improvement program and 5S for 10 years, and needed some help to invigorate it, and also new ideas to enhance employee engagement with their 5S program improvement suggestions.

After an introduction of all members present and an update on BWA events, Barry Freiberger and Ken Aardse of Guenzler provided an overview of their business model, some best practices, and a review of what the company has been doing with their 5S and Continuous Improvement program. This was followed by a full plant tour, then a facilitated debrief discussion with all present. You sure can’t beat a tour of someone else’s plant, and see all the action involving people, equipment, and flow of product!

Here are a few of the themes of discussion following the tour:

  • “Tour Ready” discipline: Barry did not tell his staff our tour group was coming!
  • Combining new technology with old methods
  • Strategies to solicit improvement suggestions from employees
  • 5S boards for ongoing audits in real time
  • Empowerment of work teams
  • Standardized work strategies
  • Reading material: “The Scrum”, “The Goal”
  • Use of pictures and video to capture before and after, and associating that with photos of employees responsible
  • Knowledge gained from customers and suppliers are used to make improvements
  • Collaboration with suppliers/customers to “lean out” processes
  • Improvement time: allowing 1 hr a day for improvement: members shared examples/results
  • Tracking suggestions, assigning priority, celebrating success
  • Employee communication strategies
  • Plus many more!

Many thanks to Barry, Kent, and Neil at Guenzler for hosting, and also to the visiting members engaging in the learning! Also, Brad Cairns and Sepp Gmeiner add so much value: thanks to you guys too!

This summary can’t begin to replace actually being there! If you are not a member of the BWA and would like to attend these and learn more, contact us: [email protected]

Mike Baker
Executive Director

[email protected]

Barry Freiberger of George Guenzler & Son shares with members his Continuous Improvement program.

BWA members tour George Guenzler & Son shop floor to observe improvement opportunities.


Toyota Plant Tour – November 15th


Toyota Plant Tour – October 26th

Spaces still available for the November 15th – 2 pm Toyota Plant Tour.
Book Now!


BWA Plant Tour Focus Group Examines Water Based Coatings Attracts 50 Members: Again!

The strength of the Bluewater Wood Alliance cluster is that it brings into action many inputs from our industry to help members innovate! Not only do manufacturing members get to visit other plant operations and learn from best practices and help brainstorm solutions to shared challenges, but the expertise of Associate Supplier members is also brought to bear on a topic of shared concern for all! To top it off, our educational stakeholders are also involved, and in this case Conestoga College on the topic of water based finish conversion.

BWA plant tour focus groups are focused on Continuous Improvement where the host presents a challenge to the group to help them solve. Associate members are “cherry picked” by the host according to area of expertise to participate in the exercise. These are facilitated so that the host is also able to share their business model and best practices. Solutions to challenges are brainstormed by the group creating a “Kaizen” style of interaction that stimulates insight into visiting member’s own operations back home.

Woodlawn Furniture Market / Ruffsawn / Woodhaven in Guelph is a unique BWA member company with a main process focus on finishing supplied manufactured product. Their new 32,000 square foot finishing facility and showroom is a site to behold, and they are in the midst of assessing the benefits and steps involved in converting to water based coatings. Some visiting BWA members have already converted to water based, but most have not. BWA Associate members attending that supply coatings included Richelieu, Performance Abrasives, Katilac Coatings, Sherwin Williams, and CCI Finish Works. We now call them the BWA finishing Dream Team!

The tour and discussion lead to several themes for consideration by members:

