I am starting a 32mm shop, primarily producing kitchens and commercial casework. I have investigated a true32 "manual" setup and now am looking into NBM setups. Ideally, I would like to remain a skilled two-person operation. I like the idea of designing and programming a router for nesting, followed by edgebanding, horizontal boring and assembly. If I thought I could successfully produce high-end custom kitchens (two to six per month) using two people and the above setup, I would further enjoy the flexibility the router would offer for other applications, such as closet systems, solid surface, carving, millwork, and proprietary modeling. Am I fooling myself about the efficiency of using the router for my main product, i.e. kitchens? Am I overly enamored with the notion of "high technology?"
From contributor H:
No matter how high tech you go, you will only be as fast as your slowest step in the process. Sooner or later someone has to physically do it. Cabinets don't assemble, install hardware, finish and install themselves. You could easily produce more parts in one day than your one man could assemble in a week. If you did two complete kitchens in a month with just the two of you, you would be doing very well. My definition of complete is all parts, mouldings, doors, accessories, countertops and punch list of "minor usuals", as I call them.
I think if you gave up coffee breaks, lunch, dinner and sleeping you might get four or five done. And if you're outsourcing your doors, you can forget your schedule and adopt your supplier's.
In any event, what do you think about using a router cell to produce kitchen cabinets? Some would say go slider, bander, groover, borer, etc, finish; others say slider/vertical, p2p, bander, etc. I'm asking for opinions on router, borer, bander, etc. I know this depends on various elements of componentry and construction. Who out there uses the router as the primary cell machine? Maybe it's just personal preference, if installation is the constraint.
Who uses a CNC router or P2P for low to moderate levels of production? I say low to moderate because it will be our first year producing cabinets in a new shop (8600 sq.ft.)
I outsource about 30% of my doors and so far, the manufacturer has been good. Turnaround time is usually 10 days or less. I have a hard time producing a kitchen in less than that time when added to the current work on the floor.
The router will require two things. More money, which may in turn get you more money, and more men, which will in turn cost you more money.
Also, a CNC router or P2P takes space, money and at least one skilled person to make it work. My customers save many thousands of dollars every month by *not* having invested in that equipment. They do pay me, but substantially less than what it would cost them to have what I have. They also don't have to pay for the thing sitting there, doing nothing 75% of the time. Obviously, larger shops with substantial volumes can justify the type of equipment that I have, but my customers can't or don't want to. There is a lot more to making a CNC pay for itself than throwing wood at it.
As to whether or not a CNC would work for you? I am sure that any number of CNC sales people will quickly provide ROI analysis for your shop to convince you that it will.
I suggest outsourcing a couple of jobs to experiment with assembling a stack of parts instead of fabricating the parts. This will help you evaluate the benefits and perhaps see a few snags in your current views. After such a sampling, which you should keep careful time studies on, run a few jobs, again keeping careful time studies. Do the math, then decide.
50% of your effort is going to be in sales and customer service.
Unless you have a partner with a financial interest, an owned building or cheap manual machines, it's a fickle system at best for a start-up operation. You simply can't make the money on melamine cabinetry with metal drawers (which a router is only good for) to support the extra expenses working only 20 hours per week.
In any scenario, my two-man shop desires aside, hired help is not out of the question. What if I have sales of four kitchens a month? Then what equipment is justified?
If I am not set up to produce come summer, I'll outsource the components and build the cabinets in my present shop.
While we're doing our research, math and even sales now, we have the financing and wherewithal to start a respectably equipped shop. As my partner says, "if we're going to go into this fight, let's do it with a big gun."
I have a CNC router that is well configured for NBM and cabinet-store fixture component manufacturing. I can say from experience that a NBM router approach worked very well for one of my customers. I provided the components for several hundred cash wraps for a major national department store chain. I provided the NBM routed, drilled, dadoed, rabbeted, consistent components, and my customer, who had a working shop and about a dozen workers, used his resources to assemble, tape, finish, package and ship the completed product. I made some money and the customer saved a ton of time, made his delivery schedule with time to spare, and was happy with the whole arrangement. I had no trouble staying ahead of the curve with a crew of two. Of course, the other advantage to my customer was not having a serious chunk of capital invested, and not using any real estate for the router and a truckload of raw material.
I obviously have a biased viewpoint in favor of outsourcing your components, because that is the service I offer. I am not going to try to sell you any equipment, so I hope you will consider my arguments in the good spirit they are offered.
NBM CNC routers are very good at sheet stock bust up and one-face drill-route-shape components. My router is also very good at P2P tasks when I use the stand off pods. I can line bore with the full sheet on the table, cut very efficient nests and cut rabbets and dadoes with much better constancy than you will get on a P2P, because a vacuum table will keep a sheet a lot flatter than a couple of little pods. That is not to say P2Ps are not good machines. They are very good at the tasks they are designed for. I just happen to like routers better.
These days you can get a good NBM CNC router that will do about everything a P2P will do, plus it will rout, offer a flow-through table and offer some additional flexibility in terms of what you can machine.
As a job shop, I needed flexibility. With my CNC router I have cut thousands of acrylic parts, a hundred tons of aluminum parts and I can’t count how many sheets of ply, PB and MDF on my Arrow last year. Of course, I would rather cut your components for you than see you agonize over a major capital investment decision that you may not have to make to ensure your company's profitability.