When Gilles Gaudet, owner of Saint-Georges Doors, decided to add curved cabinet doors to the company's product line in 1996, he found that the process was somewhat slower and more difficult than he thought.
The Saint-Aurelie, Quebec, company's first efforts produced just a couple of doors during a 15-day period, and early attempts at working with steam bending produced less-than-ideal results.
Now Saint-Georges produces dozens of curved and intricately carved doors with a lead time of only eight days. Their success is the result of a new production process that integrates several pieces of CNC equipment and a company-wide lean initiative.
Building curved doors
Initially, the company tried making curved doors by using a steam bending process, but found the results were not accurate and spring-back was common. The process Saint-Georges Doors ultimately worked out for building curved doors is not difficult, though it does involve a number of steps and required the purchase of a number of CNC machines.
First, individual wood planks are cut to length and sanded on a DMC widebelt sander. Then, the sides of the pieces are cut at an angle, depending on the radius.
After the pieces are sanded, individual pieces are glued and clamped together. Once dry, the piece is then placed on a curved form and run through a five-axis Bacci CNC router with AlphaCam software. From there the door goes to an Ace four-axis CNC sander. Final sanding is done by hand.
Adding curved mouldings
Saint-Georges also offers curved mouldings, which are produced in a manner similar to curved cabinet doors. Depending on the size of the moulding, a number of veneer strips are cut, coated with glue, then placed in a Protech CNC veneer former. The veneer former presses the veneer at exactly the desired radius. Once the pieces have cured, they are sanded.
Non-curved cabinet doors are cut to size using a Celaschi CNC tenoner and profiled with a Morbidelli router with Aspan software.
At Saint-Georges Doors no nails are used to hold the stiles and rails or any applied moulding. They believe using nails compromises the structural integrity of the door, and also shortens the life of sanding belts. Instead, all pieces are glued and clamped until cured in order to allow the glue to reach its full strength, thus producing a very sturdy door. The company uses mortise-and-tenon construction, and miters are fingerjointed.
Speeding up production has largely been the result of lean initiatives, and Gaudet admits that going lean has been difficult. "It's a challenge. If we don't stay involved every day, within a month we'll have no lean manufacturing," Gaudet says. "It seems that it's hard and maybe not so natural for people to learn lean manufacturing. They think if they take all the orders in oak and process an entire bundle of oak, that will somehow help the factory."
Despite the challenges of lean, Gaudet says he has a production manager in the shop who is very committed to the concept. "He watches the processes very closely so we don't slip into doing it the old way," Gaudet says.
As part of the lean initiative, all machines in the shop have a backup piece of equipment. For the newer CNC equipment, the backup piece is usually the piece it replaced. "If there is a breakdown, there is always an alternative. Lean together with a JIT production is very challenging," Gaudet says.
In addition to lean initiatives, Saint-Georges is in the process of implementing an ERP system. Currently, the shop maintains a memory book, which operates as a knowledge base for manufacturing operations. However, Gaudet is concerned that not everything that happens or gets changed in the shop ultimately ends up in the memory book, so he's looking to not only enter the data from the memory book into the ERP, but to also make it easier for all the updated information to be available to everybody from the salesmen to the operators.
In addition, Gaudet is hoping that the ERP will help facilitate an online ordering process for customers that would go so far as to assist customers in calculating the size and radius of their door.
Not so difficult
When it comes to curved cabinet doors, the biggest problem Gaudet sees is that he has to convince the users of how easy it is now to integrate curved doors in their design. "We can supply a full package including the door, the face frame, the crowns and the light valance," Gaudet says.
Ease in use and ordering are things Saint-Georges has worked on extensively in the last few years. There is no minimum order, and 20 species of wood are kept in stock. Doors can be built for both frameless and face frame cabinets, and since the stiles remain flat, the doors don't require any special hinges. A door with a standard radius can be built and delivered in eight days. A custom radius takes 20 days.
Calculating a radius is not a strong suit for many clients, so Saint-Georges compensates for that as well. Orders that come in are reviewed by Gilles Gaudet's daughter, Helia, who is vice president of the company and personally handles curved door orders and oversees customer service. When Helia receives a curved door order she creates a CAD drawing of the project for the client's approval. Once approved, the drawing goes to the factory for production via a shared computer drive.
Saint-Georges offers a large number of standard radius doors, but it often gets requests for custom radius sizes and the company takes pride in fulfilling all these special requests, Gaudet notes. "People who will buy a cabinet with curved doors are people with creativity, and they want to get exactly what they conceived," Gaudet says. "Most of the time, price is not an issue."
More to come
At present, Saint-Georges does no finishing. However, it plans to outsource finishing from a high-end facility and offer a limited number of colors. In addition, Gaudet wants to continue his habit of regularly purchasing relevant CNC equipment.
"I have many plans to improve our production and make our business grow," Gaudet says. "Furthermore, since my daughter and son are getting more and more involved in the company, I want the whole facility to be adapted to the coming era. Woodworking is not the same as it used to be, and the challenges will be different and very interesting."
Gaudet clearly sees more interest in curved doors in the future. "We've been making curved doors for over 10 years now, and the demand has been slowly increasing," he says. "Decorators and designers appreciate being able to work with curves instead of only straight lines, and they are becoming more and more aware of the possibilities."