At Connor Homes, helping clients materialize idyllic dwellings is about recreating and improving upon classic styles while delivering ease in construction.
Flipping through the company’s impressive portfolio reveals a fresh take on home designs that have survived the centuries. From New England farmhouses with wraparound porches to Greek revivals and more, Connor Homes offers something for everyone while keeping costs and construction challenges in mind.
“We provide a great amount of detail. Our designers speak with the clients to vet their needs,” says Michael Perkins, vice president of engineering for Connor Homes, based in Middlebury, Vermont. “Sometimes our clients use their own architects and, while we like to do everything ourselves, we understand that people may choose their own designers.”
While clients may select a style directly from the pages of the Connor Homes catalogue, they are also free to adjust floor plans and request additional design changes.
Mixing classic design with modern methods, the company works with clients to determine their needs, produces all of the required building blocks, and packages those building materials for shipping to their construction site.
While those building blocks may include only a frame for the home, it may also include all paneling, windows, doors, cabinetry, and more.
“The client may just order a frame, but they may also get an exterior package, with trim and windows,” Perkins says. “It’s almost like a kit: Everything goes together, so it’s well labeled. The framing is done, and everything is numbered.”
When Perkins joined Connor Homes six years ago, his foremost task was to improve the company’s production processes by increasing efficiency in both machinery and software, as well as in the training of personnel. Today, the company employs 95, including three CNC programmers.
At the time that Perkins was hired, Connor Homes operated without CNC software or machinery.
“I had worked with lots of CNC equipment, and I had a lot of experience with different types of CNC software,” says Perkins, who worked with an architectural millwork company prior to joining Connor Homes.
In 2013, Connor Homes acquired the Alphacam solution, by Vero Software, to program the manufacturing of its range of unique building products. Having evaluated the company’s CNC software options, Perkins found that Alphacam was best suited to programming custom shapes and offered the degree of flexibility required by the company.
“The biggest change that I’ve seen is the course of my career is that, in many ways, manufacturing has become a lot easier,” Perkins says. “The evolution and ease of use of CAM is the biggest change that I have seen.”
Connor Homes utilizes Alphacam for its range of needs, including the production of desired surfaces and profiles. It also uses the AutoCAD and Inventor computer-aided-design (CAD) solutions, both by Autodesk, to create its designs, which are then easily imported into Alphacam.
Once the design is imported, features are identified and toolpath is applied. While Alphacam increased programming and shop-floor efficiency, it also delivered flexibility by offering several different machining strategies for the 3D roughing and finishing of solids and surfaces.
With strategies that can be applied to any work plane, the software supports 3+2 machining — or 3-axis machining that takes place with a rotary head locked into a designated position. Alphacam also simplifies the process of 5-axis machining, with capabilities that enable the 4 and 5-axis simultaneous machining of surfaces and 3D trim curves.
Included in the Connor Homes’ arsenal of machinery are a Biesse Rover A 5-axis CNC router, a Biesse Klever 3-axis CNC Flat Table CNC Router, a Hundegger SC3 Whole House CNC Saw, along with Weinig and Leadermac molders.
A typical day on the job at Connor Homes includes the 5-axis manufacturing of custom windows and doors that include intricate moldings and reliefs, as well as rounded tops.
“Alphacam really helps make our job easier, especially when it comes to doing surfaces,” Perkins says. “We also do a lot of profiling in Alphacam because we can get a lot of shapes accomplished without having to grind a knife that won’t work well.
We make a sketch of the curve, or whatever shape we like, and then we pick a profile to follow. You send it out to the machine and it will cut it exactly.”
Connor Homes also takes advantage of the parametric constraint capabilities of the Alphacam Constraint Manager to make any program’s geometry parametric. By applying parametric rules, tangency is specified between part features and variables, such as distance, can be set between them.
By changing the variables of the part, geometry is automatically resized and the integrity of the relational distances and sizes are maintained. With the constraint manager, the creation and machining of part families is made easier because parts don’t have to be reprogrammed when sizes are altered.
“I think that just about everything in Alphacam helps save time,” Perkins says. “You would have to have a skilled craftsman spending many, many hours doing what that machine can do.”
The team at Connor Homes also utilizes EZ-WinDoor, an Alphacam add-in created by WB SysTech LLC to further streamline the process of creating custom doors and windows. The software offers unique design capabilities, in addition to capabilities for the creation of material or price-based calculations, special reports, and more.
For some of its custom projects, Connor Homes uses a combination of Alphacam and Alphacam Art, an Alphacam add-in that allows the user to import an image, such as a photograph. With the use of Alphacam Art, even common .JPG files can be used to create geometry.
“You can take a photograph and turn it into a Vector file, and import it,” Perkins says.
Perkins says that the customizable ribbon toolbar, which became available in 2015, has improved his interaction with the interface and increased overall programming efficiency.
“The way we can now customize the things we use makes my job a lot easier,” he says.
Perkins also appreciates the support he receives from Alphacam, and is pleased with his company’s decision to implement the solution. Greater flexibility in programming and consistently high product quality have resulted from the investment.
“The program has a lot of features that I’m still learning,” Perkins says. “Alphacam has a lot of depth and a lot of power. You can do virtually anything with it.”
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