New Factory New Opportunities



By Michael Colwell, Assistant Director – Manufacturing, Washington State Correctional Industries

In May of 2010, during the worst recession in 70 years, the Washington State Department of Corrections decided to close McNeil Island Corrections Center (MICC). McNeil started as a territorial prison, then became a federal facility and finally a state prison in 1983. Located on an Island, MICC was the most expensive prison in the system to operate. It housed 1,200 medium custody offenders and was home to Correctional Industries’ (CI) furniture factory, meat plant and laundry. The meat plant and laundry were relocated to existing facilities, but the furniture factory – employing 150 offenders – was spread out over three aging buildings and occupied nearly 85,000 sq. ft. of space. The legislature – recognizing the reentry and cost-saving value of employing offenders – used savings from closing McNeil to authorize and fund the relocation of the furniture factory to Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC), a 2,000 bed medium custody facility located on the Washington State coast near Aberdeen.

Future site of new factory

SCCC already had several CI operations including the metal plant, chair factory and laundry. These operations were housed in separate spaces in two large warehouse buildings along with three vocational programs. Next to the existing building was space to build a 47,000 sq. ft. building; although the institution had gardens, greenhouses and a vocational space housed in a hoop building in that area. All of these programs would be relocated to new areas as part of the project.

Beginning in June 2010, DOC Capital Programs and CI began the process of selecting an architect and a design team to construct the new factory. From the beginning, CI was determined to apply a new approach to its furniture operations. The current state was separate factories, metal and chairs at SCCC, wood furniture at MICC and a panel operation at Monroe Corrections Center (MCC). These multi-site operations all had their own procurement, warehouses, business offices and management structure. Over the years, this separation and duplication of effort caused coordination problems, communication difficulties and led to increased costs, delays and some frustration on the part of customers, who often ordered product from all three sites. In addition, some of the wood and metal production equipment was old and out-dated. CI saw this relocation as an opportunity to rethink and retool its furniture operations by applying “lean” thought and practice to all elements of this project.

By mid-August 2010, design of the new factory was well underway. CI had selected Pinnacle Design Group, an industrial designer, to assist in the design of the building, layout of equipment and to develop better work flow by examining product value streams at all three sites. During this process, current products were examined and the decision was made to not only build a new factory, but to design new products and redesign existing products for computer aided design and manufacturing (CAD/CAM), make full use of the computer numerically controlled (CNC) equipment and use more environmentally friendly finishes. This led to the purchase of new equipment that would integrate this strategy across all product lines and provide new capabilities that would employ more offenders and add value to CI’s manufacturing base. Some examples of the major new equipment and their uses include a Finn Power E-5 turret punch press and brake (metal file cabinets), Superfici UV finish line (wood finishing), Butfering 3-Head Sander (veneer sanding), CNC 5-Head Molder (wood parts for dorm furniture), and new optimization software (Cut-Rite) along with existing CNC equipment (Holzma Panel Saw, Homag Edgebander, Homag Processing Center and Heian Nested Base Router). All CNC equipment was planned to be integrated with and centrally controlled from a new design and engineering department.

New Technology, Finn Power E-5 turret punch press

By the end of August 2010 the plant design was progressing, but there was concern that the rainy winter weather in Aberdeen might prevent the necessary foundation work, delaying the project for six months or more. This, coupled with the decision to close McNeil even earlier than planned, exposed CI to the reality that it would be out of the furniture business for an extended period of time, jeopardizing its relationship with its customers and putting some very large projects at risk. Capital Programs decided to split the construction contract into two separate parts (building and tenant improvements) so that the building shell could be constructed quickly while the design of the systems was completed. This was innovative and unprecedented for a State construction project. CI was also able to bridge the shorter down period without a wood factory by developing relationships with local providers.

On October 10, 2010 construction of the building shell began and the interior design and layout was nearly complete. The design included relocating the vocational programs to one end of the existing building, removing interior walls, relocating the CI business offices, opening the existing building to the new building, constructing new elevated staff production offices and providing new and relocated electrical and mechanical systems. This would be accomplished while still operating the metal shop with its powder-coating line and the chair factory. The new layout eliminated duplication of shipping areas and tool rooms, opened flow and circulation, increased sight lines and fully integrated four separate shops into one, allowing synergies to develop. For example, the chair factory has a cutting table that the panel shop will use for its fabric, and the assembling areas are designed with flexible power outlets to allow them to react to changing demands for different products. The final building design of 105,000 sq. ft. eliminated over 65,000 sq. ft. of excess building space spread across three different institutions.

Interior of new factory by the beginning of April 2011

In January 2011 the shell was finished and interior construction began. This would entail ten separate phases and a series of eight interim stages, allowing the two existing factories to continue to produce products and facilitating the transition of equipment and staff from McNeil Island. The new building would be LEED Silver Certified and contain the most modern mechanical and electrical systems. New skylights allowed the lighting to be computer controlled to adjust to changing conditions, dust collection would recycle air to reduce heating consumption, and more than 26 security cameras were installed. The cooperation and coordination between the contractor, the institution engineering and security staff and CI was outstanding. There was not a single security incident even though different subcontractors and hundreds of trucks entered and exited the secure perimeter while offenders continued to work in the existing building during the construction.

CI Director Lyle Morse speaks to guests at the Open House

On August 9, 2011 CI celebrated the completion of its new furniture plant with an open house, inviting customers, staff, members of the legislature and the local community. While construction is complete, the new task of fully realizing the integration, added capabilities and opportunities has begun. This facility will succeed because it is lean, focused and integrated. In an era of reduced opportunity for traditional furniture sales, CI must aggressively pursue efficiency and waste reduction. CI believes that an integrated factory (metal, wood, chair and panel) can successfully uncover opportunities for value added manufacturing across product lines and develop new markets through new designs and new production methods. Staff offices and offender production areas were designed as open spaces where teams operate without walls or barriers, fostering cooperation and communication. The organizational chart was rethought to encourage accountability and to move resources together, grouping engineering, procurement, production and logistics under a single manager. Current information technology was employed throughout the business and production areas. Offender networks are server based and more secure. CNC equipment is hard wired to engineering, allowing quick deployment of production designs and better integration. In the future, bar-coding of components will provide better tracking and better cost accounting.

Completed new factory

In closing, building a new factory allowed CI to explore new approaches when designing production space inside a prison, modernize its factory, reduce costs and add capabilities. But it will also introduce new opportunities for offenders to acquire the latest manufacturing and technological skills. Their successful reentry and the financial stability of this operation will be the real measure of how well this factory was built.