Automated production line speeds panel cutting

Indiana Furniturewas on a mission to upgrade its panel processing operation that began a fewyears ago. The century-old company had facilities and processes that had beenin place for several years without major upgrades. They decided to start with ablank sheet of paper and a few key objectives: improve quality, consolidatemachining, efficiently handle increasing material colors, and lay thegroundwork for a move towards single-piece flow.

The Jasper, Indiana,office furnishings manufacturer began the process with a kickoff meeting. Fiftyrepresentatives from twenty eight potential machine and integration vendors attended.Indiana Furniture presented production data, parts information, and initialconcepts. Vendors then worked with the Indiana team to transform concepts intoreality.


Automated cuttingcell

The firstimplementation phase consisted of upgrading the panel cutting operation. Agingpanel saws and inefficiencies due to smaller batch sizes and more materialcolors were replaced with a new automated CNC router panel cutting system.

Dean Bromm, directorof process engineering and finish, said that this system is the start of theprocess for most of the company’s product lines. The system is supplyingcut-to-size core, MDF, and TFL components. These components are then processedthroughout the rest of the Laminate operation to supply completed machinedpanels to the rest of the company’s facilities for assembly of units.

Bromm said threetypes of products are made at this facility. Dimension products including blanks and premoulded parts are finishmachined for the assembly plants using a variety of chop saws, drills andtenoners.

Veneer panels consisting of particleboard or MDF are cut priorto layup within the new automated cut cell. Veneer faces are made, solid rimsare applied, components have veneer applied, along with cutting and banding,machining and finally sanding. Various other steps take place in smallquantities.

For TFL panels, sheet stock is cut within thenew automated cut cell, banding is applied, and machining is then completeddownstream.

Bret Ackerman,president and CEO, said that Indiana Furniture has 285 employees in fourplants, with three buildings in Jasper, and one in nearby Dubois. The existingplant, where the new panel cutting line was installed, is the start ofcasegoods and components parts. Two assembly plants make, finish, and packagethe furniture, and another plant makes the seating.

Ackerman said one ofthe goals of the system was to better handle a wider product mix. That mix usedto be 70 percent veneer and 30 percent laminate. Now, it’s about 50-50. All ofIndiana’s contract furniture is built to order, there is no building for stock.

“It’s (providing)flexibility, but it’s also speed,” he said. “We have a standard three-week leadtime for our products. Anything we can do to work towards a two-week lead time willhelp us to stand out in the marketplace.”

System components

The automatedproduction line in Jasper, Indiana, includes a storage and retrieval system(S&R) that is the center of the process. It consists of two gantries, fourin/out stations, and an infeed conveyor. Attached on one side is an automatedcalibration cell for particleboard sheet stock. On the other side is a router,which is fed by the storage and retrieval system. After the router is a robotfor unloading, a barcode applicator, an RFID inserter, stacking robot, stagingconveyor, and an automated delivery cart.

Key machines includea Costa calibrator, CMS Avant router, two Kuka robots, and Dakota Automationmaterial handling and Eurosoft software. Dakota Automation was the key vendor,providing system and software integration, all material handling conveyors,sanding cell material handling, CNC unloading, and finished part stacking.

The new system wascontained in a 30,300 square foot addition to an existing manufacturingbuilding. The new structure was built around the system, rather than the otherway around.

Eurosoft providedintegration of the cut pattern optimization, programming of the machine postfor the CMS, picking instructions for the Kuka unload robot, and stack buildinglogic for the second Kuka. Each cut pattern is unique and optimizations utilizea combination of remnants and full sheets which are both managed by the S&Rsystem.

The Costa calibratoris used for all particleboard substrate parts that will be processedthrough a UV finish roll coat line. By calibrating full sheets just prior tocutting on the CMS router, any surface irregularities that might affect thefinish line, the hot press, or glue spreader are eliminated.

Sheet stockmaterials are stacked within the S&R system with higher volume materialsresiding closer to the router. Slower moving materials are in mixed rainbowstacks furthest from the router. Pre-staging functionality allows the system toconstruct mixed stacks of material adjacent to the router in after-hoursoperation to further improve the efficiency of the system. These stacks arebased on the patterns to be cut the next day. The system is capable of managingstack heights up to 70 inches. Common sheet stock sizes within the system are 5x 8, 5 x 9, and 5 x 12 feet. The storage and retrieval system has capacity formore than 5,000 sheets with space for larger remnants.

David Smoker,advanced manufacturing technician for Indiana Furniture, stated that the systemcan do more than 265 patterns a day, and more than 1200 parts a day. Thehighest part count was 1800. The output depends on the mix of parts.

Once optimization iscomplete, Eurosoft generates the machine code and dictates the order the panelswill be cut, and the order they are picked off the bed of the machine as wellas the sequence they will be stacked. Eurosoft then provides that data to Dakota,which controls material handling and other system components.

As a pattern isbeing cut on the CMS router, the S&R system delivers the next sheet, andthe CNC unload robot picks the parts from the previous pattern. When cutting iscomplete the parts convey out on the CMS belt while the new sheet is conveyedin and the process repeats.


