The two machine types most used by cabinet manufacturers are the CNC processing centre, often still referred to as a ‘point-to-point’ machine; and the edge-banding machine. These two machines are subject to continuous technical and performance improvements by suppliers and constitute the two most ‘must-have’ machines in the cabinet factory.

There is little doubt the kitchen has become the centre of any home. Once a space for preparing meals and dining, the Australian kitchen is now part of a multi-purpose central hub; often open-plan where family and friends congregate for many diverse reasons. The modern kitchen is a place where design takes the fore whether it’s country; contemporary or modern Hampton. Manufacturing kitchens can be a great business, but some of the principal conditions are speed of production, flexibility of production, the right price, and good quality. (Insert image 1)

The right equipment is essential to meet these manufacturing needs and CNC controlled machines deliver on all four of these conditions. Since the early 1980’s, sales of CNC machines in Australia have climbed steadily and it is hard to imagine how anyone could compete in today’s cabinet industry without them. The most common CNC machine for cabinet manufacture is one with a flat nesting table where all the parts on an entire sheet are cut (routered out) in the one processing operation.

From there, panels are edged on an edge banding machine and in some cases, drilled for cabinet hardware fittings supplied by companies such as Häfele and Hettich. An automatic infeed and outfeed of panels coupled with a label printer are almost an essential option to reduce your labour costs even further. Most experts agree that nesting is ideally suited to our more flexible, small and medium-scale businesses; the scale of most Australian cabinet shops. In Europe with the huge potential for thousands of kitchens a year, a beam (panel) saw book-cutting four sheets at a time is more widely used.

Essential CNC

CNC machines add a great deal to your product. They reduce the cost of manufacture in several ways. In no particular order, the potential for reduced labour, or using non-skilled labour is significant. The quality of your product is no longer dependent on workers or machine settings such as a badly set scoring blade on a sliding table panel saw, or poorly set manual machine adjustments. Less handling of panels due to reduced machining processes also adds to the quality of the panels. And one cannot argue either the increased speed of production or the predictable production times of a machine controlled by a computer.

In the early 1980’s Biesse became the default CNC machine. Like Hoover is to vacuum cleaners, Biesse was to CNC routing. The advent of the low-cost flatbed router by local suppliers such as Multicam (many others have come and gone but Multicam remain) contributed to the popularity of nested based manufacturing (NBM) that took off here in Australia, the United Kingdom and United States of America. Biesse, Homag (including Weeke), SCM (including Morbidelli) and HolzHer were major early suppliers, followed by Felder and more recently, KDT who now own Masterwood. Another quality CNC machine with a long history is Busellato, now sold in Australia by Stirling Machinery.

On a popular digital marketplace for buying and selling new and used machinery there are currently 455 CNC routers for sale in Australia (59 are used) listed between $8,000 and $176,000 with the average being $72,657. At around this average investment Beyond Tools can supply a stand-alone CNC nesting machine with automatic tool change for standard 2.4m by 1.2m sheets. Most suppliers can offer a comprehensive range of CNC products to meet every specific manufacturing need, including those producing products from advanced materials such as plastics and alloys. For kitchen benchtops in stone, CDK supply a complete range of processing equipment. Farnese also produces excellent CNC equipment for processing stone.

The Essential Others

The CNC processing centre is the star in any cabinet factory, provided it’s maintained correctly; you have efficient kitchen design and machine software, and you are using tooling that is matched to the performance of your machine. CNC machines delivered over the last decade have increasingly been fitted with software to assist you in managing the maintenance of your important investment. In the not-too distant future this software may be supported by artificial intelligence that could read the performance of the machine and provide an even more predictive capability.

Design and manufacturing (optimising and production) software plays an important part in the efficient production of components for kitchens that are ever-more focused on the specific needs or desires of the customer. In many cases, the ability to offer the customer exactly what they need (or want) could be the difference between a sale or the customer looking for something better. Planit and 3D Kitchen are two software suppliers featured in this magazine that can provide professional solutions that will enhance not only your production, but your customer presentation. (Insert Planit or 3D kitchen image if possible to get one)

High-performing sports cars come fitted with high-performing tyres and your manufacturing setup is no different. The rule of thumb for tooling (router bits and saws) is that 10% of the initial cost of the machine should be allocated to the tools and in Australia, sadly this is usually not the case. The proper tool has a potential to increase both the production speed and quality of your panels by a fair margin. Tooling suppliers such as Leitz and Leuco in particular produce tools matched to your specific production needs and you should talk to these people, don’t just buy from a catalogue.

The edge produced by your cutting tools is critical to further machining processes such as edge-banding. Quality edge bands supplied by companies like Surteco should be applied to quality edges. One very wise company once said the machine is really only a tool holder; it’s the tooling that produces the product. This is partly true as a poorly cut edge does not provide the optimum base for a quality product. Of course, there are other factors involved but it’s fair to say that once one of your processes breaks down in terms of quality, anything further you do to that product will be compromised.

Essential Processes

Nested based manufacturing requires a minimum of one CNC routing machine or a machining centre (point to point) with a flat table, and an edge bander. An alternate process used extensively in Europe is cell based manufacturing. Here the requirement is for a pressure beam saw, edge bander and a rail-type machining centre. For the small to medium manufacturer in Australia the high cost of a cell based system with the added floorspace required for a beam saw, is a major drawback. For manufacturers who also produce in solid timber, a rail type CNC machine could have advantages, but beam saws are not as widely used as they once were. In fact, one major supplier has decided not to produce any stand-alone machines of this type.

Simplifying the manufacturing process is every cabinet makers endgame and software is key to this goal. Software eliminates the need for factory workers to make adjustments that may be done in error. Software streamlines the flow of materials and optimises the use of your stock. Automatic material handling ‘warehouses’ suitable for larger contract manufacturers and managed by sophisticated software are becoming more common even for Australian-sized businesses as automation technology improves. And software is essential in identifying the service requirements of your CNC equipment to prevent unexpected stoppages.

In our next issue we will take a look at edge banding, the process that’s seen huge technological leaps over the last fifteen years and through Biesse, a ground-breaking advance shown at the recent Ligna fair in Germany. Once a machine that was feared by operators, the modern computer controlled edge bander adds the finishing touch to your product. In addition to the panel surface, the panel edge is often the first thing your customers touch when they look at your display and it’s likely the thing that will raise most eyebrows if it displays a visible glue-line. The edge banding machine, along with the CNC processing machine, completes the two most significant pieces of equipment in the modern cabinet shop.