When Royal Cabinets started making frameless cabinets in 1997, it did the job similar to many panel processing operations, with a panel saw, single-sided edgebanders and a point-to-point machine. But shortly after setting up the process, Royal's president, Clay Smith, and the operations manager, Bill Roan, went to Europe to see what could be accomplished with frameless using the most up-to-date technology.

 

"We spent a week there and went through half a dozen plants and were just amazed," says Smith. "The technology we're using today we saw it there. Over the next few years we started building up our base and adding technology as we've grown."

 

Now Royal's Pomona, Calif., plant has two separate automation lines that do just about everything except assemble the cabinets. Royal Industries builds both frameless and face-frame residential cabinetry for home builders and retail centers.

 

Royal also has a plant in Ontario, Calif., where assembly and laminating are done, and a plant in Tijuana, Mexico, that handles a number of operations, including building the face frames for the company's face-frame line of cabinets.

 

Improving accuracy

"We wanted to get better accuracy and tolerances of the sizes of our parts, because with frameless cabinets the tolerances are so small that your panels need to be the right size and squared," says Smith. "By going to that line, we picked up accuracy, speed and easily took care of bottlenecks."

 

The first automated line the company installed in 2003 is the Biesse Stream combination panel line, which has five separate machines that handle all the panel processing after the panels are cut to size, plus 4mm on a Holzma panel saw. The line has a supervisory computer that communicates to the five machines information that it receives from a group barcode ticket. "The supervisor computer communicates to those other machines about the part it's running and sets up automatically," says Smith.

 

To maximize efficiency, parts are grouped together with machining information on one work ticket. There is a feeder, two edgebanders, a horizontal boring machine, a horizontal doweling machine and a stacker.

 

The edgebanding line is set up a little differently. Most edgebanding lines are set up with two edgebanders set side by side on either side of a turner in order to edgeband all sides of a part. "We have a bi-lateral feeder, so it's in an L-shape, and the reason we did this is because it's twice as long as the room," says Roan. "The size constraints of the room that it was going in wouldn't allow it to go in a straight line." The performance of the machine was unaffected by the altered configuration.

 

Some parts don't require all machining operations. "If it's a part, like a side or an adjustable shelf that doesn't get doweled, those parts just flow through the horizontal boring, no operations happen and it just acts as an expensive conveyor," says Smith. "When it does have to bore and dowel, we don't have to double handle it. And we don't need a whole secondary line to move to for different operations. For us it works well. It saves on another feeder and stacker and it saves on space."

 

Doing things in stages

Royal started the automation process with an end in mind. It was only after the panel processing system was complete and working that the company could bring aboard the assembly line, which does all the hinge and glides assembly, as well as gluing.

 

"You have to do things in stages. We went from working 10 or 11 hours a day and barely keeping up in 2003, to doing everything we needed in three or four hours a day. There's really no halfway point. You just have to take the plunge," says Smith. "The amount of labor we saved paid for the line."

 

There are three machines in the new Biesse Comil Insider panel processing and assembly line. The first machine does boring, while the second one inserts shelf pins and hinge plates. The last machine does gluing and drawer slides.

 

The part label identifies it to the work list, which provides machining information to the computer. There's also a field that tells the machine whether it has to stop and pause. "So when something needs to be done that the machine can't or isn't set up to do, the machine pauses so it can be done manually," says Smith.

 

With this second line there are buffer zones. If the line is totally full or production backs up into the machine for any reason, the machine will go into a pause state to allow people to catch up with the system. The open time for gluing is 10 to 15 minutes, so the machine is shut down 10 minutes before breaks to keep things moving smoothly and prevent the glue from drying.

 

What's next?

Royal makes its own doors and plans to continue doing so with the help of its plant in Mexico. Sixty percent of the doors are made in Pomona and are cut on the Komo router out of MDF. These doors are theromofoiled using a Shaw Almex thermofoil press and are used on the frameless line.

 

The company bought a new Balestrini Fox MD model machine solely for processing five-piece, miter-joint doors and getting the best quality. A Busellato point-to-point machine and DMC drum sander were moved from the Pomona plant to be used on the wood doors that are being cut in Mexico.

 

There are plans to put a frameless line down in Mexico and the company has begun investigating whether it should put in a rip crosscut optimization system to improve material yield. Royal is also in the midst of planning and executing a new building on land adjacent to the Pomona plant.

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