Tool check

A laser measurementtool check is done after every sheet is cut on the router. “If we are in themiddle of cutting a pattern and the tool would break, we don’t want the robotcoming in thinking it is picking up a small panel and it picks up the wholesheet and slams it into something,” Bromm said. “We are currently testing anaccelerometer that we’ve installed on the router spindle. This feedback willallow us to detect a rare catastrophic failure immediately.

This will allow usto eliminate the laser measurement check and reduce our cycle time. If we knowimmediately when a tool breaks, we can then go through steps to restart the cutof that pattern with a new tool. We save that material, and we save that groupof patterns so we don’t get out of sync.”

Smoker said thattool life monitoring and testing has helped predict tool wear and reduce the frequencyof changing out tools in the CMS tool holder during production. He had donetests on determining how many millimeters of cut can be made before they getchip out. From CMS, Indiana Furniture could enter the tool life (information)into the machine. Once that tool has expired, it will finish the board that itis on, but it will change tools out for the next sheet, so quality is kept at ahigh level.

Once unloaded andplaced on the conveyor, each cut piece receives a label containing a barcodeand visual part information. Initially, this process worked well in the winter,but when June and July came they started having problems with temperature andhumidity causing labels stick to the spool. The fix here was to enclose thelabel application in a small air conditioned hut. An RFID position has alsobeen set up for future use.

The goal is to haveone person as operator for the whole system, and that person is stationed in acontrol room with a view of the whole process. Eight video camera images ofdifferent areas of the system are displayed on a screen with multiple daybuffering to assist with troubleshooting.

In one suchsituation the movement of the robot caught the back of the conveyor. By havingthe video record, details could be provided to Dakota Automation which could thenbe compared to their data logs. Dakota was able to simulate the situation and thenfixed the problem so it wouldn’t happen again.

A second robotplaces the parts onto stacks in five available conveyor lanes. When stacks arecomplete they are conveyed out and loaded onto the automatic delivery cart. Thestacks are then delivered to the appropriate destination based on the nextprocess. TFL panels made here are cut and ready for assembly. Veneer panels arecut and then laid up after cutting.


Numbers andefficiency

Through projectstartup there have been multiple refinements made to the system. Bromm said “Dakotaand Eurosoft have been great partners in the success of this system. Theircontinued support after start-up has allowed us to continue refining andimproving the system.”

Improvements includeadding night time operation functionality with a small local air compressor,the addition of an accelerometer to replace a time intensive laser measurementtool check, and environmental controls around the label applicator. Multipleimprovements have also been made on the grouping of parts as they exit the cutcell for downstream processing, operator interface, and scrap removal with alarger grinder.

Bromm said thatIndiana Furniture has gotten the system to operate efficiently, so it’s time tofocus on other areas in the company. He added that the process engineers are“numbers guys” who like to analyze data in this system. Specifically, they wantto look at what is causing downtime. “Knowing what the downtime is allows youto fix things,” he said.

Smoker believes moreimprovements can be made in tooling, and also wants to look at days that hadespecially good productivity to determine what went right in those days and tryto replicate that.

“We’re known forspeed, and we’re known for quality,” Ackerman said. “With the type of productwe make, you have to stand out some way. For us it’s speed, quality and ourcustomer service. We bring customers into our facilities, show them ourprocesses and capabilities, let them meet the people who are making their product,and that’s how we win them over.”


SIDEBAR I— Grindergain in productivity

Indiana Furnituremade large improvements in productivity after a new grinder was installed inthe system.

When the panelsystem was first installed, Indiana Furniture was cutting up small pieces,taking the skeletons and then cutting them down to smaller sizes. “Along thelength of the panel, we would cut in and make 500mm parts, size and length,”Dean Bromm said. “Then those parts would drop into a conveyor and would feed toa grinder. It (required) time to make the initial cuts, then (there were)issues as scrap pieces would drop to the conveyor and clog up.”

Theyused a large horizontal 1800-mm wide (about 71 inches) Weima grinder, and wrappedit in a sound enclosure with sound-deadening materials and tubes. The grinderreceives the entire skeleton and reduces it to dust, which goes directly intodust collection.


SIDEBAR II  Dust collection and environment

Indiana Furniturebuilt its dust collection system based on knowledge of its past situation. Theysealed off all areas they could, such as purlins, made sure there were nosmooth surfaces that dust could land on.

Dean Bromm said thatthe plant itself was broken into five zones where they could control thehumidity. That required a reverse osmosis system that took minerals out of thewater. A new Merlin humidification system was installed. A small Quincy aircompressor was added to take care of lower level of compressed air needs atnight.

A significant areaof improvement was air blowoffs at every sensor and anti static bars so thatthey are not transferring dust through the conveyors. Indiana Furniture alsoredesigned the dust hood on the router completely with internal blowoffs, sodust didn’t transfer elsewhere.


CMS North America   CNCrouter

Costa Sanders LLC   Calibrator

Dakota Automation  Inc.  System management, material handling


Eurosoft Inc.  Software


Weima America Inc. Heavy-duty shredder


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About the author
Karl Forth

Karl D. Forth is online editor for CCI Media. He also writes news and feature stories in FDMC Magazine, in addition to newsletters and custom publishing projects. He is also involved in event organization, and compiles the annual FDM 300 list of industry leaders. He can be reached at [email protected].