Technology drives custom millwork company
March 3, 2015 | 6:00 pm CST

If anyone thinks spectacular custom work and sophisticated CNC automation don’t go together, they haven’t seen what the Fixtures & Drywall Company of Oklahoma Inc. (FADCO) is doing. Specializing in the design, production and installation of premium grade architectural millwork in upscale casinos, hospitals and other venues, FADCO specializes in eye-popping one-of-a-kind work. But the irony is that behind all this unique work is better manufacturing technology and software that actually allows the company to standardize more processes.

Keeping up to date

Founded in 1980 by President Bob Vincent, the business that debuted as a small drywall and millwork outfit has thrived in large part due to Vincent’s willingness to embrace new technologies. Today the company has 70 employees working in a 90,000-square-foot plant in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

On the machine side, the company runs a 5x12 Northwood nested based CNC router, a Morbidelli point-to-point machine, a Holz-Her panel saw, a Holz-Her edgebander, and an Omal dowel jointer. An additional Holzer 5x12 CNC is scheduled to arrive later this month. Driving the production is Cabinet Vision software by Vero Software, which the company has been using since 1984.

“I’ve tried to keep up with all the latest technology, whatever it be,” Vincent said. “Cabinet Vision has allowed us to increase production tenfold over where we started. We couldn’t do what we do today without that.”
The company also does solid surface work and has two ovens and miter-folding capabilities. “Anything that has wood or plastic laminate, we can do,” Vincent says. “We’re always looking to be diversified. The more diversified you are, the longer you’ll be around.”

While production varies, FADCO’s two shifts on routers and saws work their way through about 200 sheets of material each day. It also garners a great deal of business in solid-surface manufacturing. 

It all starts with drawings
Mark Mirdo, who is the head of engineering at FADCO, has taken a lead role in making sure the company’s software and manufacturing can keep up with the increasingly diversified projects. “I like solving problems,” said Mirdo, who has 17 years of custom shop experience and 10 years working with Cabinet Vision.

The first step in the production process is turning architect’s drawings into something the shop can use. “We basically have to redraw and show how everything will be constructed,” he explained. “We have to determine our scope and determine the materials up front. Then we have to get the architect on board.”

Mirdo begins by creating virtual rooms that mirror the real-life dimensions of the room in which the cabinets will be installed. For complicated site measurements, the company relies on a Leica Disto laser unit. Because Cabinet Vision offers a live 3D virtual environment, changes made to the dimensions of the room or to the project specs are automatically made to any live drawings. 

“We use the live drawing feature, which was an awesome [Cabinet Vision] upgrade that saves a lot of time — not having to regenerate your drawing,” Vincent said. 

Custom standards

Another Cabinet Vision feature widely used by FADCO is the software’s ability to easily incorporate Cabinet Vision User-Created Standards, or UCSs. These are standards written by users in Cabinet Vision scripting language to tell the software very specifically what they would like it to do. Written with if-then statements, UCSs streamline work and quickly add up to significant production gains on the shop floor, Mirdo said.

For example, Mirdo explained, he is currently working on a large project. He has created a unit in the software to deal with shelves and brackets, which all have to be sized correctly for the loads and spacing required. “In the past, we would have to do that manually,” he said. “Then I started writing a UCS that controls everything.” The software script is coordinated with AWI specifications. If a shelf increases out over a certain length, then another bracket is automatically added by the program.

“If you don’t have to manually place these brackets you’re saving a ton,” he said. “You’re talking about a lot of time.”

He’s written 2,000 lines of custom code for the program, but he is adamant that all that programming time is worth it. “It’s so modifiable,” he said of programming with user-created standards. “It doesn’t just add something to Cabinet Vision, but cuts down on processes that we do in engineering.”

Mirdo has penned a library of UCSs that increase efficiency by assigning filters to certain part types. For instance, one of Mirdo’s UCSs instructs the software to ignore the grain of a specific material under certain conditions. This can be especially helpful when working with nested-based routers that maximize materials while cutting production time. The UCSs also report which parts to buy.

Other UCSs control the positions of toe kicks and hinges when cabinet sizes or wall position dictate a change. “Sometimes engineers don’t remember that,” he said. “Now nobody forgets to do it. No parts need to be recut.”

Learning from forums
With all this programming talk, one might get the idea that special high-level programming skills are required to add these features to the program. But Mirdo describes his skills in this area as just “middle-of-the-road.” He describes his learning curve on Cabinet Vision this way:

“I’ve been using Cabinet Vision for 10 years,” he said. “For the first five, I learned a lot. I thought I knew everything there was to know. But then I got onto the forums four years ago and started realizing there’s still a lot to learn. If the guys using Cabinet Vision aren’t getting in and learning, they are missing out.”

“There’s a lot of intelligence included in Cabinet Vision that I can incorporate, and I try to take advantage of that whenever I can,” Mirdo said. “When I put something in Cabinet Vision and it’s not something we’ve done before, I try to write equations and add parameters available in Cabinet Vision in order to leave the product with some intelligence so that if one of my guys out here programs it to the shop, they can easily adjust it.”

Taking on big jobs

On display in Vincent’s office are awards FADCO earned from the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) of Oklahoma, Inc. In the past decade, the company has won nine ABC trophies for excellence in construction; one of the nine was handed down at the national level.

Not bad at all for a company with modest beginnings that now counts among its projects Tulsa’s recently unveiled $206 million Saint Francis Hospital tower, as well as the Tulsa Technology Center. 

“Being at the hospital, you kind of get lost because everything is the same,” Mirdo said of FADCO’s work on the 150-bed patient tower and trauma center. “When you see the different colors at the reception desks, you know where you are.” 

The hospital project required manufacturing and installation of solid-surface covered and Lumicor backlit paneled desks on seven tower floors, while FADCO took care of the wainscoting, trim and stain for the Tulsa Technology Center, in Owasso, Oklahoma. The company has also been involved in a number of casino projects in the region. In addition to working in Oklahoma, FADCO has taken on projects in Kansas, Arkansas, Colorado, Louisiana, and beyond. 

“What used to take me two weeks to do I can do in one day with Cabinet Vision,” Vincent says. “You just can’t make a living these days without these machines and software.”

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About the author
William Sampson

William Sampson is a lifelong woodworker, and he has been an advocate for small-scale entrepreneurs and lean manufacturing since the 1980s. He was the editor of Fine Woodworking magazine in the early 1990s and founded WoodshopBusiness magazine, which he eventually sold and merged with CabinetMaker magazine. He helped found the Cabinet Makers Association in 1998 and was its first executive director. Today, as editorial director of Woodworking Network and FDMC magazine he has more than 20 years experience covering the professional woodworking industry. His popular "In the Shop" tool reviews and videos appear monthly in FDMC.