Monday, May 31, 2004

APRIL 22, 2004, cont'd

I have been touring IEI in Emmetsburg with its president, Michael Webb. IEI makes countertops and cabinets, many of them for motorhomes made by Winnebago Industries. We are looking at a Computer Numerically Controlled router.

We got up close to the CNC router. It was cutting a piece of stock into several smaller parts. Designs are laid down on computer in the Auto-CAD program to maximize the useful pieces coming out of a single big piece of stock. The design is then translated into the language that runs the router, and the pieces get cut accordingly.

"We have 2000 particular part numbers for Winnebago alone," Michael said. IEI runs two shifts on the CNC router, one shift in most other areas of the plant. Summer hours are 6:30 a.m.-4:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 6:30 a.m.-11:30 a.m. on Friday. That's so employees can get an early start on their weekends, get out for an afternoon of golf, go to the lake, or whatever, Michael indicated.

Employees running the CNC router need to be comfortable in the Windows-based computer environment; they get training in understanding geometric code; plus they need "tool logic."

Those who prepare the designs need familiarity with Auto-CAD, "then we train them on Router-Sim,the program that creates the code that actually runs the router."

Pieces coming off the CNC move to various areas of the plant, depending on what needs to be done with them.

"We make a lot of our own moldings here," Michael said as he showed me the straight line rip saw. Lumber cames into the plant by semi load from lumber brokers, or from regional lumber dealers for smaller quantities. Of course you get a better price when you buy a semi load at a time.

The five-head molder first trues a piece of lumber, then the counter-rotating side heads and top/bottom heads fashion the molding exactly as the machine has been set up to do. You put a raw stick of lumber in one end, a piece of molding comes out the other end. Adjustment of the cutting heads allows a great variety of moldings to be manufactured.

Farther on stood two wide belt sanders. One usually does the rough sanding, the other does the finish sanding.

We saw some fellows fabricating dinette tables for Winnebago. These particular pieces got trimmed with a wood edge. At another station, Michael asked one of the employees making some cabinets, "For the YMCA in Ankeny?"


Cutting out the opening for a sink in a bathroom counter creates a fairly large piece of waste. "We write programs to use those pieces," Michael said. "They're large enough we can use them for some of our smaller pieces. You don't want to let too much of that pile up."

I saw a woman tapping a T-mold plastic edge piece into the face of a countertop. "That's for lower-price models," Michael said. The higher-priced models get the wood-edge trimming I'd seen earlier.

"Here let me show you," Michael said. "These tables fold and come apart for easy storage." He took a table apart for me. IEI not only cuts and finished the wood for those tables, but also puts on the hardware that allows the tables to fold up and to come apart.

Farther down the line we saw tables we an even simpler edging that was glued and screwed on, for the lowest-priced models.

We walked through the area where raw materials are stored. I was surprised that it wasn't any larger than it was. Michael said that, as needed, they do have storage at an off-site warehouse.

I'd seen as many women as men working in the plant and asked about that. There are 121 employees at IEI in both plants, about as many women as men, Michael thought. Employees come from a radius of about twenty-five miles in all directions from Emmetsburg - that includes Pochahontas, Spencer, Estherville, and Algona. Some of the women, no doubt, are farm wives from the area.

To be continued....



They have new shoes, Ben says, so they have to
Like walking barefoot in mud. Those who have

No shoes, he says, have to like it too.

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