Sal DeLorenzo Co., in Trenton, N.J., only did about one or two kitchens per year before the arrival of the Weeke Optimat BHP200 CNC router 1 1/2 years ago. Then the shop produced primarily libraries, book cases and custom furniture. Now, 75 percent of the shop's business is custom kitchens.

"We couldn't be competitive back then," says owner Sal DeLorenzo. Now SDL makes cabinets fast and buys its doors instead of making them. "We can make a custom kitchen very competitively."

DeLorenzo says that he didn't buy the router to get into kitchens, but to build boxes better. "We are all just building boxes," he says. "But I knew that if we could build our boxes with CNC, we could make them straighter, nicer, better, quicker and with much more consistency."

Careful choice

Although DeLorenzo wanted a CNC router for at least 10 years, he didn't jump into it lightly. He went to three woodworking shows in Atlanta, looking at all the choices and evaluating how the machines would fit into his shop. "You hear so much stuff that it takes a bit to sort it out," he says. "Who's telling me the best story about it?"

Ultimately, DeLorenzo made the final choice because of the machine's distributor, Panel Wood Machinery, a company he had dealt with for 22 years and trusted. "But, in general, Weeke has been an amazing company for me, because I've had several problems and they came and fixed them," he says.

One day, when DeLorenzo broke off all the drill bits from the drill head, he called Weeke mid-afternoon to inform them of the problem. "They had someone here the next day." DeLorenzo says he expects good service when the warranty is in effect, but "even after the warranty was done, the service was still spectacular."

Software first

DeLorenzo had been using Planit's Cabinet Vision software for two years prior to the router purchase and is now using Planit's "screen-to-machine" product for CNC. He has drawn in AutoCAD and CadCAM programs for 25 years. As a result, the transition to using the software and the router was a fairly easy process, he says.

DeLorenzo advises any shop to get the computer program they're going to use and learn how to use it six months before buying the machine. "I'm very computer literate," he says. "Within six weeks we were spitting out parts at about 85 percent good, with 15 percent problems. Now, it's great."

There's some tweaking to do to get the system to work for you, the way you build cabinets, says DeLorenzo. "Once you start spitting parts out, it's a wonderful machine and it cuts things up really fast. But, it can also make a whole pile of parts that are useless in the same amount of time."

For SDL the key to get things smooth has been in trying to do the same thing every time. "You have to have all your defaults saved in there already. I don't even read half the stuff, because I already know it's going to be the way I want to do it. That didn't happen overnight it took six to nine months to get that right, because you've got to study those boxes," he says. "You've got to build your library with stuff you use all the time."

Doing the job

SDL uses AutoCAD and CADKit for architectural drawings that require a lot of detail. DeLorenzo likes the detail that the AutoCAD drawings provide, but when the job is approved, DeLorenzo redraws it in Cabinet Vision. "It's a great program for making cabinets," he says. All the shop drawings are produced by Cabinet Vision and put into two books for the employees.

One book has drawings of the plywood sheets and the program information that cuts the sheet. Employees use this book to pull up the information for the program that Cabinet Vision has sent to the machine. The book also includes labels and specifics on where to affix the labels. The second book has pictures of every cabinet and layouts to help the employees assemble the job.

Every part has a label and cabinet number. Employees sort the parts according to the cabinet number and then end-bore them with a Ritter end-boring machine and edgeband them on the Brandt edgebander. Parts are then stained, finished and assembled. Since SDL is short of storage space, jobs are blanket-wrapped and go out as soon as they are finished.

SDL builds primarily frameless cabinets out of plywood and buys its doors from Decore-ative Specialties, but makes its own drawers. The shop makes some of its own trim and buys some from an area shop.

CNC changes

"One of the big drawbacks of the CNC is that it linked me to the process much more than before," says DeLorenzo. Before he would give the employees a drawing and cutlist and they'd work out the details. "Now they're standing with their finger set to push the button and they're asking if the program is there and I haven't had a chance to do it yet."

Although DeLorenzo is getting faster doing AutoCAD with WoodWOP for arches and specialty items and the Cabinet Vision for the cabinets, if he's a little too fast, mistakes will result. The next step is finding a qualified person who can do the software work, or an assistant that can order doors and handle some of DeLorenzo's paperwork.

"It's all about finding the right people," he says. "In order to make as many boxes as we do now, we would've needed three more guys out there. One of the reasons I wanted CNC is because I want to go faster, but I don't want more people."

DeLorenzo is satisfied with the size of his shop, at least in terms of the number of employees. He is looking to expand the finishing area, which has become a bottleneck with the work increase. Now SDL uses a Kremlin airless sprayer and a separate small shop to spray in. The new booth, which is in the planning stages, will have an air makeup unit in it. Finally, DeLorenzo is considering finishing automation in the far future.

"I don't want to get any bigger," says DeLorenzo. "I just want to keep doing what we do now a little better and a little faster."

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