Ward Massey, co-owner of Custom Fit Woodworking in Redlands, Calif., intends to double his sales, and has a plan to do it with his new SCM Morbidelli Author 636 TOP CNC router. He's determined to use the machine as much as possible and not let it sit unused for a good portion of the week.

"I found out from everybody else that a small shop like us runs this big machine on Monday and that's it," says Ward. "It sits for the rest of the week."

Ward has plans beyond just processing the jobs of his own small shop. His goal is to use the CNC router every day five, six or seven days a week to pay off the loan on it within six months to a year. When he's not cutting his own jobs, he'll be processing jobs for any other interested shop that can pay for the service.

Doing outside cutting

"We see that these guys are successful doing what they're doing, but they really have a small capacity," says Robert Lee Massey, co-owner and Ward's father. "It just expands their capacity to do more business."

Despite serious delays in getting the machine in place, Ward already has shops lining up to get their projects cut on his machine. Within a few days of the machine's arrival the router was cutting his jobs.

CFW builds all types of commercial and residential cabinetry and builds them with either frameless or face-frame construction. Projects have included complex radius work for banks, as well as cabinetry and millwork for law firms, home offices, kitchens and mantels.

Many shops contacting CFW have found out about Ward's new CNC machining capabilities through his material suppliers and their business card bulletin board.

Software in place

Ward says that the software process has not been difficult for him, but that may be because he has an associate degree in engineering, with a solid background in CAD programming. He warns that it can take a year to become proficient with software, especially if you're doing the learning on your own. It would take a couple of days to set up the software to match a particular shop.

Using Planit's Cabinet Vision software convinced Ward to get a CNC machine. "For eight years I've been using the software and a saw," he says. With the optimizer program in Cabinet Vision, you can tell the computer that the first cut should be a rip cut and that's for the saw. It will always align things with the rip cut as the first cut and it will itemize parts accordingly, he says.

Taking on bigger jobs

Ward knew his Robland Z3200 sliding table saw couldn't provide the capacity, ease and speed of a CNC router. The sliding table saw had been the shop's main panel processor, but Ward wanted to take on bigger jobs. In fact he took on a big job based on the assumption the CNC machine was going to arrive on a certain date, and when it didn't, the shop went into hyper-drive to get it done on time.

"We've been working 10- and 12-hour days. It's been crazy," says Ward. "They're still chasing things out to the job site."

The shop is tracking its work time now to determine the time savings gained by the CNC router. "Our milling times have dropped from 5 minutes per part to 3/4 minute per part," says Ward. On a three-house job it took one day and less material to cut, mill and edgeband a job that took nearly a week to do just a month ago.

Behind the scenes

Although the machine is now in place and working, not everything went smoothly. The original machine purchased, an Author 636 NBR, was a demonstrator in Atlanta at the International Woodworking Fair 2004 from SCM Group USA. Originally there were three partners in the business and one of them decided to pursue other interests.

"When that principal left, all the financing fell apart, and we needed a third man. We couldn't find one," Ward says. "SCM was awesome through the whole thing." The machine sat in a container for 1-1/2 years before Ward could find another investor to help finance the purchase. He said that if he had not been able to get financing in place, the $100,000 he had already spent on upgrades and preparations would have been lost.

Making it fit

Once financing was completed, preparations had to be made to fit the router into the configuration of the shop and prepare the support system the machine would require.

The shop already had a dividing wall created to separate the finishing operation. "We were kind of limited on where we could go." says Ward. The router fit perfectly on the marks he made based on the drawings sent by SCM.

The shop had to get everything else ready for the machine and it soon became apparent that a lot of changes would be needed. "Our compressor couldn't handle it. Our dust collector at the time couldn't handle it, and our power couldn't handle it," says Ward. "We had 200-amp service to the building and we had to double it." And he says that 400 amps is a totally different process. The shop also had Cabinet Vision Solid software, but needed to buy Cabinet Vision Manufacturing to handle the nesting and machining data.

"We knew it was coming, but you don't really feel it, until you have to start writing the checks for all of it," says Ward.

Once the machine was in position, the shop had to connect electricity to the transformer and control cabinet, air to the router and a duct to the dust collector. A technician came in to set up the machine's system to work, but connecting the wiring to the electrical system requires an electrician and a lot of the diagrams are in another language.

Scheduling key

Many of the problems seemed to happen when scheduling was off, says Ward. With the electrical rewiring, wrong information from an electric company employee resulted in a six-month delay in getting the new meter hooked up. And when a job was scheduled that relied on the machine being delivered in April and it didn't arrive until May, it required a lot of overtime to get the work done on time using the old process.

One of the most important pieces of the puzzle is scheduling the integrator with Cabinet Vision. Ward says you really have to do that a month in advance, and if you cancel, it's not easy to reschedule.

When John Charles, the integrator from Cabinet Vision, came out, the coprocessor for the router wasn't working. He had one with him and it worked beautifully, says Ward. "He wrote a script program, which takes all the information, the program files that the machine needs, automatically sends it out to the computer and it's on the other end," says Ward. "You do whatever you do to design those cabinets and once you know how to work it, it's really fast."

Ward gives SCM and Cabinet Vision technicians and support a lot of credit for their help and says they were instrumental in getting the machine set up and working so quickly.

Parts are now cut and machined on the new router, edgebanded on the Cehisa edgebander and finished in the on-site finishing booth that uses HVLP Binks spray guns and M.L. Campbell finishes. Doors are purchased from Corona Millworks. Ward and his father already see the time and material savings of this machine and only wish it hadn't taken so long to get it all in place. l

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