Ted Clarensau, general manager for Quality Wood Products in Kansas City, Mo., describes the company as a two-man shop with 260 employees. The company takes on a wide range of custom jobs like a two-man shop, but it has the production capabilities and equipment of any large manufacturer. The bottlenecks that result as a consequence of the diversity and variety of jobs the company handles are used as indicators that changes need to be made.

Quality Wood purchased a number of CNC machines to replace more traditional machines and remove the most glaring bottlenecks. These changes resulted in streamlined production, improved material usage and a better product. Clarensau says that the company is still going through the birth pains of the transition from a traditional shop to an automated one, and that it's a very time-consuming process for a company their size.

Panel processing is the current focus of new technology. Incorporating CNC equipment into the plant began in 1995 with the purchase of a Holzma HPL22 rear load panel saw. In 1997 Quality Wood purchased a Biesse point-to-point machine to use with the panel saw to produce cabinet parts. Until recently all the cabinet parts for both frameless and face frame cabinets were made using these two machines, as well as more traditional equipment.

Frameless cabinets are still cut on the panel saw, after which the parts are taken to the point-to-point machine for drilling and boring. Parts are then edgebanded on the Brandt KE24F edgebander before they are moved to the assembly area.

The newest player on the block is nested-based manufacturing, which began with the addition of the SCM Routomat R250 CNC router with dual tables in September 2000. Clarensau says the move to nesting is a big change, but one that is a good fit for the way the company works doing many different size batches.

"We're a small-batch operation," Clarensau says. "The double table is nice because you can load one side while the other is cutting." Quality Wood produces roughly 12 kitchens per day in a wide range of prices and styles.

The plant's size necessitated careful planning in the placement of the CNC router. The machine was put near the panels and raw materials storage area, rather than near the assembly area to reduce handling problems. "So we're transferring cut parts 120 feet rather than bringing 4 x 8 or 5 x 10 sheets 120 feet," says Clarensau.

The company uses a Vacuhoist VH180 vacuum handling system to move panels from a stack to the router table, creating a process that can be easily managed by a single operator.

The transition from hand layout to computer layout through Cabnetware is happening slowly. Not every salesman knows how to create the layout using the software, and learning the software is time consuming.

"It takes a lot of time to implement. You don't do things like that when the guy is working 80 hours a week trying to take care of his clients. You wait until the market gets slow, and then he's going to be more receptive to it," says Clarensau.

Now approximately 30 percent of the face frame cabinets are created using nesting. Who lays out a job is determined by rotation. If the person who gets a job can create the layout on the computer, and the job is right for the CNC router, then it's laid out accordingly. Because the work is often very custom, it doesn't yet lend itself to computer layout, says Clarensau.

When the job is laid out in the computer, Sean Ahearn, the point man for the software, takes the job through Cabnetware's Enabler, where it is nested, and then put through the posting program of the CNC router. The data is sent from the office to the machine over the network using fiber optics.

All the face frame case parts are cut from melamine and plywood panels at the CNC router. Individual parts currently are not labeled. Instead the operator has a printout that tells him which parts belong to which cabinets. The parts are placed in a numbered slot on a cart that corresponds to the cabinet numbers on the printout, and the cart is taken to the assembly area.

Assembly of the carcase involves the addition of the face frame, which is completed in another area. Next the cabinet box goes to sanding. Most jobs are shipped unfinished.

The company recently moved the production of MDF doors from the point-to-point machine to the CNC router. In the future there may be a change in the way frameless cabinet boxes are made, Clarensau says.

"Right now we're trying to get everything to where we can cut it on the router and machine it. After we get that done, we'll be able to study which way is more efficient," he says. "We may end up with a mix and not with 100 percent one way or the other."

CNC technology doesn't stop at panel processing. The newest machine the company purchased, a SCM single-end tenoner, is on a boat due to arrive at any moment. This machine was chosen primarily because it has a tool changer, which is a big advantage for this custom plant. Clarensau says that with it more patterns can be set up easily.

The existing Celaschi single-end tenoner has a 20-inch stack tool that limits the company to five things that can be put on a spindle without changing the heads, a time-consuming job with considerable downtime. The company will use the tenoner for cutting jobs that are standard.

All the top and bottom rail tenons, the side stiles that receive the door panel, the end rails and the cathedral tops of the panels and the rails will be machined with the new tenoner. Because of the tool changer's flexibility, the company will be able to do a lot of other details. "This is the cats' meow to a custom shop," says Clarensau.

The new machine will replace some spindle shapers and a Jenkins Unique machine, which can machine an entire door. Because the company's production is too great, the Jenkins is used only to shape panels and top rails and will be a backup to the new machine.

The company also uses TigerStop optimizing software and fence system for cutting raised panel door frames, and all of the face frames are laid out in Cabnetware. To get the cut-list information into TigerStop, the company created a short program in Excel, which inputs information from hand tickets into TigerStop.

The operator, for example, has 30 doors to cut, and a hand ticket will tell him that the 2-inch wood he needs for the job is at a certain station. When he brings the material to the machine, he punches in the number 2, inputs the length of the wood, punches the button and the machine will optimize the piece of wood for the best yield, moving the stop to where it should be.

Once the wood is cut, the label printer prints a label and the operator sticks it on. TigerStop optimizes the wood for the best yield and sets the stops for the operator automatically, efficiently repeating the process.

The uses of all the equipment evolves and changes with each new machine. The point-to-point machine, for example, cuts mouldings and specialty parts as well as the frameless cabinet parts. Drawings for parts are created in AutoCAD or in DII Quick Scan. With the scanner, a drawing is scanned and code is created. If a part or drawing is too big for the company's scanner, it is sent to the local blueprint company and scanned onto a floppy disk. The information is loaded directly to the machines' software.

Besides the frameless cabinets, the Holzma beam saw is used to make custom interiors for cabinets, such as UV-finished maple interiors, as well as jobs that the router is not set up for yet. It is currently used for job cutting and not the high-production cutting it was intended for. Clarensau said this is because several areas are in transition from one technology to another.

Quality Wood recently purchased a new SCM Topset moulder, which can be set up quickly for short runs. With the large number of jobs, there has been little time to bring the new moulder into the production process. The Weinig 17A moulder is still used for most operations.

With CNC technology, material usage has improved, parts are perfectly square, and it answers labor shortages, says Clarensau.

"We have a better product and it is not done by hand. We've utilized technology and we've taken a completed part right to assembly. It all fits very well," he says.

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