Finishing challenge: Man vs. machine
Brad Cairns vs. Cefla finishing line

Lean enthusiast Brad Cairns, who sprays doors manually in his shop, has challenged an automated finishing system to see who can finish 20 doors fastest, cheapest, and most efficiently. Who do you think will win?

Can a mostly manual process compete with an automated spray line? Lean expert Brad Cairns thinks so, and he’s challenged a fully automated shop in British Columbia to put it to the test.

Brad Cairns, who is a principal in Quantum Lean and operates his own MDF door factory thinks his process improvements to get the most out of manual spraying can compete with all the efficiencies of an expensive automated spray line.

To prove his point, he is taking on the finishing department at Creative Woodcraft in British Columbia. They spray their doors using a Cefla automated spray system and Sun-Spot catalytic drying. Cairns uses conventional Kremlin guns in a traditional spray booth with air drying on racks, spraying one side at a time. Both shops will use a Stolbek Cosmo robotic sander in their process.

For purposes of the challenge, each shop is to sand and prime 20 MDF doors. The whole process will be filmed in real time and data will be used to compare labor and equipment costs to measure both processes on time, cost, and efficiency.

The results will be revealed in a special webinar hosted by Woodworking Network. During the webinar, I will be interviewing Cairns and Will Duggan, owner of Creative Woodcraft, to talk about both of their processes, how they decided to finish the way they do, and what their investment is. At the end of the webinar, we’ll show the videos, declare a winner, and take questions from the live audience. The webinar is sponsored by Guffey Systems, providing award-winning products for furniture, millwork, and cabinet finishing that optimize efficiency and reduce waste.

You can register online for the free webinar.

Watch the video below to see both the manual and automated shops.

Who do you think will win?


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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.