Tim Stewart knows that the only place to really keep costs under control in the mostly commercial projects the shop does is to build cabinets faster. To do that Stewart, owner of  AAA Cabinets & Millwork Inc., Spokane, Wash., worked with a representative from Biesse, to develop a strategy of new equipment and setups that cut cabinet production times in half, allowing him to take on more projects.

Stewart doesn't see any shortcuts or ways to speed up production in that custom part of the work the shop does, such as countertops and reception walls. That is always the most time-consuming part of any job, he says. Improving efficiency in building cabinets is another story.

Stewart discussed the shops' work and his future goals in his meeting with Biesse's Jason Verelli at  Biesse's One2One event in Charlotte, N.C. They agreed that cabinet production was the most likely opportunity to tighten up, cutting time and labor.

Stewart already knew he was in need of a new edgebander, and he also wanted help with developing a layout for the 12,000-square-foot building he was planning. And a second CNC router was on his shopping list, too. But he left the meeting with a different perspective. He opted for a bigger edgebander, a beam saw, doweller and case clamp, as well as the layout for a new 20,000-square-foot building.

Changing processes

Stewart started using CNC technology in September 2002, when he purchased a  Masterwood CNC machine. His first attempt to increase cabinet production efficiency and to cut the number of employees, the router cut almost four employees, improved accuracy as well as optimized the material used, convincing Stewart of its value.

Stewart loved the Masterwood CNC and nesting and the way it made quick work of the parts that required machining. In flat pieces that required no machining he felt the nesting process was too cumbersome and slow.

In the meetings Verelli presented Stewart with the idea of purchasing an EB beam saw at a 1/3 of the cost of a CNC router. The saw could handle all parts, especially those needing no further machining. The beam saw would be equally accurate and work with the shop's Cabnetware Solid software.

Although the saw can cut any part, it is used mostly for parts that do not require hardware.

The majority of cabinets AAA Cabinets builds are frameless, although it is equipped to do face-frame construction. "Frameless is for all commercial and institutional work, while face frame is for apartments, condos and homes."

Building the new shop was the perfect time for Stewart to rethink the shop's processes.

Rethinking dowels

Verelli also asked if Stewart might consider returning to dowel construction, a process he had abandoned in favor of screw construction.

"We didn't want to mess with the glue on the dowels," says Stewart.

When he learned that the new FSE dowel inserting and drilling machine used preglued dowels, he was sold. Now the shop uses pre laid-up pieces because there are no screws to hide, which saves on time and in-shop laminating.

Stewart also purchased a slightly larger Akron 855 edgebander than he originally planned to provide more options for growth and a Cosmo NK case clamp with added conveyor.

In the process of doing the shop layout, Stewart realized that 12,000 square feet would not be big enough.

"We could have had everything fit except there'd be no storage, no spray room and no office space," he says.

Stewart also wanted to have room for future purchases he's considering, such as another CNC machine, a postformer and moulder. Stewart does not want to move again and decided it would be better to build bigger to accommodate future growth.

"It was really apparent that we were getting too tight for what we wanted to do. Right now we have a lot of room to grow right here," he says. "We're not going to have to worry about building again."

When it came to the heating system, Stewart decided to spend more up front to save money further down the line. Instead of going with gas-forced air, similar to his previous location, he put in radiant floor heating, foam insulation in the walls, no windows and R38 insulation in the ceiling. This has already showed a significant savings. Instead of the $1,500 to $3,000 monthly heating bill he paid for his 8,000-square-foot shop, he now pays $700 to $800 for the 20,000-square-foot shop he built.

Specialized equipment

The shop recently bought a  Midwest Automation postform counter saw that it needed to cut a specific cove and backsplash. The shop had no machine capable of doing the cut.

When he looks at a tool, Stewart evaluates the different ways he can use it and the time it's going to save.

Final adjustments

Most of Verelli's suggestions were incorporated into the new building. Adding conveyors everywhere wasn't done beccause carts were already in place. The shop did add a conveyor by the assembly line and edgebander.

Stewart also used Verelli's input in placing machines. He says Verelli gave him a lot of valuable information, such as that you need 10 feet for forklifts to move down a path versus five feet for a man with a cart.

Finally, a  Schmalz vacuum lift was placed between the beam saw and the CNC machine, making it available for use with both machines.

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