Because Mark Roden, owner and president of M&R Custom Millwork Inc. couldn't always find the skilled woodworkers who would measure up to his standards, he turned to automation and outsourcing. "We need automation to keep up with the work load, to stay competitive and grow."

In 2006 M&R switched from using a Striebig vertical panel saw and a machining center to the Holz-Her Cosmec CNC router. Because the shop primarily works in frameless cabinetry, the router and nesting made a lot of sense to Roden. The router would improve accuracy, reduce handling and keep up with the work load. Finally, it would allow the company to diversify its product offerings.

M&R does high-end custom cabinetry with 70 percent of the work residential and 30 percent commercial. M&R recently added closets in the mix and is preparing to offer garage cabinets online. The shop built its reputation on its attention to detail and the willingness to go the extra mile in a project. Most of its work is done by referral and a small number of builders who use the shop exclusively.

Making technology work

The secret to making the technology work is to know who you're dealing with in terms of your vendors, says Roden. "Align yourself with a company that will take care of you," he says. If you trust the company you buy from and know that you'll have their support once the machine is in place, the adjustment to new technology will be easier.

"Holz-Her spent time with us and that was key," he says. The new router produced accurate parts quickly, although the learning curve to tweak the system to run smoothly within the shops parameters took four months.

Having an in-house technician versed in Cabinet Vision, the software M&R uses, helped make integration easier. Roden says that with the addition of Scott Norris to the Cabinet Vision team, the integration of the design software with the new CNC router was much easier. Roden has two key employees trained to work with Cabinet Vision.

Besides upgrading the Cabinet Vision software to work with the new router, Roden also purchased the closets module to diversify his product offerings.

Roden says you can't just buy software and wait for something to happen. It's important to do what it takes to learn the programs. He says that it's also important to stay current, read trade magazines and go to the woodworking shows and the Kitchen and Bath Industry Show.

Changing focus

One of the biggest advantages of the new router and software is that the technology allows Roden to be less involved with the running of the shop and more involved with clients and building the business. The shop has had three of its best years in a row and Roden says he knows how important it is to invest in equipment and technology to keep the business growing.

In 1991, during the early days of the shop, Roden had purchased Cabinet Vision. As part of the training a job was done using the program. The drawings produced by the software were instrumental in winning a job. Since that first positive experience, Roden has never looked back.

Two employees, Don Berkley and Neel Huffman are instrumental in following jobs through the system. Huffman oversees what goes on in the shop while Berkley works as a project manager making sure that the shop processes the plans correctly.

Roden's goal is to train the employees so that every employee will be able to do all the parts of a job from start to finish. Ultimately, Roden believes this will keep work moving smoothly even if an employee is absent and maybe allow him to work less and take some time off.

Work flow

Once the design is done and the contract is signed, M&R requires a 50 percent down payment with the balance due on completion. Final measurements are taken and drawings are done in Cabinet Vision. In-house shop drawings are produced and a cut list is created. Red folders are created for each job with all the information including door orders that follows the job through the shop.

Jobs are optimized with machining information and go directly to the machine where parts are nested. A labeling printer is located near the machine and labels are applied before parts are removed from the router table. A cart is used to move parts to the Holz-Her 1435 SE edgebander for edgebanding and then to the Conquest horizontal boring machine to bore the parts for dowels.

Cabinets are constructed using dowels and confirmat screws. When a client specifies face-frame construction, the frames are constructed with pocketholes using the Kreg pneumatic pocket-hole machine.

Recently M&R purchased a Holz-Her Boarke widebelt sander to improve sanding. The sander has improved both the efficiency of the process and the quality of the finished product, says Roden. Some hand sanding is still required and is done with Festool random orbital sanders and vacuum setup.

Finishing is done in-house using DeVilbis and Kremlin HVLP spray guns and ML Campbell conversion varnish.

Looking ahead

Growth is always moving up a level, being able to do the kind of jobs I want, says Roden. Early in his career Roden was not as confident handling potential clients as he is now. Then it was about proving himself and his ability and getting the job. "Now we can be more selective in the types of jobs we do," he says. It's an important change in perspective that doesn't happen overnight.

We always want the job to be as good as what we'd put in our home, says his partner and wife Renita. "We don't settle for good enough."

A little over a year ago M&R created a Web site, www.mrcustommillwork.com, which they treat as an online catalog, where perspective clients can see previous jobs and know the shop's capabilities before a meeting. "It's an important marketing tool," says Renita.

The shop is deciding whether to expand by building out its current space or buying a new building. Now, M&R has 6,500 square feet of shop space and rents an additional 2,500 square feet for storage of finished jobs and raw materials. The shop is considering outsourcing jobs for other shops or offering garage cabinets online. "It'd be good to have space for more projects," says Roden.

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