Milestone Millwork’s Innovative Leap: Pioneering Custom Kitchens and Advanced Manufacturing Techniques

Established  April 1st , 2005, by Chuck Pelletier and Darren Beatty, Milestone Millwork has evolved from a modest cabinet-making venture in Niagara Falls into a formidable name in the secondary wood manufacturing industry. Recently, Milestone has seen new advancements, including the adoption of a new Panel Pro sander, the implementation of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software, and the shift towards paperless workstations—a transformation funded by FedDev through the Wood Manufacturing Cluster of Ontario (WMCO).

Milestone’s growth narrative is a testament to strategic expansion and technological adaptation. From a 6,500 sq ft. initial setup, the company now operates out of a combined 18,000 sq ft. space, incorporating both Milestone Millwork and MDF Door Company. This expansion has been complemented by significant investments in technology, notably the acquisition of advanced CNC machines, edge banders, and a state-of-the-art spray line to accommodate the growing demand for their custom kitchen and cabinetry work.

The Panel Pro: A Game-Changer

Milestone Millwork and Custom Kitchens’ acquisition of the Panel Pro by CNC Automation addressed a significant production bottleneck by streamlining the sanding process, which had been both labor-intensive and time-consuming. This machine, nicknamed “Johnny Five” for its remarkable efficiency, is capable of sanding a door every 30 seconds, a speed that dramatically exceeds traditional manual methods. Its versatility is showcased in its ability to handle wide and long slabs, accommodating a broad range of project requirements.

The Panel Pro sander is not just fast; it’s incredibly precise, adjusting to door specifications to ensure thorough, uniform sanding without the risk of sanding through the material. This precision is vital for working with Milestone’s water-based products, which demand accuracy to avoid quality issues. Additionally, the machine features brushes on the back that act like a denibber, leaving surfaces nearly ready for painting and significantly reducing the need for manual touch-ups. “That machine is the most universal machine we’ve seen to date,” says Chuck Pelletier.

Choosing CNC Automation as the supplier for the Panel Pro has reinforced a strategic partnership based on reliable service and support. CNC Automation’s commitment to excellence is exemplified by their prompt and effective assistance, ensuring Milestone Millwork’s operations run smoothly, even outside regular business hours.

“It’s kind of hard to not continue buying from them because their service is second to none. I remember cutting one Sunday and the CNC shut down, and I emailed them on a Sunday. The owner, Andrew Legault, called me within 10 minutes of me sending that email and helped me fix the machine on the spot.

“Mind you, we buy a lot of stuff from them, so maybe they’re giving us better service than normal, or maybe he likes me, I don’t know, but he got me up and running on a Sunday, which is pretty remarkable. Most companies won’t even look at their email on a Sunday,” says Pelletier.

The integration of the Panel Pro into Milestone Millwork’s operations has resulted in significant time and cost savings, optimizing resource allocation and enhancing production capacity. This technological advancement has bolstered Milestone Millwork’s position in the woodworking industry, allowing for an increase in efficiency, quality, and competitiveness. Through this investment, Milestone Millwork has embraced innovation, setting a new benchmark in operational excellence and redefining the standards for quality craftsmanship in the industry.

 

Embracing Digital Transformation with ERP and Going Paperless

Milestone Millwork’s journey towards innovation does not stop at new machinery, but also extends to digital technologies in the implementation of an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system and a move towards paperless operations, signaling a significant shift in their operational paradigm. This strategic pivot aims not only to enhance efficiency and streamline production processes but also to future-proof the business in an increasingly digital world.

The adoption of the ERP system was a calculated step to overcome the traditional challenges of tracking work progress and managing resources effectively. Prior to the ERP implementation, Milestone Millwork faced difficulties in maintaining a clear overview of their operations, from production stages to inventory management. The ERP system chosen for this transformation was Seradex, selected for its comprehensive capabilities to seamlessly integrate “CAD to cash” processes. This integration facilitated a more fluid workflow from design through to invoicing, drastically reducing the time and potential for error that manual processes entailed.

