If you're making products for paradise, everything better be right.


Aristocratic Cabinets emphasizes advanced software in its manufacturing process and places particular importance in finishing quality. The Chehalis, Wash., company makes high-mid to high-end kitchen and bath cabinets, and sells to kitchen and bath dealers on the West Coast and in Hawaii. It also sells direct locally and to contractors on multifamily projects.


Software emphasis

Part of Aristocratic's quest for quality involves heavy dependence on Microvellum software. Aristocratic uses a complete automated system with Microvellum manufacturing software Version 6. It expects to be beta-testing Version 7 soon.


Microvellum is used for design, layout and submittals on Aristocratic's project work. All of the dealer order cabinets are entered into Microvellum, which produces a complete bill of materials, downloads machining instructions to CNC equipment and transfers part sizes to Ardis software for optimization.


"Microvellum is very useful when producing one-off custom cabinets since it allows the design engineers to view the cabinet in 3-D from any angle," explains Larry Walker, company president. "This ability prevents many of the errors that can occur when trying to design complex cabinets in two dimensions."


Aristocratic designs most complex cabinets by starting with an existing cabinet from its library and making necessary modifications to it. "Some cabinets are not similar enough to other cabinets to use this method, so we build those from our parts library," Walker says. "Building a cabinet from the parts library is very similar to building a cabinet on our production floor. Each part is placed in virtual space and machining is applied to the appropriate surfaces. Depending on complexity, it can be time consuming, but when the cabinet is complete on the computer screen all information for manufacturing is complete and ready for our machining centers.


"When we are responsible for the design, we ask the architect to e-mail us a copy of his AutoCAD drawings," Walker says. "We offset the 2-D walls on the architect's drawing ½ or 5/8 of an inch, depending on sheetrock thickness, then add 3-D walls from Microvellum on top of the 2-D walls on the architect's drawing. This procedure prevents many mistakes in the shop drawing process and is very precise. You can immediately dimension any measurement needed for the design without having to guess or scaling it off of a set of plans."


Use of floor plan

"Once we know the walls are accurate, we begin setting cabinets on the floor plan. We have a large 3-D library of cabinets to choose from and all cabinets can easily be modified in width, height and depth, as well as just about any other modification. Once the cabinets are set on the floor plan, the design is complete and ready to be downloaded to our saw and machining centers. From this one 3-D design we can create floor plans, elevations and section views of any cabinet in the design."


Dealer orders are handled differently because the dealer has already completed the design work. "With these orders we just choose the appropriate cabinets needed to fill the dealer's order from our library, enter the cabinet dimensions for each cabinet and we are ready to optimize and download to our machining centers."


Manufacturing flow

Microvellum writes machine code directly to the Biesse point to point machines, and Ardis optimizes the parts list and sends it directly to the Selco panel saw. Once the information for any job has been sent to the floor, all the box parts are cut on the Selco panel saw. A bar-coded label is produced for each part as it is cut. The label contains a part description, part size, job number, cabinet number and a bar code that is used to access machining instructions. From the saw the parts are directed to the machining centers (Biesse Rover 336 or the 321R ATC CNC) where their barcode is scanned and the part is machined using programs produced by Microvellum. Aristocratic was one of the first companies on the West Coast to use bar coding, about 15 years ago.


Microvellum also produces a cutlist for the cabinet door department and custom department. All doors are made in Chehalis, including miter doors, recessed and raised panel. A Shaw-Almex thermofoil press handles small quantities of foil doors. Both departments use three Whirlwind chop saws equipped with TigerStops that are capable of downloading lists of parts from Microvellum, but this has not yet been implemented.


Recent additions include a new Holz-Her Sprint 1321-2 edgebander and a Weinig moulder and knife grinder, which was purchased to eliminate a constraint in the door department. The Weinig is used to produce stile and rail stock, which saves time and allows Aristocratic to run all its own mouldings in house.


Other equipment includes a Powermatic straight line rip saw, Taylor clamp carrier, Balestrini miter machines, Unique machinery double end machine, Butfering widebelt sander, Quickwood finish sander, Doucet return conveyors and Murphy-Rodgers dust collectors.


New cell planned

Aristocratic is also moving equipment to form a new manufacturing cell that is intended to reduce inventory and eliminate bottlenecks.


"The tendency is for parts to sit," Walker says. "The cell forces things to go from the beginning to being completed and ready for assembly. The time between assembly will be a couple of hours instead of a couple of days. And it makes it easier to identify problems."


Doing a large project in Hawaii stressed Aristocratic's production, and Walker felt that quality declined, which caused him to take another look at the operation and workforce. Some people who had done the high volume work weren't suited to higher quality, custom work.


"We looked at how we did things, reduced our workforce by 25 percent and concentrated on quality," he says.


Emphasis on finishing

Finish quality and color consistency are big selling points. Walker asked dealers what they like about Aristocratic. "They felt we do a better finish job than almost anyone else they buy from," he says.


Aristocratic's extensive finishing capability includes a Cattinair Rotoclean-G finish line, which provides the ability to move large quantities of pieces, but the more complex finishes may be hand wiped or sprayed by hand. (Kremlin pumps and spray guns are used.) Air drying is used rather than ovens.


"Our secret is hand sanding," Walker says. "We still do a lot of hand work for those things that require it. Where we can optimize with the machines, we use them."


Also, most finished pieces go through the QuickWood sander, which gives an evenness of staining and a nice finish look.


After finishing and assembly, all the cabinets from one job are lined up together and inspected. It's easier at that point to see color variations and things such as odd grain.


"Customers had complained that there were still color variations, odd grain, a knot that was missed, drawers that stick when opened; quality issues that shouldn't have left our plant," Walker says. "One of the main things you catch by laying them all out is color variation.


"Like many manufacturers, we are constantly trying to improve. We are a just-in-time manufacturer. We have used constraints management techniques for many years to help us with scheduling our jobs and the challenges associated with our growth. We are in the process of rearranging our plant into more well-defined cells to implement some of the concepts of lean manufacturing."

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