Bringing Style to the Table
Although Nucraft has been in the contract furniture business for 70 years, its entry into conferencing products in the mid-1980s was a defining moment for the company. That specialization drove material and processing innovations that are a departure from standard casegoods on many levels. One is scale. Designing for large expanses requires an understanding of materials that goes beyond four-by-eight panels and box construction. As well, because conference tables are essentially elevated horizontal work surfaces, Nucraft’s finish has to be both beautiful and extremely durable. Through in-depth research, Nucraft developed a finishing process that does justice to its sophisticated products.
“One of the big things we did that established the company as an industry leader was introducing the first conference product line and category in the mid-1980s when nobody else was doing that,” says Matt Schad, CEO of Nucraft – a fourth generation family-owned business. “That is a niche that has developed for us over the past 30 years. We’ve gotten very good at understanding what our customers value in terms of design and performance, and very good at the manufacturing in that category. It is one of the first things that differentiates us from the rest of the market.”
The company cultivates a robust culture of problem solving, in which innovations in one area benefit development of other products. In 2002, Nucraft entered into casegoods and the company also has lines of reception, occasional and training tables. This allows the company to provide high-end, harmonious solutions to top architecture and design firms serving corporate clientele throughout North America, as well as internationally.
Capabilities Meeting Client Demands
Despite the fact that Nucraft has an impressive standard offering, about 60 percent of the business is custom to some degree, whether that is a special finish, size or shape of a product.
“We’re known for our ability to respond to just about any custom request, whether it’s based on materials, design, technology accommodation or other criteria,” says Bob Surman, product development manager for Nucraft. “Customers often bring new ideas to us and we strive to figure out how to integrate them into our products. Receiving positive feedback from the market in that respect is one source of innovation. Once a great solution is developed, we ultimately end up incorporating it into something new.”
Nucraft is a highly vertically integrated manufacturer with 250 employees and 200,000 square-feet of manufacturing space located in Comstock Park, Mich. “Starting from the typical raw materials in our industry – lumber, veneer and core – we perform all processing steps to finished goods,” says Michael Fredrigo, vice president of operations for Nucraft. “We also have metal fabrication capabilities which not all wood manufacturers have. Being located in Western Michigan, we are blessed with an outstanding supplier base, which gives us locally the opportunity to work with a wide variety of materials. Our products are not only wood, we also do a lot of other materials such as glass, laminate, solid surface and painted surfaces.” Nucraft’s modern manufacturing facility houses traditional wood, metalwork and panel processing capabilities as well as state-of-the-art finishing.
When custom projects are requested, Nucraft works externally through different supply chains to establish relationships for materials, and internally to develop new competencies. Rather than viewing custom requests as inefficient, Nucraft embraces them as an opportunity to drive new concepts.
The long list of accolades awarded to the company – which is relatively small in comparison to other contract furniture manufactures – suggests that this is a successful approach to mining innovation and staying on the leading edge of technology.
“Conference is really our lead category in terms of product development. Many of our conference products have a very unique aesthetic or function in terms of what they do,” says Surman. “Over the years, we have developed reconfigurable tables that can be broken into different arrangements and then be brought back together to form what appears to be a single boardroom table. We have articulating tables that can open up on one end to give a clear line of sight to a presenter or screen. Those ideas aren’t new today, but they were when we did them a decade ago. And every year we introduce new conferencing products to the market.”
Nucraft has two featured conferencing products for 2014, Kai and Tesano. Kai is possible because of a proprietary process for adhering veneer to aluminum. The light substrate material allows it to span 20-feet with only two bases It is also available with a stunning high-gloss automotive paint finish. Tesano exhibits a 2-ply veneering application that is unique to Nucraft. It’s substantial aesthetic is the result of a process where a thinner particleboard panel is v-grooved on a Weeke machining center and then miter-folded to give the appearance of a thick top. (See Designer spec page 48).
One area of research and development that benefits all of Nucraft’s product lines featuring wood and veneer is finishing. Years ago the standard finish was a conversion varnish, but the company was looking for something that was lower-emitting. They launched a large R&D project and investigated all the choices in the market place before finding a solution that meets both industry indoor air quality standards and internal performance standards.
“We have the same finishing system for all of our wood finishes,” says Fedrigo. “It is a system that comes out of Italy which includes a urethane acrylic topcoat that is by far the best product we have seen in the industry for meeting all the criteria we feel are important. We were looking for something that has excellent chemical and scratch resistance, clarity, good UV inhibitors and is both a really hard product and still reparable.”
The post-catalyzed product is mixed in real time and hand sprayed using a dual 2K system, which pre-atomizes the catalyst and then introduces it. “The potlife on the product is only about 30 minutes,” says Fedrigo. “If we weren’t using a 2K system, it would be difficult to use this product.”
Nucraft runs four different finishing lines, three of which focus on staining and wood finishing, and one that is more dedicated to paint for both wood and metal parts. “We finish a high percentage of our parts already assembled, which is relatively uncommon in our industry,” says Fedrigo. “We do that because we get better quality that way. Better color consistency and fewer visible fasteners when the product is complete.”
The lines are flexible, which allows Nucraft to move production in between them as necessary to accommodate the different geometries of conferencing products, occasional tables, casegoods and credenzas. Each line includes all steps of stain, sealer and topcoat in line. Nucraft designed and built the specialty halogen bulb UV- style oven for curing after sealer and topcoat. Oven curing reduces the cycle time in the plant as well as the risk of damage from handling.
By both specializing and customizing, Nucraft cultivates an environment where creativity thrives. After a product is developed, it is almost inaccurate to call it a finished product. Nucraft’s culture of on-going problem solving makes each piece more like a “continuing product,” one that may very well hold the seed of the next award winner.
“Customers often bring new ideas to us and we strive to figure out how to integrate them into our products.”
Bob Surman, product development manager, Nucraft