I currently use eCabinets on a Thermwood CNC and I love the machine. If anyone can point out the flaws in my thinking below it would be great. I don't have enough experience to do it myself and your opinions could possibly save me a lot of time and money in doing so.
I bought it used but Thermwood customer service has treated me like one of their own. Also, in my opinion eCabs is an awesome program and if I were selling mostly to showroom clients with whom I had direct contact I would have no use for another program.
That said, I am in a weird niche. I deal directly with contractors who themselves usually answer to architects who make random visits to the jobsites and report to the customers (who I sometimes never meet). Since I have no interaction with the customer, the cabinets are designed by the architect via elevations in the blueprints.
The architects never have an issue with allowing me access to their dxf files. Since I am a transplant to the cabinet industry from a separate field I am savvy to a separate CAD program that I can open the dxf files in, scale them to accommodate jobsite dimensions, and re-submit to the architect for my shop drawings.
I then have to draw the cabinets in eCabs to send to the CNC. My thoughts are that I could purchase AutoCAD and Microvellum which would streamline the process. I have read about all of the nightmares regarding Microvellum in the Knowledge Base but I have also seen a lot of posts which make eCabs out to be a difficult/long learning curve software which I disagree with.
I have already purchased AutoCAD, and although I haven't yet tried to draw anything I am hoping that my experience with a separate CAD software will help. Also, it seems that one of the biggest concerns that people have with AutoCAD is that "you are drawing cabinets one line at a time." I have read that AutoCAD will perform as parametric software. Is that one of the advantages of Microvellum in that the AutoCAD/Microvellum handshake happens early in the process after which Microvellum is a parametric program? Any thoughts would be appreciated.
From contributor X:
You’re not wrong, but you’re not fully right either. AutoCAD and Microvellum are tools, and in the right hands and with enough time invested can be useful. AutoCAD is of course, in general, the industry standard. If folks are drawing cabinets one line at a time they simply have not learned how to fully use AutoCAD. It is more powerful than that, and even if not easily parametric there are ways to save tons of time by reuse of objects, dynamic blocks, etc. It does have parametrics, but only in 2D, so it depends on how you want to use the tool.
Microvellum is a wholly separate beast. Yes, it can be very good, but it is more suited to a very established construction library and is more suited to building boxes than custom work. Yes it can be bent to peoples will, but you need a talented operator and you need to invest a decent amount of time and training to make it work.
A tip on Microvellum is to make sure the person doing it has a very good grasp of how AutoCAD works, how spreadsheets work, and the basics of databases. The learning curve is steep and those as a foundation should shorten that curve for you. I would go to a shop that uses each and see how they really use them. A salesman can show you anything, but real world is always a whole different story.
I don't think that it's the time that it takes me to translate the CAD drawings into eCabs but more so the potential for error in doing so. If the nesting were to be generated directly from the shop drawings themselves (as I assume would be the case in Microvellum) then this potential for error in translation would not exist, but I may well be making assumptions about Microvellum that aren't true.
Aside from eCabs my only knowledge of any of the aforementioned programs has come from what I have read of them on WOODWEB; but if it is true that they are all weak to a similar degree in custom work and if it is true that a company cutting a lot of boxes will need one of the above programs, then it seems like their utility in custom work is a non-factor. I don't do a lot of the sort of work that you are referencing, but I guess if I did a topsolid program would it be needed in addition to the parametric program?
As for why I want to switch from eCabs - there are several reasons. For one, I am in my twenties and assuming that I stay in this industry until I retire it would be nice to know that if I were to purchase a separate or second CNC at some point that I could consider machines in addition to Thermwood.
Also, I have not outgrown the software, but I’m having to make concessions and accommodations. For one, in modifying a cabinet, eCabs uses an order of operations that is not logical to me. For example, if I want to change a dado setting on a cabinet, I open, make the change in the assembly editor, and save the change. However, if I want to change the shelf material, I have to open the cabinet, delete the shelf, change the shelf material, and then re-install the shelf. The same goes for global settings.
Also, my current shop is only 2500 sf, and as a result I was lean way before I knew what lean was. I have to process in small batches out of necessity. I have read on WOODWEB that other software packages allow you to nest so that you get a complete cabinet every X number of sheets. To do the same, I have to nest a job six or seven cabinets at a time, and I have to use my own judgment as to which cabinets go together most efficiently. I assume (I haven't asked a salesman) that a Microvellum or a Cabinetvision would perform a "nest within a nest" (it performs a macro-nest by sorting cabinets in such a way that they machine efficiently). I waste a lot of plywood by my method. I also risk duplicating or omitting a cabinet by accident by manually breaking a large job down into small batches.
I think though that the line drawing editor is the biggest issue. ECabs draws awesome color perspectives, but all of the kitchen centers around me supply their potential clients with the same cheesy 3D perspectives that they print out of their 20-20 software and I would like to do something different.
Another consideration is that it seems that each week I find a new use for Excel, and I am trying to learn about databases and Visual Basic and it seems that this would come in handy if I were to purchase Microvellum.
