This week Delta invited magazine editors to venture to Jackson, Tenn., for an insider’s view of the facility where the re-invented Unisaw is produced, and we got another, more involved, look at the company’s flagship woodworking machine.
As we entered the facility, we were guided through the engineering offices and past a display of vintage tools. While most of the tools were housed in showcases, there were a couple that stood openly on the floor, too big to be behind glass. One of the machines was an original Unisaw from 1938 (shown above next to the new design). That 1938 design was the first Unisaw, and the very first tilting-arbor table saw. (Earlier saws had tabletops that tilted while the blade remained vertical.) Interestingly, the older table saw looked a lot like the saws we use today , at least from the outside.
Back we went to a conference room for a short introduction to explain how Delta re-invented the table saw. I have to hand it to the company , it has, in my opinion, changed the machine significantly and the term “re-invented” does apply.
So what path is traveled as you re-invent a tool? It began with research. Those on the sales and engineering staff not only approached woodworkers for information, from individuals to woodworking groups, but also those involved in the distribution line. They listened, then returned to Jackson to incorporate the comments into a product.
Once new prototypes were in hand, the company talked with more than 1,000 users in 30 cities to get feedback. The folks at Delta made another round of adjustments to arrive at a final product that was on display at the 2008 International Woodworking Fair in Atlanta. (And since that unveiling, there have been small adjustments to the final design.)
As we were shown a more in-depth view of the new Unisaw, Delta officials stressed that the Jackson facility houses manufacturing, engineering and sales teams all under one roof. This allows a close working relationship within the company. If there’s a tooling question during design, the team can walk out on the floor and get an answer from the tooling staff. If manufacturing hits a snag during prototype work, it’s a short walk to work with the engineer to resolve it. This allows Delta to set and maintain some tight standards.
A tour of the facility reinforced how those tight standards are met and maintained. We were shown many different areas such as heat treating, quality control, painting and milling; we were taken onto the assembly line where the new Unisaw is being built and shown the steps involved. For security reason we were not allowed to take pictures. All the photos in this story were supplied by the company.
The tour was impressive. It was even suggested that if woodworkers were given behind-the-scenes looks, their purchasing decisions would come easier. I wonder just how different these processes are from company to company. There are standards that have to be established in order to produce a tool. However, maintaining that standard is where the differences stand out. If you’re designing, building and assembling in the same facility, standards may be easier to control than they might be if the machines were built overseas. But even then, standards can be (and are) being maintained.
Here are a few quick facts about Delta’s Jackson facility and about the new Unisaw.
– The facility is more than 100,000 square feet, with one-third of that space attributed to Delta and Biesemeyer fences.
– Each year, the company uses more than 4 million pounds of bar stock, 400,000 pounds of laser-cut steel and 150,000 pounds of rolled steel to make the many parts for Delta, Porter-Cable and DeWalt tools.
– The new Unisaw has 380 different components (many components such as bolts are used multiple times to arrive at the total number of parts in the saw).
– Saws are scheduled to ship in late March or early April 2009; pre-orders will be accepted beginning in February.
– The price of the saw is, at this time, set at $2,999 for a 3-horsepower, 36″-fence system. (No saw will be sold without a Biesemeyer fence system.)
And I’ve saved the best for last.
– Eighty percent of the cost of the saw is from domestic parts.
In my next entry, I’ll cover the “Made in America” aspect.
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