Building store fixtures is much more than just putting together physical structures. Most jobs involve a variety of materials, complex electrical connections and lighting that must come together precisely and at the right time to make it all work. If one element of the job is wrong, the whole effect can be lost.

Bruce Moon, owner and president of  Moon Custom Woodwork Inc., says this 21-year-old Vista, Calif., business has grown into a thriving company by taking on the nightmares nobody else wants to tackle. Using computers, CNC automation and a competent staff, Moon has built his company's reputation on providing solutions for every kind of job.

Taking on the nightmares  

Moon makes getting the job done on time the highest priority, and as a result the company has never missed delivery in time for a store's grand opening. Moon also realizes if a job isn't done right, or if any part of the mix is incorrect, the whole job can look bad.

As a result Moon decided to make it his responsibility to make sure that everything that affects the company's fixtures will be followed through. This might mean making sure the outlets are set in by the electrician so that they are in exactly the right place to be unobtrusive for the fixture's electrical needs. Or it might translate to making sure the lighting is going to set the fixture and the products displayed off to best advantage.

Moon promises his clients that once they sign on with Moon Custom Woodwork their worries will become his worries. "We take on the job of coordinating with all these other trades and make sure everything comes together. Our overall goal is to finish that job and make it look good," he says.

More and more stores are trying to achieve a unique look, Moon says, and that not only bodes well for the industry, but especially for his company, since it does the truly one-of-a-kind jobs. "Our flagship-type projects are ones that most shops will back away from. They're way too complicated as far as all the elements that are involved in the particular project," he says.

Taking a project from that first idea to a finished job involves a number of steps. Most jobs start with some conceptual drawing of the project that has enough information for a bid.

Once the bid is accepted, the real work begins with all elements of the job plotted carefully. After Moon explains the job to the project manager and the engineering staff, shop drawings will be created from the original drawings using AutoCAD and Pattern Systems. The shop drawings, color and material samples are submitted in triplicate to the architect or owner for approval.

Next, engineering will break the job down into components, cutting lists, etc., with the computer providing much of the information. A bill of materials is created so orders can be placed. The drawings finally go to the foreman to set production in motion.

JIT manufacturing  

Each job is built using JIT manufacturing and Moon says that there are no hard and fast rules for the production process. The company cuts most flat panel sizes with a Holz-Her CA-80 beam saw, while a Morbidelli Author 504 point-to-point machine is used for shaped parts, inlay work and any kind of line boring. Design information is converted to machine language using Cim-Block and edgebanding is done on the Holz-Her 1410 edgebander.

If it makes more sense on a particular job to use the Delta sliding table saw or the Holz-Her vertical panel saw, the staff is free to choose those options. A lot of the shop staff choose the CNC machining center when given a choice. "The guys are spoiled because they love the accuracy," Moon says. "Things fit consistently."

When the beam saw and the CNC machining center were purchased, the company looked primarily at the time savings the machines offered. Throughput wasn't even considered.

Throughput was enhanced with CNC equipment. Before everything would be cut at once and then move down the line. Now the work is done in batches and the production flow has improved and bottlenecks were eliminated. Moon says that it's just more efficient with everybody busy.

In the past mockups and fixtures were prepared using jigs. Now everything is done using the CNC machining center. "It's quick. The guys are very proficient at programming it. For jig work the operator can program it from the machine," says Moon. Often the initial work is done in the office, he says, but adjustments to the mockup or parts are done directly at the machine.

When Moon looks at purchasing equipment now, he focuses on whether it will fit in with his JIT manufacturing process and if it will link with the current software. Currently, he is looking to relieve the bottleneck in finishing by enlarging his finishing area.

Early warning  

Whenever Moon comes across another woodworking business, he says that his primary interest is always in job costing. "My biggest concern is not machines but job costing. How do you know if you're making any money? The name of the game is making money and if you don't make any money, you've got to at least know what (the job) is costing you," he says.

Moon has set up a proprietary tracking system that follows a job daily, keeping close tabs on daily labor. He receives updated daily reports that allow him to see where a job is in terms of labor and materials and how close to budget it is. He calls this system his early warning detection system.

"Because we're able to capture the data for the labor early on, it gives us some opportunity to reassess what we're doing and possibly save this job or reduce the loss on this job that we're going to take," says Moon. "Without that you're looking at old data, three- to six-month financials."

Mockups solve problems  

Moon does such a preponderance of distinct fixtures that often a mockup needs to be created. Mockups of an entire job or just one aspect of a job will often be done to work out some detail.

"We'll come in and miniaturize an entire storefront down to scale to make sure the mechanics of a door will work," says Moon. For Moon it comes down to making sure the product the client wants will work and will be able to be moved into its location through the door.

Recently Moon took on a job that consisted of making a leather-covered storefront, something he had never done before. By making prototype samples he guaranteed that the client was happy with the look of the samples and hence the final results.

Sometimes mockups are done to expedite a job. A jewelry case, for example, might require special optically clear glass. To avoid delaying the whole process, duplicate mockups of the top of the case will be made and one given to the glass vendor and another kept in the shop. Shelves and the structure of the case can be made using the mockup for measurements at the same time that the glass is being prepared and in the end theoretically everything is sure to fit.

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