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UM Helps Tanglewood Conservatories Transition From Builder to Global Manufacturer

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -Tanglewood Conservatories Inc.’s glass conservatories are in such demand that the company is being forced to transition from a builder to a manufacturer, with the help of the University of Maryland’s Maryland Technology Extension Service.

Based in Denton, Md., Tanglewood designs and builds elegant, 19th-century-style conservatories, resembling complex, sun parlor-like additions for homes, ranging in cost from $50,000 to several millions. With several hundred structures in the U.S.-in cities such as Boston, New York, San Francisco, and Baton Rouge- the company recently exported two conservatories to Shanghai, China.

Founded in 1993 by architect and Maryland alumnus Alan, the company started out building 200-300 square-foot conservatories with hand-crafted, artisan woodworking. Tanglewood’s architects would visit each house, and design each conservatory for a particular function. One might nudge a home into a river-view landscape, while another might extend a house into its plush-green garden.

Italian marble mosaic floors, curved copper roofs, fluted pilasters, dentil molding, Doric columns, glass arches and domes- each might populate one of Tanglewood’s artful structures.

Orders increased to as many as 20 conservatories per year, with the company’s 30 employees taking as long as six months to design a structure, and about a year to build each one.

But when an order for an East Hampton, Long Island-based home exceeded 4,000 square feet and more orders piled on, the company realized it needed to change if it was going to expand.

“As we grew and did more and more complex projects, we began to run into problems,” said Alan. “We realized we would not be able to grow beyond where we were without making a change.”

Alan contacted the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, which connected him with MTES, and provided matching funds for a series of projects to offer solutions to the company.

MTES’ consulting team suggested Alan transition his facility into a manufacturing operation, utilizing the principles of Lean Manufacturing. Lean is a strategy that focuses on eliminating waste, or non-value adding activities, in a company’s processes.

Alan embraced the idea, but didn’t want to take the route of other growing builders.

“In order to become larger, other companies have standardized their products while convincing everybody their structures are still custom-made. We wanted to take another path, where we would preserve the artistic uniqueness of our products.”

First, MTES consultants Barry Frey and David Rizzardo laid out a new design for Tanglewood’s shop. “We doubled the capacity and throughput of our rough mill operations [which surfaces and cuts the lumber to size] just by moving machines around a bit,” said Alan.

MTES’ John Songster completely assessed Tanglewood’s operations. He suggested the company design its conservatory structures on a computer in three dimensions so a machine could then cut the parts, as well as to reduce mistakes. Robert Barazotto, also with MTES, assisted the company in selecting a 3D solid modeling CAD package to meet this objective.

Songster also recommended changing the way Tanglewood built their final products.

“They used to build an entire conservatory in the shop, take it apart, then put it back together on-site,” said Songster. “With a computerized system, Tanglewood can now make many of the pieces, take them out and assemble them in place on-site, like an erector set.”

MTES’ Charles Carr designed project scheduling software for Tanglewood to manage its entire production process, while Barazotto helped devise and implement a work order system.

“When MTES painted the overall picture for me a light bulb went off in my mind,” said Alan. “It was almost like going from the Dark Ages to the Rocket Age.”

Tanglewood is half-way through the process of implementing MTES’ recommendations, but by next year, Alan expects results.

“If we’re able to implement everything [suggested by MTES], we’ll cut the time it takes to make a conservatory in half,” Alan explained. That’s not to mention potential expansion.

“We would like to produce 100 structures per year,” said Alan. “MTES has been the key to this transition and the entire future of our company.”
About MTES

The Maryland Technology Extension Service, a program of the A. James Clark School of Engineering’s Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute, provides manufacturing solutions to Maryland manufacturers. An affiliate of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Manufacturing Extension Partnership (NIST MEP) network, MTES has provided business and technical solutions to over 500 industrial companies in Maryland. For more information, visit www.mtes.org.