Custom woodworking businesses that were early adopters of computer numeric controlled (CNC) machines have begun updating their equipment, or soon will be. In some cases, expansion into new product lines is driving the decision. In others, advances in design software dictate a more capable machine that can fully express capabilities of the design software.
In 2006, owner Jim McAsey added a highly capable Anderson CNC at M&M Cabinets, his 5-person shop in Shorewood, IL.
“We had another brand before that, which we bought at the IWF show in Atlanta,” says McAsey. “When we were in the midst of replacing it, a software salesman told us, ‘Anderson is out there and for what you guys are doing and where you are trying to get to, you really should look at it.
“I’m glad we did. It’s a lot better value. We do everything from dimensional cabinet parts, to custom radial mouldings and complex carvings. Some of the other CNC salesmen said their machines could do complex carvings, but after we saw what the Anderson could do, we realized the salespeople weren’t being very honest.”
How do software choices relate to the machinery decision? “It’s really a matter of an individual determining what software is best suited for his particular business,” says McAsey, who uses KCD for cabinetry, and Delcam’s Artcam and Mastercam Solidpro for solid wood carving. “There are more complicated softwares out there, but with more involved software come more involved issues,” says McAsey. “For anyone making cabinet box parts, KCD is one of the best and simplest applications” McAsey says that business is great right now. “We are pretty diverse and never really slowed down.” Of his five person shop, “I joke the other five people are the Anderson machine in the back.”
Greatlakes Architectural Millworks bought its first CNC machine more recently, a Weeke flat bed machine added in 2011, about one year after C. O’Donnell Winchester – a long-time senior project manager at Greatlakes – acquired the 25-employee Chicago firm.
“This was a scary place,” says Winchester, who had worked in a more automated operation before joining Greatlakes. “Here we were doing everything on a sliding table saw. I realized that wasn’t a sustainable model for staying in business. So I started looking at CNC machines to automate our process.”
He settled on a Weeke Vantage CNC from Stiles Machinery. “We do quite a bit of hospital work and commercial interiors. We wanted a machine that could do custom cabinets.”
To drive the machine, “We had to buy new software, so we went with Microvellum.” After the CNC upgrade, a better edgebander and a drill and dowel inserter was acquired. “The way we worked before automating, each project manager estimated their own work and ran their own jobs, with not a lot of oversight,” says Winchester. “I was doing half the estimating project management. I looked at a lot of other companies that had a lot more machinery. It was scary for the guys in the shop. But I told them the goal of the Weeke CNC machine is to make us more competitive at a lower price, and to be profitable and be able to add more people.”
C.W. Keller uses a 3-axis Scm Morbidelli machining center and recently added a 5-axis CR Onsrud CNC router at its 30,000 square foot facility. The Plaistow, NH architectural millwork firm’s CNC choices are based on their penchant for creating 3D architectural millwork with complex curves. Software for the CNCs includes Rhino, AutoCAD, AlphaCAM and Microvellum.
Lucien Casartelli studied CAM technology at Optipro Inc., a Mastercam CAM software reseller, using it to run a KOMO 4-axis router at his Bella Designs in Rochester, NY. He later added a Thermwood 5-axis CNC router at his 10,000 sq. ft. workshop in Rochester, NY. Today, Bella Designs handles high end commissioned furniture and does custom millwork for furniture designers who don’t have CNCs.