A Cabinetmaker and His Robot
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A Kuka robot goes through the paces of an automated nesting line at Ro-Bois-Tic.
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Bastien LaRourche, plant manager for Ro-Bois-Tic, discusses robotic operation with a colleague.
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The centerpiece of Ro-Bois-Tic's line. The company name is a play on words, in French, for "robotic" and "woodworking" (Bois).

1 Man + 1 Robot @ 24/7 = 1,200 Cabinets.

That's the potential weekly output at Ro-Bois-Tic, a most intriguing start-up I visited last week in St.-Apollinaire, QC, about 20 miles southwest of Quebec City. But that figure assumes that Ro-Bois-Tic reaches production capacity based on only making cabinets. The subcontractor also plans to produce residential and office furniture on the same robotic line.


Ro-Bois-Tic is the brainchild of Bastien Larourche, an MBA who formerly served as a plant manager and as corporate-wide quality manager for Teknion, a major manufacturer of wood office furniture. (In fact, the laptop I'm using to write this blog is resting on a Teknion desk in my office.) Larouche calculates that it would take at least 15 men spread over three shifts and using the same panel processing equipment he has to achieve the robotic line's output.

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Ro-Bois-Tic Case Study at Wood Tech Summit

 Attendees at Wood Tech Summit, Oct. 22-23 in Vancouver, can hear Bob Law, of CNC Automation, and Tommy Gagnon, of Machineries AutomaTech present: "Advanced Automation Case Study: Canada's First Fully-Robotic 24/7 Furniture Production Facility."


Larouche rattles off three things that inspired him to launch the lights-out factory. First, having worked around an industrial robot in his career, he was intrigued by how much it could do, its repetitive accuracy, its versatility and its ability to work, work, work without ever having to take a break. Second, he wanted to gain a competitive advantage by replacing as much direct labor as possible with talented people with high skill levels. Third, he wanted to be the boss of his own company. "This drove me for a large part of the initial kick-off."

I was hardly alone in my interest to visit Ro-Bois-Tic. I joined a group of more than 50 woodworkers who traveled from throughout Canada for a tour organized by CNC Automation, a distributor of woodworking machinery based in St.-Zotique, QC. CNC Automation furnished several key machines for the robotic line, including a Thermwood CNC nesting router, a Fravol edgebander and an Omal drilling and dowel insertion machine. 

The star of the line is a Kuka robot, which traverses from one machining operation to another on a track. Machineries AutomaTech worked closely with Kuka, CNC Automation and Larouche to help engineer the line and program the robot to operate the line.

At the time of my visit, the demonstration was limited to nesting operations, but within the next few weeks, the line is expected to be fully operational. (Watch Ro-Bois-Tic video.) When this is so, the robot's duties will include accurately placing a full sheet of MDF on the Thermwood's table; running nested parts through the Fravol edgebander up to four times to band edges; placing edgebanded parts on the Omal drill; and placing each finished part in a bin that will contain all of the wood parts needed by the customer to assemble one cabinet. In addition, the robot also sweeps the offal from each panel into a waste hopper.

Ro-Bois-Tic Case Study at Wood Tech Summit
I'll have much more to say about Ro-Bois-Tic in a feature story scheduled for the February 2013 issue of Wood & Wood Products.

Attendees of the Plant Productivity Conference at Wood Tech Summit, Oct. 23 in Vancouver, will learn more sooner. Bob Law, national sales manager of CNC Automation, and Tommy Gagnon, director general of Machineries AutomaTech will co-present: "Advanced Automation Case Study: Canada's First Fully-Robotic 24/7 Furniture Production Facility."

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