  • Water based issues shared with various types of wood: “Sugar Popping” when sap in white hard maple leaves the wood traveling through the finish, creating white spots. “Blooming”, “Clouding”, “Fog” – found under the topcoat, which remains after curing. Oak wood – trouble with colour ‘pop’ across surface. Members have found that oak needs to be soaked or misted with water before staining, watched for colour variations across a panel and may need retouching by hand. Wetting wood can raise the grain of the wood causing issues.
  • Associate members stressed that a dry environment and control of humidity are key factors to prevent issues, including the ones listed above: air movement, conditioning of wood pre-finishing, misting of wood with good quality water or methyl hydrate when using water base and have two different set-ups for water and lacquer-based finishing.
  • It was suggested to stick with one system/one supplier to easily trouble shoot issues as they come up.
  • Avoid mixing water base coats with oil base, although combining water base topcoat with oil stain has worked for some members. This allowed them to claim that they used a water base finish for marketing. However, associates believed there is a high risk of peeling.
  • An Associate suggested that if you’re thinking about changing over, work it in gradually, buy a new spray system with new pump and allow employees to work with the water base gradually because water based does feel different when spraying.
  • Some members were concerned about the colour depth of water based stains and matching existing stain. Associate members were confident that water based has improved. After wood furniture is finished and cured it is nearly impossible to tell if the finish is water based or not.
  • Images 2000 – Converted to water base and developed a drying system that takes 4 minutes that works very well for them. They emphasized that the key is control over the environment – air movement, temperature and humidity.
  • Water base: = No ‘off gassing’, which is good for customer perception and work environment.
  • Issue of drying/curing time for lacquer base: New drying technology are available in the market (Richelieu) – Microwave Unit – Thermal reactive pads – Wall mount
  • Some members believe that it is the long-term obligation to their employees – movement to water base will directly improve their quality of health.
  • Conestoga College can help facilitate R+D with water based conversion, as a non-bias alternative engaging multiple suppliers to find the right “fit”.

If you would like to attend a BWA Plant Tour Focus group, you will need to learn more about membership by contacting BWA Executive Director Mike Baker: [email protected]

Next event: April 5th hosted by Humber College in Toronto! Stay tuned for details!

BWA members take a tour of Woodlawn Furniture Market’s plant.

Their new 32,000 square foot finishing facility and showroom is a site to behold

Not only do manufacturing members get to visit other plant operations and learn from best practices and help brainstorm solutions to shared challenges.

Our Plant Tour Focus Groups are also great networking opportunities.


BWA Plant Tour Focus Group Attracts Over 50: Largest Tour Group Yet!

The shop floor is where “rubber hits the road” when it comes to running your business. It is the place where BWA members feel most at home. Being on someone else’s shop floor opens your mind to new ideas, and helps you to envision solutions to your own problems. It also helps you to realize how good you really are already, and where you have opportunities for improvement!

The BWA Plant Tour Focus Groups are facilitated in such a way to be relevant and valuable to both the host, and visiting members. They are becoming very popular, which is shown by our largest turn out for one of these tour groups with over 50 people January 25, 2017!

GCW Cabinetry in St. Thomas had a challenge with their panel processing area. They wanted to improve the flow, increase their production capacity, and reduce part handling. This also included brainstorming the best option for a drilling machine to complement their beam saw. Other considerations were reducing material waste and managing their offcuts.

Diverse perspectives on solutions are drawn not only by fellow manufacturers, but also by BWA supply chain members who are selected by the host to attend. GCW requested 7 BWA supplier members to attend. These included machinery and tooling manufacturers, software solutions providers, and Sepp Gmeiner of Lignum Consulting. When you put the ideas of manufacturing members along side subject matter experts, the result is a very powerful collaborative consultation that can only take place when members are engaged, and it is facilitated effectively.

The event started with an introduction to the GCW business model and an overview of the area of the shop under scrutiny. They provided some schematics of the flow, and the group reviewed the improvement exercise before venturing out on the shop floor. This was followed by a debrief in the GCW showroom.

Some of the suggestions included the following themes:

  • Return conveyor strategies
  • Operator job design at the out-feed areas
  • Part sorting strategies
  • Yield challenges/strategies: saw vs. CNC
  • Scheduling strategies
  • Supermarket kanban opportunities
  • Use of colour coding components
  • Barcode labelling methods
  • Use of white boards for communication
  • Error proofing operator processes
  • Interloping part strategies
  • Plus many more!

Another valuable part of the day was the time that members had to connect with one another. Long after the session ended, members continued to linger, and network with each other. Many new supply opportunities have come from these connections made within the cluster.

Comments from members included: “When is the next Plant Tour Focus Group?”

The next BWA Plant Tour Focus Group is scheduled for February 22, 2017, hosted by Woodlawn Furniture Market Guelph, ON.

If you would like more information on the BWA so you can attend these events, please contact BWA Executive Director Mike Baker

Email: [email protected]

BWA Plant Tour Focus Group Attracts 34 Companies Across Cluster Region!

Chatham, Thorold, St. Thomas, Barrie, Stratford, GTA, and all stops in between converge for valuable BWA plant tour learning event!


