There are lots of ways to make the jump to automated technology and CNC manufacturing in a cabinet shop. Some shops try to take small steps, slowly integrating one new piece of technology at a time until eventually everything is on board. At Troy Cabinet in Troy, N.Y., they decided a more aggressive approach was in order, as company president John F. DeCurtis puts it, simply to “stay with the times.”

What resulted is a sophisticated system that combines lasers, a CNC router, and material handling components to label, machine and sort parts for maximum efficiency while still allowing Troy to emphasize the quality custom work that is the foundation of the company.

Tipping point

Since DeCurtis started the company in 1979, Troy Cabinet has emphasized attention to detail and customer service, providing cabinetry in a wide variety of styles to meet the individual needs of its clients. As the company grew to its current size with 15 to 20 employees in 20,000 square feet, the company weathered many changes in the marketplace, especially the advent of offshore competition. DeCurtis saw only one path for his company.

“We have to do what China is not doing,” he says. That meant a strong emphasis on the kind of custom work that cannot be supplanted by mass produced cheap cabinets. Troy does 95 percent of its business in residential cabinetry with an increasing number of jobs in New York City, some 150 miles south of Troy’s shop. As the recession eases and business grows, DeCurtis says Troy is experiencing increasing volume from sales to the point that it reached what he described as a “tipping point” toward automation. “We wanted to move forward and upgrade to higher technology,” he says.

Major transformation

Ray Weeks, production manager, says the company was capable of doing 30 kitchens a month with conventional equipment, which included a Holz-Her 1230 panel saw for cutting parts and a Holz-Her Sprint 1411K edgebander. DeCurtis says with the new automation, the company hopes to ultimately be twice as fast and not only because of what the equipment can do, but because of how it affects the entire operation.

“What it does is it organizes you,” says DeCurtis. “A guy doesn’t have to stop and think what’s next or where does it go.”

Weeks agrees and adds this advice for anyone considering automation: “It’s going to touch everything for your company – for the better.”

Software and labeling

Like most new technology, the automated system at Troy begins with software. The company uses both Cabinet Vision and AutoCad. Weeks says the software is designed to handle three important tasks: costing, design, and manufacturing. Once the project is designed and downloaded to the system, it’s ready for manufacturing.

While, the old standard used to be labeling and sorting parts after machining, the system at Troy is designed to actually label the parts before a panel is even cut. A Carter LP-HFD overhead laser projection system projects nesting patterns directly on the panels prior to machining. The operator applies labels to each sheet before it is loaded into the CNC router.

Machining process

At the center of the process is a Holz-Her Dynestic 5x10 CNC nesting router with fully automatic panel loading and unloading. A scissor lift infeed raises the stack of panels to the height of the machine table and then a vacuum bar pulls each sheet into the router, positioning it against stops for machining. Weeks says they built in a slight delay into the process so that he can confirm correct loading visually before the machine actually starts cutting, thus avoiding any problems if something isn’t just quite right.

While the machine is cutting and machining one panel, Weeks can go back to the loading stack and label the next sheet to be machined. Once a sheet is machined, the router slides the parts off to an outfeed table from which the operator can pull and sort the already labeled parts while the router continues to load and machine the next sheet.

Weeks says the process can’t even compare to what the company use to do relying on a vertical panel saw to cut parts and a lot of back and forth with carts to provide the craftsmen what they needed to finish a project.
Matching dust collection

One of the crucial accessories required to make the system work to maximum efficiency is adequate dust collection. Working with their machinery supplier Boshco Inc., the Troy Cabinet staff elected to go with what Peter Boshco describes as a “state of the art” system from Donaldson/Torit. Using a model VH2-8 Power Core collector mounted outside the building, the system handles 10,000 CFM.

It’s also designed to either vent directly outside or to return the air back into the shop. That’s important especially in cold Northeast winters when they don’t want to vent the heated shop air outside into the cold. The outside mounting also makes the system surprisingly quiet. At an open house sponsored by Boshco at Troy Cabinet in November, visitors easily asked questions and carried on conversations while the system was in full operation.

Fine finishing

Not all of the sophisticated improvements at Troy Cabinet are in raw manufacturing. The company has also devoted a lot of energy to finishing. The company uses the Italian Accudraft system to provide full downdraft ventilation in their spray booth. It’s the same kind of system used by high-end automotive finishers. A gallery on Troy’s website (www.troycabinet.com) shows off the wide spectrum of custom finishing that has become a hallmark of the company’s work.

The end result is a successful marriage of technology and craftsmanship to provide custom products to a regional market that cannot be supplanted by offerings from overseas. As a statement on the Troy Cabinet website puts it, the emphasis on the latest technology “enables Troy's highly skilled craftsmen to seamlessly integrate the tools and precision of 21st century technology with the traditional methods of hand crafted woodwork.”

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