When Michael Childs bought High Country Furniture in 1998, he did more than just change the name to High Country Millwork LLC. Childs changed nearly every aspect of the Boulder, Colo., fixture and millwork manufacturer.
The company had a solid reputation to build on, but Childs knew it would take a sizeable investment to grow the company. Childs had worked there for many years, starting as a project manager and working up to general manager. When the previous owner wanted to retire, Childs and some investors purchased the company. At that time all the line drawings were done by hand, there was one computer in the office that was not Y2K compliant and there was one CNC machine in the shop, a Biesse Rover 18 point-to-point that was programmed at the machine.
Today the company is in the second stage of implementing Childs' plan to upgrade the company's production. They are converting from an AutoCAD-based production system to Virtual System's IMOScad. They are working with Virtual Systems and Stiles Machinery to integrate IMOScad and the company's computerized equipment, which includes a Holzma HPP-81 beam saw with barcode printer, a Homag SE 9500/S2 edgebander and a Weeke BP 140 machining center.
Eventually all systems will be tied together and run out of IMOS. An employee will still do a drawing in AutoCAD, but that drawing will be done simultaneously in IMOS. IMOS will generate a parts list that is fed into the Holzma CutRite optimization program. CutRite will optimize panel cutting and then produce barcode labels at the saw for each part. The barcodes contain machining instructions for the Weeke machining center and Homag edgebander.
IMOS also produces machining instructions that are converted to the Weeke's machine code by ABCcam.
When fully implemented, IMOScad will also produce a number of drawings and generate other reports. Childs believes the systems, working together, will save time, reduce errors, maximize efficiency and improve the job flow.
Today this system is only partially utilized. The company will very shortly produce barcodes at the saw for the edgebander and point-to-point.
"The decision to embrace technology has proven to be the best decision I've made for the company," says Childs. Implementing those changes has been a slow and rocky process that is still ongoing. "Unfortunately, with all this technology, you can't just put the brakes on for six months, get everything going and then get back to it. Everything has to be done while you're still doing business," he says.
Currently the engineers draw the plans in AutoCAD, create a cut-bill manually and feed it to Cut-Rite optimization. Machining codes are then manually created through ABCcam. Employees will be training in IMOS as soon as all the other segments are working smoothly.
Childs has been working with Klaus Gueniker and Heiko Hermann from Virtual Systems in preparing for the full implementation of IMOScad. Childs wants a system that is AutoCAD driven and he likes that the programming is rooted more in engineering than in design. He says that IMOS draws on the logic of how a cabinet or part is going to be constructed.
According to Childs, an enormous amount of time is spent building an individual company library of construction methods and materials and hardware used. To help lessen that learning curve, IMOS comes equipped with a large library of hardware and machining information pertaining to that hardware. Once the decision is made on the hardware used on any project, the software will pull up the machining information needed to prepare parts for the installation of the hardware.
Virtual Systems presented Childs with an implementation strategy that fit in well with his step-by-step approach.
"The company comes up with an implementation plan and tells you it's going to take a long time to get it completed, which is honest. It's an involved process," says Childs. He says this lets employees have time to become accustomed to each segment before moving on to the next one. The cost and the learning curve are spread out over time with each step in the process a bit more involved than the last one.
The equipment at High Country was upgraded with the purchase of a used Holzma HPP-81 beam saw with barcode printer, a Homag SE 9500/S2 edgebander, a Weeke BP 140 machining center and a Gannomat Index 125 dowel insertion machine.
Childs says that there is a learning and adjustment period, so that the machines may not appear to have an immediate impact. However, in the past two years he has seen an improvement in the bottom line and in the speed with which projects move through the plant.
Childs also feels that the company has not yet realized the full potential of all the new machines. "The more you use a machine, the more you see the possibilities," he says. When the company needed to put a three-inch bullnose edge on a bar top, the Weeke was used to cut it out of a 45-inch-long and 3-inch-wide piece. Childs said the machine did a great job on the cut and was very quiet.
When considering any machine purchase, Childs looks at the monthly cost of the tool and what time, labor or space the machine will save. "When I looked at the beam saw, for example, I realized we were using two people to cut up panels on the sliding table saw, one sheet at a time. This could lead to potential back problems, two operators are required and it takes up quite a bit of room. When I looked at the potential tradeoffs, I realized that by purchasing this machine, I could replace one person's salary and move him somewhere else. Plus that one person could now cut out twice the material as two people because that's what that saw can do," says Childs.
Implementation is more than merely becoming familiar with the software and machines. Childs is working towards building a team of competent, technically capable people, with computer abilities becoming an increasingly important criterion.
He's also finding that although initially people had taken a wait-and-see approach, now employees are very interested. Everybody wants to be cross-trained on the machines and Childs says that it's an incentive to employees.
The new system will also help High Country meet another goal - to fully engineer and think through every detail of a project before it is handed off to the shop.
"Right now our biggest weakness is in getting a project off the paper and onto the bench. Getting that architectural information, getting it drawn and engineered correctly and then getting it out to the guys in the shop more quickly is our biggest problem," says Childs.
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