CNC Software as a Means to Boost a Woodshop's Profits
December 11, 2013 | 1:30 pm CST
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Choosing the right software to run CNC machines is unique to each company’s circumstances. Integration to the current setup in the shop, and training and technical assistance from the software developers are all important. Previous experience with purchasing and using CNC software is also helpful.

Headquarted in Grand Rapids, MI, Universal Forest Products Inc. (UFPI) chose CIM-Tech to provide its CNC software. With approximately 80 plants nationwide, UFPI wanted a common platform that would operate seamlessly across its company. UFPI manufactures lumber products, serving many consumers in the building materials and construction, manufactured housing, site built housing products, and industrial products markets.

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Jeff Foley, senior manufacturing engineer, says that UFPI introduced CNC technology into its production process approximately four years ago, and at the time, the company itself had very little exposure to CNC technology.

“What we embarked on in getting the machine was, number one, that it was FANUC control-based (FANUC is a robotic automation company that develops and produces CNC control systems for machine tools and other applications), and hopefully one that would be made primarily in the US,” Foley says. “And the second thing was software.”

Foley had some experiences and familiarity with CIM-Tech over the years, going back to the early 1990s with a previous company that had purchased two Shoda CNC routers that were FANUC-based.

“Obviously you rely on some of your own past experiences, and the experiences that I had that were good were running FANUC-based machines with software that I knew,” Foley says. “With the folks at CIMTech having the same people that founded the company, that really have developed the software pretty much since its infancy, these were things that really helped solidify our choices.”

Customer support was another reason that UFPI wanted software that meshed well with a FANUC-based machine.

“One of the things that we looked at is that there are FANUC distribution centers worldwide where most of our plants are,” says Foley. “So in the event that we would have any type of an issue, we’ve got a readily available distributor to help us.

“In today’s modern manufacturing where everything is just-in-time, you need to have reliability in support and services, to service the machine tools and those things,” he adds.

UFPI also wanted the software to work fairly seamlessly with AutoCAD. The company had a tremendous amount of history and documented files that were AutoCAD files, and Foley says that the CIM-Tech software works flawlessly with AutoCAD.

“When we get a customers’ concept or a request for a quotation that comes in, in any kind of electronic format, whether it be an AutoCAD file or a SolidWorks file, that file can be converted to a DXF file (Drawing Exchange File) which allows you to lay tool paths and generate requests for quotations,” says Foley.

“From a delivery standpoint, the amount of time that it took to really turn around quotations for our customers was shortened dramatically,” he adds.

UFPI has a variety of plants in a host of locations serving different market segments, from DIY industries to industrial customers, so it was important to UFPI for the companies to be able to work together. Having software that worked flawlessly between plants was a huge factor.

“We’ve got common customers,” Foley says. “Even though some of the customers may not have the exact same product, it always works better if the CNC applications guys within our company can communicate with ease on the same software platform.”

The CIM-Tech CNC software has helped UFPI with speed, output and quality. It also has helped save the company money by decreasing waste. UFPI also has experienced higher margins on the products that it is shipping.

“It certainly shortens the delivery from the standpoint of design concept to any one-off production, as well as any type of nested-based products where it has a tremendous impact on yields and material because of the way the software works,” says Foley.

“Especially if you are running sheet goods like plywood or OSB, which we run a lot of. The software helps you optimize the use of that material through advanced nesting. It has a tremendous amount of history and built-in knowledge in doing common line cutting, nested-based cutting and things like that. These have really driven a lot of manufacturing waste out of the system.”

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