Until last year, Thomas & Milliken Millwork Inc. in Northport, Mich., wrestled with a bottleneck accurately calculating the correct radius for curved mouldings.


"We always had to go to the job site, take a cardboard template, trace it, come back and use trammel points and sit there and keep spreading them out or bringing them together before we could find the radius," says Todd Huck, shop production manager for Thomas & Milliken. "Sometimes it would take a guy an hour to figure out a radius, especially on the big ones where you have to keep adding pieces on to your trammel points."


Then, in January 2005, Thomas & Milliken purchased the ETemplate Photo system. Using the system together with a new C.R. Onsrud CNC router allows Thomas & Milliken to bypass radius calculations altogether and produce curved mouldings in just a fraction of the time it used to take.


Taking a chance

The ETemplate Photo system was originally developed to help shops measure and create accurate templates for countertops. However, Huck and Thomas & Milliken salesman Bill Craig had a different idea. "We were looking at the ETemplate Photo system in a magazine one day and said, If it can work along countertops, then there's no reason why you can't just take that and put it up on the vertical,' " Huck says. "So we called them up and started asking questions about it, and they said, Well, we've never had this request before, but it should work.' We were the guinea pig," Huck says.


Thomas & Milliken purchased the system, and Craig took a class in how to use it. He then showed the rest of the staff how to use the system. As a result, production time on curved mouldings has dropped by well over 50 percent, according to Huck.


How it works

The ETemplate Photo system consists of plastic or adhesive markers, area gauges and a camera. If the surface to be measured is horizontal, then plastic markers can be used. If the surface to be measured is vertical, then re-usable adhesive markers can be used.


Markers (plastic or adhesive) are placed around the edge of the area that needs to be measured. Four plastic markers, representing x and y coordinates, must appear in the photos. Additionally, scales are placed within the area. Photos are then taken of the markers from at least two angles. Each marker is printed with a slightly different series of marks, which the system software recognizes once the photos are taken. A typical job requires eight to 12 photos.


Once the photos are taken, the user downloads them into his computer. The ETemplate Photo software processes the photos and creates a CAD drawing of the area. The CAD drawing can then be downloaded directly to a CNC router for cutting.


A new method

Originally, Thomas & Milliken employees took the system to the job site to get their pictures, but then came up with a way to expedite the process. "We found that it's quicker for the salesman to go to the job site, slap a piece of cardboard up there, trace the template of the opening and then bring it back here to the shop," Huck says. "We set up and shoot the photos right here in the shop, which is easier for us. Also, with the cardboard template we have a hard copy of the curve. That way, if the customer says, This doesn't really match up,' we can say, Well, here's the template.' "


The process

When an order for curved millwork comes in, a cardboard template is cut on the site, brought back to the shop, and the ETemplate photos are taken. Back in his office, Huck takes the drawings generated by the ETemplate Photo system and works with them in AutoCAD and Mastercam. He then transfers the drawings to the shop computer.


A C.R. Onsrud CNC router creates a clean MDF template with the correct radius. Since much of the curved work that Thomas & Milliken does will ultimately be painted, MDF is often used for the construction of the final piece of moulding as well.


Facility tour

The facility at Thomas & Milliken is divided roughly in half, with the front used for custom curved mouldings, doors and stair parts. The back of the facility is a mill shop that works primarily with hard and soft woods. In the mill shop, work is done on a Weinig Unimat moulder, a Weinig Profimat 22n moulder, a Diehl straightline ripsaw, a Timesaver widebelt sander and a Doucet clamp carrier. The mill shop also contains a tool room for profile knife grinding and a library of more than 1,200 custom knives that have been made over the years.


Current plans for Thomas & Milliken include expanding its storage area and buying another delivery truck, as almost all deliveries are done by the shop. It's also looking at getting a second Weinig grinder for the profile knives.


As to the ETemplate Photo system, Huck thinks many companies aren't using it simply because of change. "I think some shops are afraid to use it," Huck says. "Some shops do things the old-fashioned way and they don't trust in doing things a new way. It's like We've been doing it this way for so long, why should we change?' "

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