Aren't you a young guy yourself? When you consider your software, such as you did with regard to the additional architectural work that you are taking on, shouldn't you instead ask "what is ultimately the best software package for my business in 5, 10, 15 years?" It seems to me that the more established a company, the more drastic a change in software, so I want to get this one right at the outset.
My business is very similar to yours in that I work mostly through interior designers who pass along DXF files and make a hundred little changes like you describe. It's a bit of a no man's land. I worked with a pirated version of CV for a while, but found I was spending more time recreating the cabinetry in CV rather than just using AutoCAD to modify the designer's original DXF file. Plus, I had a couple translation errors that cost huge amounts of money.
My conclusion is that any of the programs (CV, MV, etc.) are only worth using if you're a large shop or a small shop working directly with end customers. If you're a small shop not working with end clients, there is too much overhead in using those programs to make them efficient. I primarily use AutoCAD and MasterCAM.
Again, I have nothing but positives to say about Thermwood and eCabinets. Out of all the major software companies, and I have had multiple conversations with each, Thermwood has been the most helpful, the quickest to respond, etc. What is remarkable about this is that my calls to the Thermwood corporation have been with questions about a software that I did not buy from them to run a CNC that I did not buy from them directly, whereas my calls to the other software companies have been with inquiries about their product (a potential sale for them), and yet they still lack the follow up and support that Thermwood has given for free. I don't know how they (Thermwood) do it.
To that end, when I do buy new, it will be a Thermwood so long as the machine aligns with my strategy. I don't know fully what that strategy is yet. Back to the analogy of the ladder and the building - it seems to me that my business is unique in the fact that I do not need presentation drawings, but submittal drawings, and these submittal drawings are mostly done by the architect. For minor changes I am having to go through needless steps because eCabs (or cabinet vision, or cabinet ware, et al) will not import the architects work and export the amended drawings.
This may seem minor, but over the course of many years and jobs, not so much. Also, I think that I like to one day crossover into commercial, which at least shares some similarities with what I am doing now with my dealings with architects and submittals at a minimum, and it seems that the bulk of the commercial guys that I see posting here are using Microvellum.
There must be some reason for this and I assume that the connection to AutoCAD is one of them because they, like me, could save time and eliminate mistakes by working with the original document submitted to them by the architect/contractor.
"I don't know fully what that strategy is yet." That is the real thing you need to look at, anything invested until you answer that is a waste of time. I recommend you do some looking before you decide anything. You need more information about different paradigms. I recommend you join an organization like the CMA, AWI, WI and find out the different possibilities.
CV has a great ability to create custom pieces, and unlike most options it can intelligently constrain them. The problem is that you have to draw these custom assemblies in the "CV way". Meaning that you have to create, size, and constrain the parts in a non-graphical environment. The math can get pretty messy as well. The result is a super powerful custom assembly that can be dynamically resized and constrained. Plus, all the costing can be automatic! I have labor values set up for boards and panels so when I make a bed or table CV will tally the labor for the individual parts and hardware automatically (and very accurately).
Sure, some packages fit a particular scenario fairly well, but then along comes a job which just doesn't fit at all. Flexibility is the key and that comes from the operator, the time spent in learning and exploring as well as a mindset that can look outside the square, not the package itself. An intimate knowledge of your particular software is essential, be it AC, CV MV or Excel. At the end of the day, the biggest limitation is ourselves.
To the original questioner: I know my route will more than likely make you feel cheated with your 20/20 dealings, but here goes. I used 20/20 and I like it. It is great for what I do. The cost getting into it is a heck of a lot higher than eCabinets, which is free. I started out using eCabinets and it was the greatest thing in the world, but as a professional product to be displayed to the customer, it is not there. Sure it makes good 3D renderings, which most programs do. But when you need layout information, great blue print type layouts, it does nothing. Sometimes I need those for electricians or plumbers, eCabinets just couldn't do that.
Ok, here are the two routes I would do if I were you: I would either buy a full featured product such as 20/20 and go from there using the Shopware CAD to import your architect’s CAD files, and using 20/20 to output to your router. Most architects don’t draw each cabinet out. They have a library they use and get cabinets from it. Create your own libraries in CAD and give them to your architects or designers. Or you could ask them what they use and then replicate them in eCabs.
As for the Match Door check-box, you need to insure that it is unchecked in your library cabinets. That is just a maintenance problem, not a software problem. With any software you have to realize that you cannot make it work the way you want it to, but instead, must learn the way it works, and use those features to your benefit.
Complex jobs usually require me to lay out my cabinet work in a CAD program first so I can get my proper cabinet sizes and shapes which I can then create in my cabinet program. Ideally I would then take my cabinets back into my CAD program to make sure they fit (2D dxf export) before I send them to the shop. ECabinets is great for standard, cataloged, cabinet type jobs, however unless it speaks the language of construction, which is CAD, it will always be lacking. This is why large commercial millwork shops use CAD based programs. Simply tweaking the line drawing editor will not do it.
It would be more difficult thinking that Auto Cabinets or Router CAD can extract all this information from a 2D floor plan. I would like to see how it is done. I have visited the Router CAD site many times and can't find anything about this. I think it would be popular software if you could import an architect’s drawings, push a button, and it would spit out cabinets your way ready to cut.