“We had hired Sepp Gmeiner from Lignum Consulting to come into our business about two years ago. He spent a day and then wrote up things we could improve on immediately. One thing was keeping track of how many boxes went through the shop. He would say, ‘how many boxes can you do in a week?’  ‘Well, I don’t know,’  I kept saying ‘I don’t know, I don’t know ‘ to his questions, and he says, ‘Well, isn’t it time you know?’  So that’s where all of this really started,” Pelletier explains.

One of the key goals of implementing the ERP system was to achieve real-time tracking of projects throughout the workshop. This level of oversight has allowed Milestone Millwork to pinpoint bottlenecks in their production line, enabling more informed decision-making regarding workload distribution and machinery investment. An unexpected benefit of this system has been its contribution to alleviating stress, particularly noted by Chuck Pelletier who remarked on the newfound ease of Monday mornings, a time traditionally fraught with planning and organizational challenges.

“Normally, Mondays you’re stressed out in the morning. I go in to work at four o’clock in the morning and I try to get everything organized for the whole week, but since we’ve done the ERP system and the Kanban, I’ve got nothing to do on Monday mornings now” says Pelleier.

The transition to paperless operations ran concurrently with the ERP system implementation, representing a move towards sustainability and operational efficiency. Despite the woodworking industry’s reliance on tangible plans and schematics, Milestone Millwork successfully transitioned to a digital format, storing all production packages and documents on a centralized server accessible through 13 computerized work stations. This shift not only reduced their environmental footprint but also improved accessibility and communication among the team. The digitalization of their Kanban board further exemplified this shift, enabling dynamic tracking of inventory needs and facilitating a more agile response to changes.

Early outcomes of the ERP implementation and paperless transition have been overwhelmingly positive. The company has observed tangible improvements in production efficiency, a reduction in material waste, and a more streamlined workflow.

WMCO: A Catalyst for Collaboration and Innovation

The Wood Manufacturing Cluster of Ontario (WMCO) has played a pivotal role in fostering a culture of collaboration and innovation among woodworking businesses, with Milestone Millwork standing as a prime example of the positive impact such collective efforts can have on individual companies. WMCO, recognized for securing substantial funding to assist small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in adopting digital technologies, has created a supportive environment that encourages knowledge exchange and collaborative learning.

WMCO’s emphasis on collaboration extends beyond just operational improvements. It fosters a community where businesses can explore new ideas and strategies for growth, sustainability, and innovation. For Milestone Millwork, participation in WMCO initiatives has translated into significant growth in terms of both revenue and employee numbers. The company attributes its ability to navigate the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and its subsequent growth to the insights and support gained through its involvement with WMCO.

“WMCO is about collaboration and sharing. We go on plant tours, see what everyone is doing, what is working, and what might work for us. I’m just borrowing everybody else’s idea. Somebody else has already done this […] You’re learning from mistakes without having to make those mistakes yourself.” Says Pelletier”

WMCO’s  effect on Milestone Millwork also highlights the importance of external funding and support in accelerating the adoption of digital technologies among woodworking businesses. The funding secured by WMCO from FedDev Ontario is a testament to the potential of targeted investments in catalyzing industry-wide transformations. This financial support enables SMEs like Milestone Millwork to undertake ambitious projects that might otherwise be out of reach, further driving innovation and competitiveness in the sector.

Looking Ahead: Preparing for Future Growth

With the ERP system and digital integration now in place, Milestone is poised for its next growth phase. The insights gained from detailed tracking and analytics have not only improved operational efficiency but have also informed strategic investments in machinery and technology, ensuring the company remains competitive and responsive to market demands. As Chuck Pelletier optimistically notes, Milestone is well-prepared for what he anticipates to be a busy 2025, with the foundation laid for increased sales and continued innovation.

“We’re not done with trying to improve, we’re just in the beginning phases of it”.

 

Tyler Holt is the Editor of Wood Industry / Le monde du bois magazine. He has a master’s degree in literature and publication, and years of experience in the publishing and digital media industry. His main area of study is the effect of digital technologies on industrial and networked production.

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