Stainless steel sinks are the foundation for the Franke company, Lawrence declares, but he likes to point out that it often gets little respect among kitchen designers. “If you think about how you live in your home, everything goes through the kitchen sink, whether preparing before cooking or cleaning up after cooking,” he maintains. “The sink is the most important apparatus in the kitchen. But it’s funny that when you talk to designers and architects and other industry professionals, oftentimes the appliances are the thing they always want to talk about. The appliances and cabinets get all the publicity, and the sink does all the work.”
Franke does business in 80 countries and has manufacturing plants in more than 40 of those countries. “When it comes to stainless steel, we are the preeminent expert in the world,” Lawrence asserts. One of the company’s specialties is manufacturing its signature sinks on multi-ton presses.
“Some of our sinks are as much as 10 inches deep and 30 inches wide by 18 inches front to back,” Lawrence points out. “When you’re stretching stainless steel of that size – and we’re usually working with 18-gauge steel – you’ve got to know what you’re doing to get it to go 10 inches deep without damaging the steel and maintaining constant gauge while not causing stress and cracks.”
Multistage drawing is used on the deeper sinks. Shallower ones can be drawn in a single stage. An additional process the company uses is annealing. “We heat the steel and the tools to make the steel more flexible before we draw it, and that gives it an additional integrity that allows us to draw it even deeper and maintain an even gauge and the unmatched Franke finish,” Lawrence explains. “That adds another step and another level of cost to the product, but it does allow us to have tighter radii in the corners, deeper bowls and steps inside the sink that allow you to rest cutting board and shelves and other custom accessories.”
These shelves usually will be molded into the sink half-way down. “None of our competitors – or very few – have been able to do that in such a refined way as we have because the manufacturing technique we use is a patented functional manufacturing technique.”
For the last 2.5 years, the company has been practicing the Franke Lean Operating Way (FLOW). “It’s an acronym we use to bring focus and energy around an organizational commitment to lean manufacturing and lean operations in our offices and everything we do,” Lawrence explains. “We’ve been on a very aggressive path to yellow-belt-train nearly half of our administrative and operating staff in kaizen and lean. We have taken the top 10 percent of that group, and they’re now in the process of going through green belt training. We have an entire lean organizational structure that acts as the disciples that go through the organization to spread this approach and process.”
An example is the way sinks being shipped from Switzerland are nested inside each other in a single carton instead of each one being in its own carton. “That has an economic benefit and significantly reduces our carbon footprint, so we’re not shipping all that cardboard,” Lawrence says. “We box them in the Ruston, La., warehouse as we need them to ship to our customers, thus reducing the amount of storage space we need and the amount of containers that are coming across the ocean. That is one example of a green awareness. There is a real commitment to lean-running, efficient operations, environmental awareness and being good stewards.”