Quality commercial millwork demands good employees and enough of them to get the job done on time. That's why Wes Williams has had up to 25 employees at Williams and Clark Custom Woodworking, Frisco, Texas. But Williams wanted to reduce that number without cutting quality.
"Finding good help is tough," says Williams. "I just got tired of me working harder and them working less."
For Williams, the answer to tackling commercial demands and reducing the workforce to 15 employees was a Holz-Her Eco-Master CNC router and a combination of Cabinet Vision, AlphaCAM, TwinCAM and AutoCAD Lite software. "We bought it to be competitive," says Williams. "Any human can only do so much volume. You have to stay up with technology if you're going to stay competitive."
Williams isn't at all interested in doing residential cabinetry. "For what they get for residential cabinets, it isn't worth the trouble," he says. If he gets somebody calling with residential work, he generally refers them somewhere else.
WCCW Inc. builds cabinets and does millwork for doctors' offices, churches, banks, hospitals, some offices and retail and the occasional restaurant. Williams finds commercial work more interesting and more profitable. The shop builds using primarily frameless construction, only doing face-frame when specifically requested.
Williams got into commercial work when he began doing some commercial installs as part of his trim work on custom homes. In business since 1989, he incorporated in 1994, after he started doing commercial. When you're dealing in commercial projects, says Williams, it's important to be an official company with all the protection a corporation offers.
Taking the first step
Williams had used Cabinet Vision in its DOS format before it was Cabinet Vision Solid. Initially, he used the software to do shop drawings and produce cutlists. About a year before he bought the router, Williams upgraded Cabinet Vision and added another module to prepare for the machine he fully intended to buy a year later. "We knew we were going to get CNC and we'd have to have it," he says. "So we got it all set up beforehand."
Williams says that he knew computers were the future. He says that he and his employees are all still learning Cabinet Vision, but that most of the staff is AutoCAD illiterate. "We were kind of blind when it came to programming."
It's not easy to find employees proficient in software programming. Williams says that it's better to teach someone who knows woodworking to do the programming than to teach a software expert to understand woodworking. "We had a guy before who had Cabinet Vision experience and could turn on the computer and make pictures and stuff, but didn't have router intelligence," says Williams.
How things changed
The new software and router did add a little to the upfront time, says Williams. "You've got to make sure that everything is correct. Before, when we just sent it to the panel saw, we didn't have all the machining we had to worry about," he says. "Now, once you get set up, it gets easier and easier."
The shop nests all its parts. Before the router, the shop built the boxes using a butt joint and screws and glue. Now the shop uses a blind dado that can be done along with all the other machining.
Williams set it up so all the parts and backs of the cabinets are cut out of 3/4-inch material to make the nesting work optimally. Williams says that for a small shop like his, nesting (see definition on page 44) makes more sense than other systems like cell manufacturing. He said that if he got much busier, instead of changing manufacturing methods, he would just get another router.
The material yield has definitely increased with the use of the router and nesting. "Actually, the quality of the cabinets has improved," says Williams. "You don't have to worry about the hardware or drawer guides being off, because the machine does it for you. It eliminates a lot of steps and even assembly is quicker because it predrills all the holes for the screws."
The CNC router limits a lot of human error because the machining is all done on the router. "You know everything is going to be straight and you don't have to worry about it."
Reception desks and specialty items are much simpler to do with the router. It's especially good for complex curves and radiuses that would have taken a lot of space and thought to lay out before.
The shop still uses the Homag Espana CH04 beam saw, but instead of cutting panels, it's used for straight-line ripping. "Then it got to where we were so busy, we couldn't get on the beam saw," says Williams. "We were buying mouldings, too, at the time, because we were doing so much of it."
WCCW finally bought a Wadkins GD220 moulder, "about three years later than we should have," says Williams. Besides the router and moulder, the shop also has an SCM Selecta 12 edgebander and the Timesavers widebelt sander.
The general contractors, who represent the majority of WCCW's customers, count on the company for its ability to get the job done on time. All the equipment the shop buys is geared to getting a project done quickly and correctly.
The shop also does finishing, something many shops in the area avoid. Sata air-assisted Jet K3 spray equipment is used for finishing.
"We try to do it turnkey," says Williams. "The only thing we sub out right now is granite and solid surface." The shop did solid surface until it got so many hospital jobs the volume made it too difficult to continue.
The shop outsources when it gets into a time crunch. Last year WCCW had an area shop cut parts for it, when it started running behind.
At one time WCCW considered getting a press for laminating, which would take up more floor space. Some shops in town do laminating making it more feasible to buy from them. The shop still does laminating layup by hand for specialty projects.
General contractors rely on WCCW because they know they're getting better quality for the money. Recently WCCW did one medical center building out of a two-building project, while another shop did the other building, as a result of bidding differences.
"Now we're over there fixing their stuff. So how much was that little difference worth (in the bid)?" asks Williams. "We might be 10 percent higher for some general contractors, but they'd rather have us, because they know they're going to get 10 percent more."
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