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Cabinetmaker's invention speeds table saw setup.

Fred Cramer knows woodworking, networking and not working. He also knows something about inventing.

Cramer, who operates a custom wood working shop in Bethel, Pa., has a patent pending for an invention that transforms a standard sliding table saw into a computer-controlled sliding table saw. His computerized fence system allows a saw operator to automatically position crosscut and rip fences with the simple press of a computer touch screen.

By eliminating manual setup of fences, Cramer said his shop has realized improved accuracy and consistency of cuts, while reducing the time required to process material on the table saw by 40 percent.

Recently, Cramer launched a new company, Digital Cutting Systems Inc., to manufacture and market the "Digi-Rip" fence system as an add-on for new and existing sliding table saws. His immediate plans include joining the Wood Machinery Manufacturers of America and displaying the system at the International Woodworking Machinery & Furniture Supply Fair-USA Aug. 21-24 in Atlanta. He also plans to submit his invention for judging in this year's Challengers Awards contest that is sponsored by IWF organizers.

From not working to woodworking

When the slumping U.S. steel industry cost him his job as a contract manager in 1983, Cramer did not panic. If anything, he said, it proved to be the "final motivation I needed to start my own cabinet shop."

Indeed, Cramer had moonlighted as a kitchen cabinetmaker for several years prior to making it a full-time career. Any money he earned was quickly reinvested in new machinery, prompting him to move his workshop from the basement of his home to his garage. By 1984 Cramer's business had expanded to the point where he constructed a 3,000-square-foot building. He has since added onto the first building and constructed a second building, bringing total office and manufacturing space to 12,000 square feet. During the past four years, Cramer Cabinets' annual sales have increased an average of 25 percent, eclipsing $2 million in 1991.

Luck has factored into Cramer's success. "In 1986 the truck driver who delivered a load of lumber to my shop told me about a $5 million home under construction that was be his next stop," Cramer said. "I followed him to the job site and introduced myself to the general contractor. We hit if off and I wound up doing a lot of the cabinet work. It turned out to be the big break I needed. Through my association with that high-exposure project, I was able to develop contacts for commercial jobs."

Catching the computer bug

Diversifying into commercial and institutional work helped accelerate Cramer Cabinets' growth. A personal computer purchased in 1986 for word processing and basic accounting functions was soon followed by Cramer's introduction to Pattern Systems International's Cut Planner to generate cutlists.

"Cut Planner was more of a curiosity at first," Cramer said, "but I soon recognized its value after using it on a couple of projects. Aside from helping us optimize our material cuttings, it turned out to be an excellent organization tool to help the saw operator keep track of how many parts he had cut and how many more still needed to be cut."

In 1988 Cramer added Pattern Systems' Cabinet Planner to his software arsenal. "With Cabinet Planner we were able to calculate part sizes from nominal sizes and then further optimize our cuttings by integrating that information with Cut Planner," Cramer said.

"Basically, I tried to utilize as much of the saw's existing equipment as possible. In addition to my proprietary software, my system incorporates machined components, stepper motors, limit switches, mechanical power transmission equipment and an AT-based personal computer." Pattern Systems' software is not included in the package.

A main menu screen displays 10 options at a time. The operator selects the function needed to perform a given task by touching the corresponding on-screen box. His options include selecting from a menu of patterns stored in an optimizing program's memory or manually entering dimensions using the touch screen. In either event, the crosscut and rip fences move together or separately within 1/32-inch increments to their required stops.

"Because the operator does not have to manually position each fence stop by hand, we've eliminated a lot of dead time. The only time our operator uses a tape measure now is to check about every twenty-fifth or fiftieth piece for accuracy," Cramer said, adding, "You can't throw out quality control."

Cramer said his Digi-Rip system can be retrofitted to "any popular" sliding table saw. He plans to market the retrofit package for $14,000 or customers can buy the same model SCMI saw he has already equipped with the system for about $25,000.
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Title Annotation:Fred Cramer's computerized 'Digi-Rip' fence system
Author:Christianson, Rich
Publication:Wood & Wood Products
Article Type:Product Announcement
Date:Apr 1, 1992
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