CastleCraft was started by Gregg Venchus, who took his experiences and started his own company six years ago. The company’s 12 employees make both custom and production commercial millwork in its 25,000 square feet of space in a multiunit building in West Chicago, Ill.

Despite its size, CastleCraft has been able to increase its production and efficiency (see video). About a quarter of CastleCraft’s work consists of mid-size production jobs that could be podiums, study carrels or checkouts for cellphone stores.

For example, the company also makes 20 to 30 study carrels for each location of a learning center, along with tables. These items might be regularly ordered by a customer in six different styles and four different colors.

Material comes in on one side and goes to a Holzma HPP 250 beam saw that uses CutRite. A Weeke Optimat BHC 280 machining center is along with a newer Venture 2M, which is used for the larger volume job. Also here are a Brandt edgebander and an Altendorf W8 sliding table saw, which is used to cut laminate and angles for smaller parts.

“I have also always been cautious when purchasing new machinery to make sure we can keep it running and use it to its full potential,” Venchus says.

In the assembly room in the other half of the space, cut parts are staged for assembly on one of several workbenches. Most work is melamine and laminate. CastleCraft can do a small run of finishing a trim piece or something similar, but most finishing is outsourced.

“If we get good yield out of a 4 x 8 sheet, we’ll laminate the sheet and cut it to size,” Venchus says. “Otherwise, parts will be cut, machined, and then laminated before or after assembly.

Staging areas for work in progress that is ready to be assembled helps keep things organized in the spacious shop. Hardware, for example, is staged and labeled on shelves for specific jobs. Hinges and drawer slides are marked and set aside for that future job.

Slatwall capability 

CastleCraft used to outsource its slatwall custom panels and whole sheets to outside producers.

“When we bought the Omnitech PAL CNC machine one of the main goals was to bring that work inside,” Venchus says. “There was no one around here that could get us the material on time, and special setup charges were an issue.”

The Omnitech machine takes five to 10 minutes to make one 4 x 8 sheet of slatwall material, using a diamond slatwall cutter. “We have control over it, and if there are custom sizes we don’t have to buy a whole sheet of MDF,” he says.

The Omnitech is also used for nested-based work. “We have preproduction meetings to determine what’s going to go on the Omnitech and what’s going to go on the saw.”
They also are looking at Microvellum for its design package in addition to using it for the g-code for the machines.

Team meeting 

CastleCraft organized employees into teams, and has meetings after the job ships so if there are mistakes they aren’t made again.

“Putting people into different departments worked out well,” Venchus says. “They get to know the methods and become efficient at what they do. They always look for a better way to do things which keeps us on track with our lead times.

“The job meetings before and after jobs go out have really helped,” Venchus says. “If there was a problem with an under-counter cabinet and the holes were not being drilled right, I ask them to mark up the drawings and fix what we did so we don’t run into the same problem again.”

Venchus wants people to mark up the drawings and finish the current job, rather than going back to engineering with each problem while the job is in progress, delaying everything.

“I believe that it is important to review the jobs not only in the beginning but also after the job ships and is installed so that we can get feedback from every department,” Venchus says.  “We want to make sure that if there were any issues, we take care of them so we don't have the same issues on the next job. We also contact the customer to make sure they are happy with the product and it is what they expected.

“We look for better flow thru the shop and better ways to produce. If we can combine two steps on the CNC and we don't have to handle it twice that saves on time and keeps our labor costs down.

“We talk about the best way to build something and the best way to get it through the shop.”

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