A true working cluster has the ability to attract members to its activities across its entire cluster region. Southwestern Ontario is a big geographic area. 34 BWA member member companies from all cross the cluster region converged on Woodland Horizons in Drayton, ON for a plant tour focus group on April 27.

The BWA plant tours are not just tours. They are problem solving exercises that engage members to be involved in common issues to help create solutions that can be brought back to members facilities.

With the case of Woodland Horizons, a custom kitchen cabinet and millwork shop, tracking labour costs throughout the process, and scheduling most efficiently to match shop capacity are shared challenges all wood product manufacturers face. Some companies have evolved further than others, using tablets and systems where employees sign in and out of given jobs. But they have other challenges they face. It never ends for wood companies. But the more we talk, the more we get to know each others best practices and challenges, innovation and technology transfer can take place! This is the strength of the Bluewater Wood Alliance cluster. Our members continue to be more engaged than ever in these plant tour events, and for good reason.

This event also dealt with how technology (design software and Enterprise Resource Planning and scheduling software) can play a role.

Mark down June 22, 2016 as the next open quarterly event. We will be looking further into how wood companies can use technology to help them become more efficient, and to grow their businesses!

If you want more information on the BWA, contact Executive Director Mike Baker: [email protected]

BWA members meet and debrief in the showroom at Woodland Horizons

BWA members meet and debrief in the showroom at Woodland Horizons

BWA members during tour of Woodland Horizons' shop

BWA members during tour of Woodland Horizons’ shop

BWA Feb 24 Plant Tour Involves Members to Brainstorm New Process Integration!

Critical thinking is a skill that is truly transferable from one manufacturing process to another to enhance continuous improvement. Read on to learn how BWA uses member plant tours to spread the skill!

Opportunities present themselves everyday for learning and improvement. The wood industry includes companies manufacturing with different processes for a variety of products using solid wood, veneers, and other products for furniture, flooring, or cabinetry, case goods, millwork, among other applications. The BWA Plant Tour Focus Groups are facilitated to seize learning opportunities for all members, both the host and those visiting from different manufacturing methods.

On Feb 24, 2016, Formatop Inc. in Kitchener hosted 25 visiting BWA member companies despite poor weather for the region. The opportunity was a new layout integrating a new 5×12 hot press with the 2 existing presses. Following an introduction by our host Formatop President, Erwin Reidl, members were split up into two tour groups to see the operation and the context of material flow. Members were asked for their ideas on how to optimize integrating new equipment into the flow of mixed material and a mix of size.

The brainstorming that ensued during the debrief was astounding. Questions coming from all directions, some from the obvious, some not, got the critical thinking juices flowing, and many different solutions and ideas came forward. The groups were asked to help design a new layout, and many constraints and opportunities emerged and were discussed at length.

One main theme of opportunity, which is common to most wood manufacturing processes, is the sorting and staging of material by customer order. In the case of Formatop, FSC certified product cannot be mixed with uncertified product. This posed more opportunity for options and fueled discussion further.

Another valuable aspect of this exercise is employee involvement and the connection made between people. Team members from Formatop joined in with the discussion and tours, and BWA members forged new relationships and strengthened the ability of the cluster to share knowledge and expertise across companies: The over-all objective of the BWA.

Congratulations are in order to Formatop for hosting a very successful BWA Plan Tour Focus Group learning event! A big thank you also goes out to the visiting BWA members, who provided very thoughtful feedback and input for the host.

Stay tuned for upcoming BWA events! If you are in the wood industry and want more information about the BWA, contact BWA Executive Director Mike Baker: [email protected]

One of the BWA tour groups at Formatop, learning about their process

One of the BWA tour groups at Formatop, learning about their process.

BWA members debrief and discuss new layout options for Formatop

BWA members debrief and discuss new layout options for Formatop

BWA members share ideas on plant layout options.

BWA members share ideas on plant layout options.

BWA Jan 27-2016 Plant Tour Focus Group Draws 25 Companies To Share and Learn Best Practices!

Adoption of new technology to move towards “Mass Customization” draws BWA member from far and wide! Read on!

Mass customization sounds like an oxymoron, and to traditional manufacturing thinking, it is! Today, however, the trend to reduce costs and overheads, while giving the customer exactly what they want when they want it, is the way of the future.

