When bottlenecks appear at Desert Cove Woodworks in Phoenix, owner Matthew Parsons breaks them up with new equipment. He then uses software to update and keep control of costs to maintain profitability.

Parsons feels that the answer to getting the job done, controlling waste and keeping money in the shop, is technology. An SCM Routech CNC router, purchased in 2003, has become a key element in the shop's production process.

"My goal was to have a shop that could produce what I could design and build and that's where I'm at right now," says Parsons. He believes that some shops have forgotten what they got into business to do. "They're taking half of their sales and throwing it out the window by not doing it themselves."

The domino effect

The router added flexibility and capacity, but also created new bottlenecks in the face-frame department, which couldn't keep up with the CNC machine. To remove that bottleneck, Parsons bought a RazorGage to automate the chopping of parts.

The RazorGage Optimal Designer has automatic pocket-hole drilling, scribe marking and a double pigeon-hole array system, which makes fast work of every face-frame job and breaks up the log jam.

When the machine is cutting a big job, one person marks the defects and feeds the wood, while another moves the cut pieces into the appropriate slot, which lights up to guide the sorter. The machine optimizes the wood based on the cut lists in its program and the piece of wood the operator feeds into it.

"There's no machine in this shop that's done better than the RazorGage in improving our bottom line," says Parsons. "CNC is a close second, but the CNC also has other benefits." The router is used to cut dovetail drawer pieces, onlays, curved and specialized carved door panels.

The RazorGage machine eliminated the jam up in the face-frame area, but as a result of that machine another bottleneck appeared in the door department. Parsons says he tried outsourcing doors and drawers before, but had trouble with timing and quality. Now he says he can build his own doors cheaper and better because he bought the same equipment door manufacturers have.

"The Unique machines were brought on board because the CNC was paid off and we had the opportunity to invest. We looked at where our worst bottleneck was and it was the door department. The doors never moved as fast as the cabinets and face frames," says Parsons. Although the door machines have just come onboard, Parsons already sees a huge labor savings.

"Now the doors are assembled, sanded and ready to go as fast as the cabinets are."

Cutting waste

The shop builds cabinets using 3/4-inch maple plywood with full dado and screw construction using Cabnetware software and nested-based manufacturing.

Before the router, the shop had a panel saw and did all the machining by hand and even then the waste factor was pretty low, says Parsons. But now everything is nested and all the parts are machined on the router.

"We've developed a cabinet in a way that optimizes the material and we're down to 5 percent waste factor on most jobs," says Parsons. "The bigger the job, the less the waste and we do design conscientiously with that in mind. We don't build a bunch of cabinets that are going to require 24-inch panels when you have 48- or 49-inch panels that you have to cut from.

Ensuring the payoff

Machines and software help keep a shop competitive by cutting waste and optimizing materials, says Parsons, but keeping careful track of costs is what keeps you profitable.

Although the Cabnetware software the shop uses has a rudimentary estimating program, Parsons had a program written that arranges the information into tabbed spreadsheets. The information the estimate included is clearly organized in his program by room.

For accurate estimates you need to know your material costs, says Parsons. With Cabnetware software there's one place to make material cost adjustments and costs are parametric with the design.

When the price of any material goes up or down, Parsons will go in and make the change. "The next job I run will be calculated using the new numbers," he says. "I can adjust immediately."

Material costs aren't the whole story. Parsons uses a time-clock system called Power Clock that keeps track of everyone's work time. In the morning employees punch in and indicate what job they're working on, what phase of the job they're working on and who they are.

"At the end of the job, I have an exact labor count for that job, no matter what." When Parsons goes in to the system to update his pricing, he can look at past jobs and do labor studies on it. He'll know how much more labor it takes for a specialized door, for example, and adjust accordingly.

Parsons generally updates his overhead every year or two, but will adjust it more frequently to account for new equipment. When Parsons improves efficiencies through machinery or optimization, he passes along the cost savings to his customers.

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