For William Jones, buying a new CNC router has been all about making things simpler. "Because of the amount of business we have, we were constantly pushed for the past three years and that was another thing," says Jones. "I wanted it to get slicker, cleaner and a lot less handling."


Before purchasing the C.R. Onsrud 145G12 router, Jones' company, Custom Woodcrafts Inc., Horn Lake, Miss., was a panel processing operation with a lot of material handling in between operations. Panels were put into the Homag CHO3 beam saw, where the initial cutting was done. Parts were then moved to be dadoed, or for drilling. "All that manual handling was killing us. We didn't realize it at the time," says Jones. "And now you put the panel onto the Onsrud and when it comes off, it's ready to go."


No one lost his job because of the new machine. "I've repositioned people. It decreased labor and waste, and increased production," says Jones. "The material costs have come up, but labor has gone way down, so we're going to be able to maintain our same pricing structure and be more profitable."


Custom Woodcrafts Inc. builds custom office furniture and architectural millwork for banks and hotels. Projects aren't limited to its immediate geographical area.


Key to success

Jones had wanted to get a CNC router for some time. The challenge was in acquiring software that would work for the company and then hiring someone capable of using it. Once user-friendly software became available, the search for a software engineer began.


"You can have somebody input information all day long, but if they didn't know how to build or manufacture what we do, they were of no use," says Jones. "At the end of the day, we took someone who was well versed in how products were manufactured and converted him into doing it on the computer. That was the ultimate way to go."


Dwayne Gravatt is the plant's computer programmer. Before the machine was even being built, the company sent him to North Carolina for training. After that training, while the machine was being built, Gravatt came back to the plant and worked with the software, trying to learn the process and figure out the kinks. Once the machine arrived, employees went through training in the plant. "And then it was just hands-on training and the rules of hard knocks," says Jones.


Tax credits working

"The tax credits we were allowed were a great incentive for me to purchase the machine," says Jones. First, he bought the Kundig finishing sander because the finishing department had a serious bottleneck.


The sander alleviated that problem. The finishing machine sands parts in three to four seconds, a process that had been done manually before that. Instead of three employees sanding, only one is necessary now.


With the new machine, the process of finishing changed. Parts were finished flat. The goal was to get parts through the machine, finished flat, handled and wrapped, because a lot of assembly happens in the field.


"It's rare now to have any damage. The cutting became a bottleneck after the finishing got taken care of," says Jones. "The router took care of the hardware, the cutting and the panel processing bottlenecks."


By reconfiguring some small notes and loans into one, Jones' payments hardly changed and the government credit helped pay for 35 percent of the machine. "Everything will be paid off, including the building, in five years," he says.


"We now are a nesting operation. We converted everything out there, sold every machine that the Onsrud router is taking the place of," says Jones. "And this machine has taken every one of their places and then some."


Converted to nesting

When a job comes in after drawings are approved and field measurements have been made, Gravatt inputs the information into the computer, breaking down the cabinetry into parts lists. "The AlphaCAM program will nest all the parts he draws for machining. It writes the g-codes and nests the parts for machining. He then sends the information directly to the machine," says Jones.


Employees still do edgebanding on a Brandt KD67 edgebander, spraying, sanding, assembly and some laminating. Employees who were involved in finishing before and were all jammed into the finishing department are now cleaning, wrapping and loading product. Employees who were doing the line boring and drilling were all moved to assembly. "We can get things out really quick."


Changes in sight

"We still have capacity for further growth," says Jones. "And now it's got me thinking that maybe I want to expand and grow." Space is the real challenge right now, he says. Since the new machines have been purchased, things have been too busy to rearrange. And that will have to happen, because things are not set up for optimal flow.


"We're going to change the flow. That will hinge a lot on how we do the add-on and how we can change the flow to make it work a lot better," says Jones.


Jones is looking to buy another edgebander to handle thick hardwood pieces, probably a machine with a pre-moulder on the front head. He's also considering a second CNC router.


Finally, the issue comes down to skilled workers. Jones says that it's getting harder and harder to find them. "What I'm trying to do is have positions that don't require that much experience anymore," he says. "You still have to have experience on some things, but we could use less-skilled workers on other things."

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