CNC Speeds High Volume Production of Custom MDF Picture Frames
February 2, 2015 | 6:01 pm CST
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Jason Sooter, founder and owner and Tim Summerer, director of production with Weeke CNC at The Organic Bloom, Tulsa.
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Tucked inside a small industrial park in Tulsa, OK, The Organic Bloom is disguised as an ordinary woodshop.

Stroll beyond the subdued exterior, however, and within you’ll find a product that could grace the pages of any home décor magazine.

Brightly colored picture frames in a range of colors, shapes and sizes are displayed in all stages of development. Some are stacked and await painting, while others are drying or finished and ready to ship.

It’s a lot like Santa’s workshop, minus the elves.

“You can go to Home Depot or Target to get your frames, but you can’t get them in the color or size, or even the shape, that you want,” says Jason Sooter, founder and owner of The Organic Bloom.

Sooter’s company, which manufactures a wide range of frames for professional portrait photographers, has filled a niche by making a single, unique product and specializing in its customization. While some of its frames are cut with straight profiles, most feature various levels of curvature and a decidedly designer touch.

“We have hundreds of different frames,” says Tim Summerer, director of production. “We do very customized products, so people go to our website and choose the shape and the color, and from a bunch of different sizes, to really customize their order for their space.”

With 16 styles, 48 sizes, and 53 colors from which to choose, the combinations make for tremendous customization potential.

To turn out a batch of about 100 custom frames each day, The Organic Bloom utilizes powerful machinery and the Alphacam computer-aided-manufacturing (CAM) solution by Vero Software.

The company, which employs a crew of 10, replaced its previous CAM software about 16 months ago, upon discovering that it couldn’t deliver automated quality and consistency.

Ultimately, the software was unable to take the company to the next level.

Sooter and Summerer find that Alphacam has become a vital component for programming the company’s new Weeke 5’ X 10’ CNC router.

“We bought some new machinery and needed updated software,” Summerer says. “Alphacam was able to fulfill a lot of our needs.”

All in a Day’s Work

The Organic Bloom cuts about 33,000 square inches of medium-density fiberboard (MDF) each day. The shop deals in square inches in lieu of the standard square feet to maintain product consistency, as its frames typically range on the smaller scale.

A day’s batch typically consists of several pages of a variety of products, in orders of virtually any number — from one, two, five, or more. While the product itself is a fairly predictable factor, demands fluctuate daily and the company doesn’t stock up on finished products because of their inherently unique nature.

As part of its customization menu, The Organic Bloom offers single frames and double frames, which feature inner profiles that either complement or duplicate the outer profiles.

Because of the flexibility necessary for customization, the company needed CAM software as flexible as its frames.

“With so many products — we have just thousands of combinations — Alphacam makes it easy to edit and modify our designs as needed,” Summerer says.

Once a day’s orders have been entered into the system, Alphacam takes all of the frames, applies tooling, and automatically nests the parts to save both time and material.

The reverse-side nesting engine in Alphacam allows the company to accurately cut both sides of the MDF, and factors heavily in the company’s efficiency.

“Reverse-side nesting creates a front side and a back side for each frame,” Summerer says. “The post processor sends that to our machine and the operator cuts the back side first, and then flips it and does the front side.”

Alphacam’s nesting functionality includes the option for fixed orientation in cases where the direction of the grain is a factor. It also supports tool lead-in and lead-out, as well as multiple-depth parts that may require onion skins.

“Reverse-side nesting opened possibilities we weren’t doing before,” Sooter says. “Alphacam, along with our new machine, made something possible that isn’t easily possible otherwise. This feature should change the way people think about what they are cutting, as it improved our product tremendously.”

With the combination of the Weeke router and Alphacam, The Organic Bloom is also able to achieve paper-thin, seamless MDF folds required for special projects.

Sooter and Summerer credit the combination of software and machinery for their success in reverse-side nesting and the ability to consistently produce high-quality products.

“Our new machinery allows us to machine on both sides of the sheet,” Summerer says. “We have a great precision and ability to line up the sheet in the same place, so we can flip it. Alphacam was able to help us out with that.”

While the company doesn’t keep a ready product inventory, it does round out its nesting potential for each batch by manually adding or subtracting “filler parts.”

The company, which initially began with 10 styles, has found a way to offer customers countless options while increasing efficiency. Prior to its acquisition of Alphacam, which programs the machinery to cut keyholes into the back sides of standard frames, employees manually attached mounting hardware which was both time consuming and not consistent.

The software’s reverse-side nesting capability comes in especially handy for the production of custom iPad frames, which feature several holes for access to device controls, as well as dowel holes that allow the frames to stand on tabletops.

“We found that Alphacam had enough power and variety to take on a bunch of different projects,” Summerer says.

Success Blooms, Organically

With nearly 75,000 “likes” on Facebook, The Organic Bloom has reached a kind of rock-star status perhaps surprising for a woodshop born of fortunate happenstance and an awful lot of hard work.

The roots of this organic bloom were, well, actually quite organic.

As Sooter tells it, he’d bought a simple Shopbot router from Craigslist about four years ago, when he was asked by a photographer friend to cut a frame. The results of his efforts were subsequently advertised on Facebook and — voilà — he had a business that struggled to handle all of its sudden demand.

“It was just craziness,” Sooter says, “For all of 2011 and 2012, every month was bigger than the last.”

With Alphacam and their new machinery, Sooter and Summerer are prepared to meet new developments in frame design. A visit to the company’s website reveals not only a knack for making and marketing a one-of-a-kind product, but for taking it as far as it can go.

“We’re already thinking about what the next frames may look like,” Sooter says. “We’ll be ready.”

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