In today’s design climate of value engineering, Michigan Woodwork, a company specializing in cabinetry for multi-family properties, has an idea on how to help customers reduce costs. Instead of building typical plywood boxes and wood doors requiring finish, lamination or other labor-intensive processes, Michigan Woodwork recommends that architects, designers and property developers use less-expensive, domestically-sourced cabinetry constructed with thermally fused laminate (TFL) panels.
Last year, the company was asked to help value engineer a multi-family housing plan in Eastern Michigan. The specifications for the 200-unit project called for an OEM cabinet with plywood veneer doors and plywood case. The total price was approximately $411,000. To demonstrate the cost effectiveness of TFL, a series of four different prototype cabinets were built using a combination of different materials.
One mockup was a cabinet with a wood door, a maple TFL interior and a plywood dovetail drawer. Though less expensive than the original specification, this version would still set the developer back $386,000. The most cost-effective solution turned out to be a cabinet built with a TFL door, a white TFL interior and a metal/TFL drawer. Coming in at $256,800, the TFL option turned out to be 38 percent less expensive than the specified version.
“We’ve been a proponent of TFL for some time,” said Matt Gustafson, the founder of Michigan Woodwork. “Not only are the panels truer, flatter and more consistent to work with than plywood, brands like Arauco Prism offer a wide variety of on-trend colors and wood-like textures that are more durable than plywood.”
In 2017, Michigan Woodwork began work on cabinetry for Marketplace Phase 2, a 79-unit modern multi-family complex located in downtown Lansing, Michigan. The company built 1,000 cabinets using approximately 750 sheets of Arauco Prism Concrete Groovz WF393.
Concrete Groovz is a storm cloud colored straight grained teak TFL with a soft grey undertone, defined by mid tone grey ticking. Constructing approximately 55 cabinets a day, the company completed the job in eight weeks while also working on other projects. Michigan Woodwork now employs more than 25 people and produces between 750 and 900 cabinets per week in both face-frame and frameless lines.
“We recently looked at a senior-living facility that called for HPL cabinets,” said Johnny Barkley, Michigan Woodwork’s operations manager. “The original plan was to use panels with high pressure laminate, which was overkill. I pitched Arauco Prism’ Silken Maple TFL. When I showed the developer the price, he was pleasantly surprised.” According to Barkley, the price tag for the TFL version was 25 percent cheaper than the HPL version.
Gustafson was born into the trades and has been around cabinetry his entire life. He founded Michigan Woodwork almost seven years ago with the desire of starting a manufacturing company. Over time, the company progressed from general millwork and custom cabinetry to
store fixtures and Michigan Woodwork’s current niche of multi-family cabinet manufacturing. The company and its employees are extremely proud of their roots.
“We love the state of Michigan and businesses that contribute to the local economy,” Gustafson said. “While a lot of manufacturing has left, Michigan is still known for building things and I wanted to bring some of that back to the area. These people are our friends and neighbors.”
Gustafson is especially excited about Arauco’s newly-built composite panel particleboard and thermally fused laminate (TFL) panel plant in Grayling, Michigan. The Arauco Grayling Plant is a state-of-the-art manufacturing operation incorporating the latest technology. It meets or exceeds international, federal and state safety and environmental standards. Not only does the plant provide more than 200 permanent jobs to the local economy, it also promotes efficient consumption of regional forest resources by utilizing more of each tree, including the woodchips, for composite panels.
Among other building materials, Michigan Woodwork sources Arauco TFL from the local Distributor Service, Inc. (DSI) facility in Warren, Michigan.
“As a distributor of panel products and other supplies to professional woodworking shops throughout the region, we are thrilled that one of our major vendors has located a new manufacturing facility right in our back yard,” said DSI Detroit Sales Manager Brian Ribitch.
“Thanks to the Arauco plant’s cutting-edge technology, we can deliver a quality board to our customers. Compared to the competition, the Grayling facility turns out higher-quality panels that are denser, have a better machinability, less chip out and allow for longer tool life on router bits. While we can still source quality material from other Arauco plants, the Grayling facility gives us more options.”
Barkley explained that just because TFL provides cost advantages over other materials it does not mean that it cannot be used in higher-end projects. “I recently presented samples of Argento and Gibraltar from Arauco’s Taction Oak collection for use in an up-scale, boutique-type apartment project,” he said. “The developer took one look at the wood-grain pattern and realistic texture and they fell in love with it.”
Thanks to ultra-modern facilities like the Arauco plant in Grayling, thermally fused laminate has advanced a long way since simple commodity white melamine was the standard. Lower environmental impact and a higher concentration on modern, on-trend patterns are making TFL cabinets not just an attractive alternative, but a modern offering for designers and developers alike.
“Promoting the value-engineering benefits by offering TFL cabinets gives my company a competitive advantage in the sales and bidding process,” said Gustafson. “TFL can be traditional or modern, it saves the developer time and money, and the end user loves their kitchen. durability and return on investment. These are some of the most important aspects our customers consider. So, we strive to ensure that Michigan Woodwork and Arauco Prism products fit the bill.”