At Custom Cupboards in Wichita, Kan., life is good.

The company's sales have been increasing at a rate of about 15 percent annually, and demand for their product is growing. The plant has expanded eight times in the last 10 years, adding anywhere between 15,000 to 30,000 square feet per expansion.

Custom Cupboards builds face frame cabinets, which consist of an all-plywood box finished out with hardwood veneers. They offer two interiors: melamine on plywood and UV maple. All drawers are 3/4 inch dovetail. A large number of finishes are available, and customers may adjust the length, width and height of a cabinet by 1/8 inch at no additional charge. They can also get their cabinets within four weeks of ordering.

To keep up with demand, the company is planning to change from cutting cabinet parts out on several machines to working more with CNC routers in the future.

Jack Campbell, vice president of sales and marketing says the focus is one of quality vs. quantity. "Two things sell cabinets," he says. "One is finish. Everybody likes different finishes and different looks. The other thing that sells cabinets is service, how you take care of people."

Lead times

Custom Cupboards has four categories of lead times: four, six, eight and 12 weeks. Four weeks is for the Builder's Line basic cabinet. Colors and finishes are limited on the Builder's Line, but customers are still allowed to change depth, width and height of a cabinet up to 1/8 of an inch with no upcharge. The 12-week category is for very complex orders involving a great deal of customization in finish or size. The six and eight week lead times are for everything in between.

Currently about $9 million of Custom Cupboards' sales are in the four-week category, and the remaining $19 million is split fairly evenly between the other three categories.

Outsourcing is not used though it may be an option in the future.

A different approach

Custom Cupboards added a CNC router to its factory operations at the beginning of August. It has operated other CNC machines in several shop areas for years and Johanson and plant manager Andy Palmer were often asked why they simply didn't purchase a CNC router.

"We've always been of the mindset that you cut with panel saws in big bulk and you send them to machines that are dedicated to do specific processes," Palmer says. "Every time someone tried to talk to me or Lance about nested-based cutting, we said we don't want to hear it.'"

Palmer plans to purchase another CNC router in the next two to three years. In the meantime, production in the factory continues through a carefully planned route.

The production route

Incoming orders are assigned a lead time, entered into a software program custom built for Custom Cupboards and then go to engineering. A cutlist is generated and sent via computer to the machines on the floor. Every piece is cut to order and nothing is stocked.

Material starts with the Raimann rip saw, and then goes to either a Dimter or Omga crosscut saw. Pieces are cut to length, optimized, and then go to a Cameron automation color match stacker, where they are labeled. After all pieces are cut for a job, they go to a glue wheel, a Holz-Her vertical panel saw and a planer. Plywood is cut on a Holzma 510 panel saw or a Holzma 82 panel saw. An entire day's work is cut at the same time. All pieces have a work order number printed on them.

Two different drawer boxes are built. One is an all-wood drawer made of 3/4 inch maple. The second, or Builder's Line drawer, has a plywood front and back. It is edgebanded and reverse dovetailed using a CNC dovetailer.

Doors go to either a double-end tenoner or to a shaper. Stiles and rails go down one side of the door-building area and panels down the other side. Two different types of door are built, using either a mortis and tenon or a finger joint dowel system.

The company recently purchased a Weinig Powermat 1000 quick-change moulder and added an automatic stacker. They plan to add some form of a scanner in the next six months.

From sawdust to heat

All sawdust generated in the plant goes into one of several holding bins and to two boiler furnaces. All wood scraps go into a grinder and are also burned. Water heated by the boilers is used to heat the plant in the winter. The system runs hot water to all the drying ovens in the finishing area.

Custom Cupboards plans to install a system to generate its own electricity using steam from the hot water to power a number of turbines in the near future.

Assembly of cabinets is done in three different areas. Area one is for standard builds, or anything at a 90 degree angle. Area two is the standard custom line, which is for cabinets with 45 degree angles, such as lazy susans. Area three is for complex custom assembly.

Finishing is done on two Venjakob flatline finishing systems. After finishing, all pieces go to the final detail area. In the final detail area doors are hung, drawers and hardware are installed, and the entire unit goes through a final QC review.

Pieces that can't go on the flatline go to one of two areas depending on the amount of special work that is needed, such as crackling or glazing, which is done by hand.

Currently, Custom Cupboards wraps finished cabinets in cardboard and bands them. However, by the end of the year they plan to take delivery of a CNC box machine from Emsize which will create custom boxes for the cabinets.

An ideal situation

Custom Cupboards is staffing and training a second shift which they expect will have a big impact on operations. "Our ideal situation is to put the $9 million of our Builder's Line work solely on second shift," Johanson says. "That would allow us to bring $9 million into our six, eight and 12 week lead time projects and get those lead times down. Theoretically we could be looking at sales of $35 to $36 million for 2006."

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