As major millwork projects become ever more complex, leading firms have been searching for better ways to handle site measurements and accurately transfer field data to the engineering team. Increasing use of extensive radius work and complex angles has been a particular concern.

One solution is in using photo-computer systems that use sophisticated software to translate photos of a job site into measurements in the computer that designers and engineers can rely on to lay out the project. We spoke to two firms that have put one such system – ETemplate – to work in their businesses.

MidCanada Millwork 

Operating out of a 90,000-square-foot facility in Steinbach, Manitoba, MidCanada Millwork is known for top quality projects across North America. Paul Penner, who handles site operations for the company, says that most of their projects are done with manual templates and measurements, but special projects often require something more, so they have been using the ETemplate system in select cases for about two years.

“The advantage is accuracy,” says Penner. He says that is particularly important in the case of projects that involve lots of radius walls. That was the case in a project they did at the University of North Carolina.

The ETemplate system works by placing precision target symbols all over a job site and taking photographs of them. Once scanned into a computer, the photos are used by the software to calculate measurements that can be used for design and engineering. The process is designed to avoid the need for difficult site measurements and creating manual templates with the possibility of introducing lots of human error.

Although Penner says ETemplate system “does work very well,” he cautions that even the computer program can be a victim of human error. He described how one time he had a problem with some off measurements, but he realized that he hadn’t scaled it correctly. Once he did that, it worked fine.

Fabrication Specialists Inc. 

David Smith at Fabrication Specialists Inc. in Mobile, Ala., says his company has been using ETemplate for about two years. He echoes Penner’s comments about the system being best when applied to projects with difficult curves and the like. “In those cases, we get excellent results. It’s absolutely invaluable,” he says.

He cited one example where the company had to build an elliptical conference table that had to match an elliptical design on a carpet. “The template we made on the CNC using the architect’s drawings didn’t match the carpet because the architect had rounded the ellipse slightly,” says Smith. They ended up doing the layout by hand and spent three to four hours doing, he said. “If we had used ETemplate we would have saved three hours.”

An example of a project where the software came in especially handy was a project at Spring Hill College. It involved a stairwell between the first and second floors with two arced openings with different radii. “It took one to one and a half hours to do with ETemplate,” he said. “We couldn’t even get a tape on it; we literally couldn’t get in the opening. It took a hundred photos, and it calculated to within a few thousandths of an inch in 40 feet.”

In another project he cited, there were double doors and barrel hallways with inconsistent framing and a barrel ceiling burnished Venetian finish that had to scribe to high-gloss sapele wood casing with no scribe moulding.

“When I attempted to make a paper template in the field, the irregularities in the arc that appeared to be ‘perfect’ looked more like a bent up bicycle rim after a truck ran over it,” he says. “It had so many deviations. It would have been impossible to convert a handmade field template into a CAD file so we could run it on our CNC router at the shop.”

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