CNC router enables move from custom to casework
December 4, 2011 | 6:00 pm CST

Primeway has succeeded in custom contract work, but to grow, the company is seeking to do larger quantities of standard casegoods and tables.

“We’ve done complicated reception stations and then seen trailerloads of training tables and casegoods from our competitors go in the same door,” says Kevin Walby, president of Primeway. “We missed out on the 40 offices of furniture on the same floor.”

To get that work, the Madison Heights, Mich., company launched a new office furniture casegood line called Flex in August, and its upgraded equipment, specifically a CNC router with contour edgebanding capability, allowed it to make that expansion.

“Our primary focus is furniture for offices, health care and higher education markets, especially hospitals and universities in Michigan,” Walby says. “We’ve seen a lot of the major universities invest in new and renovated buildings since there is so much competition for students.”

Primeway has also done work for college preparatory schools in Detroit, and developed standardized desk components, complex reception stations, conference tables and furniture for car dealerships. Orders range from one file top to a quarter of a million dollar project. Much of what goes through their system is small, singular projects, like a large reception station for an automotive company that used plastic laminate, wood veneer and glass in a 12-feet wide half circle.

Primeway was awarded all of the administration offices for the Eli & Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan States University, a very high profile and challenging project because everything is angular; there are no square walls in the building.

“We have a reputation around the industry for doing a good job,” Walby says. This is very custom, they want to make sure anyone doing this has the talent and ability to pull it off. We’ve demonstrated that through the machinery we’ve acquired and the smaller projects we’ve done for the university.”

Walby’s interest in manufacturing goes back to high school when he started out making simple pieces of furniture. Then he and brother Keith, who now does engineering, order processing and purchasing for Primeway, went to work in high-end residential furniture while starting the company part time in 1990. The company has occupied space in several Detroit suburbs and plans to expand to new space. Brother Kirk is foreman for the company.

New capabilities

For Primeway, the addition of the IMA Bima 310V machining center and contour edgebander actually allowed the making of a new furniture line. “Shortly after we got the machine, we started developing our first official casegoods line for the office furniture industry, called Flex.” Walby says.

Primeway’s existing flat table router and straightline edgebander could do a lot of the rectangular parts, but the company couldn’t be competitive when they had to contour edgeband bullet-shaped tops, bow-front tops and racetrack conference tables.

“Acquiring this machine allowed us to go into furniture, which we really want to do,” Walby says. “We want to be a recognized leader of standardized office furniture. It’s difficult to grow outstate or nationally by only making the one-of-a-kind pieces we do. We needed to develop more of a standardized product that can be selected out of a standard price guide by the dealers and shipped around the country.”

Pod and rail and flat table

The IMA Bima 310 is a pod-and-rail machine that was bought primarily for its capability to contour edgeband. “The contour edgebanding attachment on that machine is what drove that purchase,” Walby says. “I actually flew to Germany and toured factories there to make sure what we were purchasing was a good machine.”

Walby believes IMA is the leader in contour edgebanding. “IMA has a 20-year head start on everyone else,” he says. “Their technology and patents on how the edgebanding is applied to the board is a better process than what some of the others have been able to develop.”

Like other companies that make a variety of products, Primeway uses both a flat table and pod and rail CNC machining center.

“The flat table allows us to do a lot of nesting of parts, so we’re able to cut up to a 5 x 12 foot sheet and maximize the yield,” Walby says. “For our type of operation we had to have the flat table CNC machine for all the curves and pieces we cut, and for nesting all our cabinetry components to maximize efficiency and yield and speed. We couldn’t have started with the pod. Now, with the pod, it’s having the best of both worlds.

“On a flat table machine (with the panel) held down to the machine through a vacuum table, you can’t bring your tool down and manipulate the edge. The part has to be elevated to manipulate that edge. On the other hand, on a pod-and-rail machine you couldn’t nest the amount of parts on one sheet, they’d all fall off.”

Much of what goes through the Bima are curved parts that need tooling to the edge. “Having a piece of edgebanding applied, carving out the edge of a conference tabletop or solid surface top, so much of that edge manipulation we’ve automated by being able to do it on that machine,” Walby says.
The Bima can cut woods, plastics and solid surface. “What used to take an hour for someone to do by hand now takes four or five minutes,” he says.

Michigan shop

All of Primeway’s parts are drawn in Autocad, and the company recently acquired RouterCIM software. In Madison Heights, Primeway has a Biesse Rover B7 flat table 5 x 22 router that allows nesting, a 5 x 10 hot press, a Brandt straight-line edgebander, Holz-Her 126 vertical panel saw, Accu-Systems dowel inserter, and a Gorbel vacuum lift is used with the routers. A new edgebander will be added when the new furniture line begins production.

“When we got the CNC machines we tried to focus on a more circular pattern (in the shop), dedicating any flat-panel processing, like work surfaces, in one area,” Walby says. “We made it so parts don’t move any farther than they have to.”

Walby sees imports -- and the major contract manufacturers -- as Primeway’s competition. “There are many competitors but they don’t have standardized components,” he says. “We tried to create that as one of our advantages.

“If we can build a complex reception station we can certainly build a training table, and we need that mix of orders. We’d like to do the 50 to 100 training tables in addition to the complex items. So we have more standardized items planned. This is the beginning of what will be a lot of standardized products from us that will help us sell to architects and dealers for schools, universities and in area businesses. Made in Michigan means a lot here, being a few miles from the headquarters of the Big Three.”

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About the author
Karl Forth

Karl D. Forth is online editor for CCI Media. He also writes news and feature stories in FDMC Magazine, in addition to newsletters and custom publishing projects. He is also involved in event organization, and compiles the annual FDM 300 list of industry leaders. He can be reached at [email protected].