BWA member Dave Nichol of DJ’s Furniture hosted a Plant Tour Focus Group to share their latest investment in technology that customizes single customer orders and links it directly to the shop floor. The Weinig programs called EnVision and MillVision are used at the “front end”. Once at the shop floor, ordered components are bar coded, followed by optimizing saws, and and 5 axis CNC centres where product is tracked exactly where it is in the process. This is also linked it to equipment uptime and operation costs.

DJ’s staff demonstrated the customer experience of where they choose the product they want and it is customized with their software. Species, size, finish, configuration, and all custom to what the customer is ordering. There is no mass production of single product in the process. The program identifies common components across orders that can be placed in sequence without impacting individual order lead times.

BWA members enjoyed the demonstration and explanation of this technology, followed by Q&A that continued throughout and well after the tour.

Packaging is an area of opportunity for DJ’s where members gathered around to hear the challenge and brainstorm possible solutions while comparing mutual challenges. Corrugated cardboard continues to rise in price, and continues to be a necessary evil when delivering finished goods.

BWA Plant Tour Focus Groups provide value to the host and to the members who learn from best practices and best challenges.

Book February 24, 2016, for the next BWA Plant Tour Focus Group hosted by Formatop in Kitchener! If you want more information on the BWA and these events, contact BWA Executive Director Mike Baker at: [email protected]

BWA members enjoy a demo of Envision and Millvision in DJ's showroom

BWA members enjoy a demo of Envision and Millvision in DJ’s showroom.

BWA members during shop tour and DJ's 5 axis CNC in operation

BWA members during shop tour and DJ’s 5 axis CNC in operation.

BWA members debrief in DJ's packaging and finishing area.

BWA members debrief in DJ’s packaging and finishing area.



BWA Plant Tour Focus Group Brings Lead Time Reduction Ideas to Members.

We all know that the shorter your lead times, the more appealing that is to potential customers. How many customers have you lost due to long lead times? How do you break out of your cycle of typical thinking on how your business process flows? Outside ideas! That’s how! Read on!

Most of us have all at least heard about, and some of us have studied at length, Lean Principles and the thinking behind creating flow and reducing waste in your processes. The common challenge is that small to medium sized business owners wearing multiple hats often get caught up in the day-to-day battles in getting product out and satisfying our customers. What gets missed are opportunities to make critical changes to improve your lead times and reduce your costs. A frustrated manufacturer once said: “My business would be going great if it wasn’t for my customers and my employees”! Obviously, it is time for that person to step back and rethink priorities, as customers and employees are the two most important elements of your business. And when things aren’t going well, they are the first two things that can get blamed for problems.

So how do you step out of that thinking? The most recent BWA Plant Tour Focus Group was hosted by Springwater Woodcraft on February 19, 2015. Springwater Woodcraft is located on the outskirts of Barrie, Ontario. BWA members travelled from the far reaches of the cluster region to participate in this event. The format is focussed on continuous improvement and critical thinking on the hosts’ processes in order to get fresh ideas from outside eyes. Members take away many ideas and build relationships with industry peers to form a network of knowledge and skill in the industry. This is central to the BWA cluster model.

Springwater Woodcraft’s challenges include the desire to reduce lead times and create flow and reduce WIP. Grant and Simon Lloyd are a father and son duo that has grown the business to 20 employees, and they now have over 300 active dealers for their unique solid pine furniture across Canada and the U.S.

After an overview of their business model and a tour of the key areas of their plant, ideas were brainstormed by the group to help them create better flow in their process. After discussion, opportunities were revealed that can cut their lead times by at least one third by making a few minor changes with layout and process, and redistribution of current labour resources.

Some themes of discussion included:

  • Finishing booth layout changes
  • Dust collection opportunities
  • Reclaiming opportunities
  • Insourcing vs. Outsourcing ideas
  • Break-out efficiencies
  • Change over reduction
  • Employee communication
  • Daily schedule vs. batch production

These BWA events continue to add value for the members that participate, and BWA members are very engaged in the activity. If you are a wood product manufacturer in Southwestern Ontario and would like more information on the Bluewater Wood Alliance, please contact the BWA Manager Mike Baker: [email protected]

Simon Lloyd of Springwater Woodcraft leads a discussion and tour in his shop

Simon Lloyd of Springwater Woodcraft leads a discussion and tour in his shop

Simon Lloyd of Springwater Woodcraft leads a discussion and tour in his shop

Simon Lloyd of Springwater Woodcraft leads a discussion and tour in his shop.