Shane Chandler has been able to more than triple the output of his shop without comparably adding staff thanks to new equipment and steps he took to improve production flow.

When he upgraded equipment in his shop, Commercial Casework Inc. in Fredericksburg, Va., his goal was to increase productivity without continually adding employees. With the new equipment, he went from producing an average of 10 to 15 boxes per day with three employees to 45 to 50 boxes per day with six employees. But he's not done yet.

"Our goal is 100 boxes," he says with the same number of employees.

More than machines

"There's no way we could do the work we're doing with what we had before," says Shane. He feels that the yield they're getting is already high for a 7,500-square-foot a shop, but there is still more capacity. Besides upgrading his equipment, he moved from stand-alone machines to grouped computerized machinery with barcoding, that are positioned in the shop for maximum output.

The shop specializes in medical casework and architectural millwork and uses the 32mm system with dowel construction because Shane believes it is what works best for the commercial jobs his shop handles. In the beginning he used a Striebig vertical panel saw, two stand-alone drill stations and a Brandt KDF 350 edgebander.

Shane says that the upgrades were necessary to increase the shop's capacity so it could not only compete in today's market but also in tomorrow's, as well.

The right equipment

Everything started with the Holzma beam saw, which is the centerpiece of the shop, he says. Each machine is important and once you're used to the system there's no way you can go back, he adds.

After the beam saw was purchased at IWF 2006 in Atlanta Shane realized that he needed to upgrade the other equipment in the shop because the beam saw was so fast and accurate. Before the beam saw the shop was able to cut 20 sheets per day, on a good day. With the new saw the shop has cut up to 175 sheets in a day. "We have a 250-sheet (per day) capability with that machine," he says.

Following the bottleneck

The first piece of equipment replaced after the beam saw was the edgebander. Shane purchased a Brandt Optimat KDF660 in May 2007 to keep up with the saw. But the bottleneck just kept moving down the production line.

Initially, the shop had two drilling stations with employees at each one drilling parts all day, and once the parts were drilled, the dowel holes were injected with glue and dowels were inserted. It continued that way until the purchase of a Gannomat Index Trend 130 and a Weeke Venture point-to-point CNC machine in summer 2007.

Fewer employees needed

The dowel drilling and insertion machine drills for the dowels, puts in the glue and inserts the dowels for 32mm dowel construction frameless cabinets all in one step. What used to take multiple stations, at least two employees and eight hours per day every day now requires just one employee and four hours. Bar-coded labels read by the machine's computer help streamline the process.

The point-to-point is a three-axis router that processes parts requiring vertical drilling, including shelf holes, receiver holes for hinges, bottoms of cabinets, struts and nailers. It also does contour routing, radius and horizontal drilling. "All this equipment is basically foolproof," says Craig Chandler, the owner's son.

It starts with software

Ninety-five percent of the cabinets built by Commercial Casework are built with melamine-clad particleboard, although sometimes veneer-core is used and everything is frameless. Generally, the shop uses pre-laminated panels, except for big panels or projects.

All jobs start with AutoCAD software coupled with CutRite. The shop is looking into software that will do it all, including estimating, but hasn't reached a decision yet.

All the accounting issues are handled with QuickBooks while the shop uses an estimating program created in Excel. Material costs, time and labor are all factored into the Excel program.

After a project is bid and the job is assured, shop drawings are done and laminate colors and hardware choices are put together and submitted to the architect for approval. The next step is to get final dimensions and put it into AutoCAD. The product parts are broken down into the Excel database spreadsheet and imported into CutRite, which optimizes the cutting and sends machining information to the saw.

Machines arranged for flow

Machines were placed around the perimeter of the shop so parts flow seamlessly from the beam saw to assembly and packaging. The beam saw is at one set of dock doors, allowing materials to be moved in easily. Panels are cut into parts on the beam saw and labels are printed at the machine. The labels direct each machine on what needs to be done.

Everything then travels on to the edgebander, which is immediately adjacent to the saw. Parts then go down the line to either the drilling and doweling center, along the wall opposite the dock doors, or the point-to-point machine, on the wall between the office and the second set of dock doors, depending on the machining required.

Struts, tops and bottoms go to the drilling center, while the cabinet sides go to the point-to-point for processing. A conveyor system runs throughout the shop so parts can roll easily from one machine to another. Carts are also used for smaller jobs.

Finally, parts move to the assembly area, directly in front of the second set of dock doors, where cabinet boxes are assembled and put into a Gannomat case clamp. The shop uses a five-minute glue, sets the assembled box into the clamp where it remains for one minute and the box is done.

Drawers done fast

Drawer fronts, backs and bottoms are assembled using the Grass Zargen metal-box drawer system. The speed of building this drawer, 2 minutes versus 30 minutes made it the only choice, Shane says. It's also popular in the medical industry.

All the hinges for the doors are put in, doors are attached and everything is cleaned and wrapped. Commercial Casework does outsource the installation of the cabinets to several crews that it knows and trusts.

Continued growth

"If you're not growing," says Shane, "you'll get stale." You have to weigh the cost versus growth, especially the way the market is today, he adds. "I know we made the right choice."

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