October 2005

Koch & Co. 'Nest'les Down with Routers

This Kansas-based company increased its production by more than 40 percent with the purchase of two CNC routers with nesting capabilities.

By J.D. Piland
Koch & Co.

Seneca, KS

Founded in 1989, Koch & Co. is a manufacturer of semi-custom kitchen and bath cabinets, as well as exterior and interior entry doors. The company employs 250 people within two facilities: one a 105,000-square-foot cabinet division and the other an 80,000-square-foot entry door division.

Three Keys:

1. Two C.R. Onsrud CNC routers produce a cabinet in one cycle rather than having to transport panels to and from point-to-point machines and panel saws, as once was the production process.

2. Microvellum software's center-line nesting capabilities, which Koch uses on every panel routed, has helped increase tool life and save 25% in production time.

3. Stock and inventory have been reduced due to the quick turnaround of projects on the routers.

A year and a half ago, Koch & Co. was using panel saws and point-to-point machines to produce semi-custom cabinet boxes. But those machines were getting old, and employees had to work too hard to keep them producing at peak levels. Production was not where it needed to be.

Koch & Co., a manufacturer of semi-custom kitchen and bath cabinets and exterior and interior entry doors, had to make a decision: Buy two more panel saws and two more point-to-point machines, which would require three more workers, or invest in a couple CNC routers with nesting capabilities.

The choice was easy, says Barry Koch, production supervisor for the Seneca, KS-based company, especially since the old production method was too cumbersome.

The old method required moving materials from one machine to the other and yielded about 210 cabinets a day. A vinyl-laminated particleboard panel - of which the company uses about 90 percent of the time in 1?2-inch, 3?4-inch and 1?4-inch sheets, the other 10 percent is plywood - would be cut on one of the panel saws, then Koch would "haul it over to my point-to-point, put it on, cut it out, toekick around it, put it back on the pallet and then take it somewhere else," he says.

With a need for better production in mind, Koch & Co. bought its first nesting router - a C.R. Onsrud 288 G16D Panel Pro, along with the Microvellum software suite - a year and a half ago, and soon after, production of the cabinets began to increase.

But the first Onsrud router was used so often, the machine was soon "maxed out." Koch & Co. was completely machining 4-foot by 9-foot panels every 31?2 minutes and still not getting the desired output. After determining the company needed another router, Koch says he jumped at the chance. And, as of six months ago, Koch & Co. put into operation a second C.R. Onsrud 288 G16D router.

Today, production is up to 300 cabinets, with about 25 percent of that coming from custom cabinets. Koch estimates he now can do about 35 cabinets an hour, or almost two kitchens an hour on the two nesting routers; the doors are not produced on the routers.

Currently, both machines run during the day shift and one runs during the night.

Front and GÇÿCenter-line'

To streamline the production process, Koch & Co. invested in Microvellum's software suite, which allows for center-line nesting. This enables the router to cut any border shared by two parts in only one pass, rather than cutting around all four edges of each part, thereby cutting the same edge twice, Koch explains.

Production supervisor Barry Koch says each of the two routers only requires one operator. If Koch & Co. had not purchased the routers, at least three more employees would be needed because the old production method involved panel saws and point-to-point machines, which meant having to transport the materials to and from the equipment.

Koch tested the center-line nesting capabilities by running his two machines at the same time, one with the function turned on, the other with it turned off. What Koch saw was enough to convince him that he had made the right decision.

"Looking at the nested sheets, you realize how many common borders each part has," Koch says. "You realize that the machine wastes a lot of time and tool life.

"We figure we get about 25 percent savings in time with that feature," he adds. "If people are nesting and they are worried about speed, center-line nesting is pretty important. It saves me on time and tool wear."

Further, Koch says, if the router is only cutting out squares, then center-line nesting could save about 50 or 60 percent in time, allowing for more product through the cycle.

Now, Koch & Co. utilizes center-line nesting on every panel that goes through the production cycle.

"I can run at about 10 or 12 sheets of vinyl-laminated particleboard an hour," he says. "And that's all drilled, dadoed, toekicked - the whole nine yards. I'll put a full sheet on and when that sheet is done, there is a complete side and all it needs to do is go into the box."

Koch admits to occasionally falling behind schedule, but credits the center-line nesting for helping get back on-time and delivering products when necessary.

In fact, when the first router was integrated into production, Koch says he started running only cabinet sides because that is what he was used to with the point-to-points. But as he started getting more familiar with the software, the production cycle swung to complete routing of the parts.

And now, with the routers and their nesting capabilities, Koch boasts that if he gets an order of 25 cabinets, he could have them cut in an hour.

Labor Lost

Needless to say, the C.R. Onsrud nesting routers have boosted Koch's productivity and reduced his required workforce by three.

"We figured that, compared to what we are running now, I would need three more people the old way," with panel saws and a point-to-point machines, Koch says.

Each router has one operator, and because of the software's efficiency and abilities, Koch says he is able to put just one person, working a half shift, in the office.

The labor in the production cycle has become relatively minimal.

Koch & Co.'s C.R. Onsrud CNC routers have been in operation for a year and a half. With its nesting capabilities, the routers have allowed the company to produce about 90 more cabinets a day while reducing production time by 25 percent.

"[The employee inputting the jobs] designs the cabinets and then nests together half a day at a time for production," Koch says, adding that a half day is about 150 cabinets. "I produce that and send it to the C.R. Onsruds. The three workers at the routers just open the files and run the program."

In Koch & Co.'s pre-Onsrud CNC router days, point-to-point operators would have had to open the job files, modify the cabinets if needed and then set up the machine to accommodate the job. Not anymore.

"They don't have to modify or program the part on the machines anymore," Koch adds. "Everything is modified within the office by one person, and the other operators just need to make sure their bits and tooling are correct."

This frees up Koch to focus on other things in the plant that he could not get to before. "The less time I have to spend with this, the more time I can spend increasing productivity elsewhere," he says.

Other Benefits

The nesting routers-software combination has helped Koch & Co. reduce its inventory, something Koch says is quite important for the business.

With loans out on the materials coming into the shop, he adds, he has to send out product as quickly as possible. The fast turnaround the company offers now allows it to keep relatively no stock or inventory.

"Anytime you have inventory reduced on your books, it's better in the long run," Koch says. "I reduced my stock because I was able to run the part as orders came in."

The routers have allowed for nesting together a half-day's worth of production or more, which in turn has reduced waste, Koch says.

Despite all the success the company has had with its new equipment, Koch does not necessarily recommend nesting routers to everyone, unless they are doing a fair amount of custom work.

"If I was doing straight, standard cabinets, I'm not going to gain a lot from nesting routers because most of those types of cabinets are stocked in bulk," Koch says. "If you create a weird angle, that is hard to optimize on a panel saw - that is where nesting routers are at their best."

                                                                                                                                                                                           

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