CWB February 2004

 

Broadening Design Possibilities>

Open architecture and strategic linking partnerships help cabinet builders create without compromise.

By Rich Taft>

 

The classic line "Don't stifle me, Alice," was made famous by Ralph Kramden, the Jackie Gleason character with a million ideas on "The Honeymooners" television show, popular in the 1950s. Today, the phrase could be amended for custom woodworkers to, "Don't stifle me, software!" That is because a custom woodworker with design ideas has got to be free - free to act and free to create. Boundaries limit fulfillment. And when you are in a competitive market selling the craftsmanship of cabinetry and custom woodworking, the ability to carry out ideas is essential. Software can expand ideas, but it must be able to execute them to be truly effective.

One of the positive software developments in recent years is the emergence of many fine cabinet design packages for room configuration, cabinetry and high-end woodworking. Packages are available for designers and builders for projects ranging from household kitchens, entertainment centers and unique built-ins to corporate boardrooms, lobbies and CEO offices. Design software companies, such as KCDw, Pattern Systems, Cabinet Vision and Cabinetware, bring a diversity of unique tools to woodworking designers and manufacturers.

Software can be a great ally for sellers of cabinets and related woodworking products. It incorporates effectively the essential, age-old elements of successful business management - time, money and customer satisfaction. With a good kitchen design software program for instance, a cabinet builder can offer a personalized solution to buyers at all levels. Some programs facilitate mixing pre-manufactured cabinet lines with true custom fabrications. All of this creates a comfort zone for buyers, which is often the key to efficient selling. More important, the ability to alter a design to suit buyer nuances is a snap with today's creative packages.

The advantages are not just in customer development. The seller can save real money in the proposal process. After an approved design, the software generates a complete cutlist customized to the requirements of the individual manufacturing process. But, as John Murphy of KCDw says, "We can help with the design of just about anything imaginable. But can we bring the imagination to factory floor as easily?" That is the big solution sought by providers of design software. While some of the early design packages might incorporate their own CAM packages, they could be limited in power and manufacturing options. This can mean that great designs and new ideas get stifled by the inability to be carried out in the shop in a timely, cost-effective manner.

Two Developments Expand Opportunities

Two developments are improving the ability of the cabinet supplier to say "yes" to most customer demands:

* The reduction in costs of routers and CNC equipment.

* The introduction of more powerful CAM software into the woodworking markets.

These developments are allowing cabinet builders to graduate into the more custom side of the business in a highly profitable manner. One of the most practical recent innovations revolves around linking powerful design packages with manufacturing software. For instance, CNC Software and its Mastercam Router CAD/CAM software is now available to the customers of any design software supplier through a unique linking system. This open architecture is "power," says KCDw's Murphy, adding that he likes the options that a linkage with a product like Mastercam Router can bring to his customers.

For example, Mastercam Router can automate programming of parts from any design package that outputs layered .dwg or .dxf files and makes it easy to automate and optimize nesting and cutting from any of the packages. After setup, Mastercam automatically sorts, nests, toolpaths and outputs NC code for every component in a design. All the operator has to do is load the machine and run the job.

In addition, one advantage of linking with a router CAM package like Mastercam Router is having the ability to only purchase the level that best complements the cabinetmaker's manufacturing capability. For instance, one kitchen company may only want to link into a basic router program for the efficiency that comes from drilling, 2-D contour cutting, aggregate support and basic pocketing software. Even a basic package from a powerful router package software supplier would include fully associative toolpaths, which enables the cabinetmaker to easily and profitably accommodate changes.

Offering More Options to the End Customer

Customers can really "follow their dreams" when they work with cabinet suppliers who have advanced machining capabilities, such as multi- surface roughing, finishing and automated "cleanup," 4- and 5-axis machining or advanced engraving.

For example, a customer can personalize her kitchen cabinets with engraved designs depicting something significant to her. Or a corporation can have its logo carved into its boardroom panels. Also, veneering and inlays can add a distinctive appearance to many different jobs.

Another advantage is that thanks to this automation, parts which traditionally had to be produced by what has become a diminishing pool of skilled craftsmen can now be produced using the precision of CAM-based contouring in an hour instead of two weeks. This also can result in cost savings that can make the process more attractive to a broad array of new prospects.

With the support of CAM options linked to its design package, a cabinet shop can confidently work with any customer on the most complex requests, knowing that it can offer solutions that are good for the customer as well as efficient and profitable for the company.

In addition to assuring improved customer satisfaction by offering all of the possible solutions with little or no compromise, these programs can deliver enormous benefits to the bottom line with efficient use of advanced part and toolpath nesting. Powerful software allows custom manufacturers to think about efficiencies, which in the past were only enjoyed by big production operations.

There are many creative people in woodworking. With linkage from the top design software programs to the power of advanced CAM software, the creative process is enhanced because there are fewer limitations on the path to achievement and no desire has to be stifled.

Rich Taft is Mastercam Router Software Manager for CNC Software Inc. For more information, contact him at (860) 875-5006.

                                                                                                                                                                                           

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