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Case Systems leaps ahead of the pack with automated panel processing line.


Where is the latest development in automated manufacturing? In two words: Case Systems. A new continuous, flexible panel processing line that is said to be the first of its kind in North America, is up and running at Case Systems' Midland, Mich., plant.

Last year, president Norman Kaweck Jr. increased the size of his production area by 50 percent in order to accommodate the mechanized system which electronically processes laminated panels for the company's institutional casework.

Housed in a 20,000-square-foot addition and linked by RBO conveyors are a MacMazza CNC panel saw with loading platform, Crossmatic crosscut saw, four IDM combination single-sided tenoner/edgebanders and a Biesse Matrix CNC vertical drilling center. Panels leave the platform one at a time and are cut into prescribed sizes by the panel saw. When these pieces reach the end of the line - untouched by human hands - they will have been tenoned, dimensioned, backgrooved, edgebanded, bored for 32mm systems and will be ready for assembly.

The system engineered by Guiseppe Pritelli, a member of Eurogroup Engineering S.r.L., after he had made two separate visits to Case Systems and Kaweck had visited MOBALPA, France's largest kitchen cabinet manufacturer, and several plants in Italy. The line was installed by mid-December and production began in January on a limited basis.

Quattro Tech, which represents RBO, MacMazza and IDM in the U.S., assisted in the project.

Case Systems is averaging three parts per minute, totally processed, at present, and Kaweck expects to double that. As for quality, he said, "Only one had part showed up in two days. That's pretty close to a zero reject rate."

Every job is unique in terms of color, boring configuration, types of units and quantity. The system even would allow job orders to be combined, but that might not be practical because of sorting complications at the end.

Kaweck compared the current three parts per minute with past performances of three panel saws cutting a mixture of sizes: an average two parts per minute (cut only). "We bought no capabilities with the new machines," he said. "We had counterparts of all these machines already." Then he tallied what he has gained:

* Maximized flexibility - the ability to process small orders.

* Increased capacity/volume.

* Material savings.

* Reduced labor costs.

The panel processing crew has decreased from 35 men on two shifts to six over a 14-hour period, and production has more than doubled, Kaweck said. The first of two system monitoring crews comes in at 6 a.m. and works until 4:30 p.m. The second comes in at 9:30 a.m. and leaves at 8 p.m., which allows a six-hour overlap for training.

One person mans the panel saw station, another is at the crosscut saw and one oversees the edgebanders. During full production, a fourth man is needed at the end of the line to unload parts; in the meantime the others handle the unloading.

"Our plan was not to reduce costs by eliminating jobs, but to increase capacity," he said. The electronic technician remained and most of the others are working in the offline cutting and machining areas. Two people were assigned to new jobs: inventory control/receiving clerk and estimator. The rest are needed in sub-assembly and assembly positions, because Case Systems is processing more parts and doing more business than ever before.

Kaweck said that the success rate for implementing CIM projects is usually only about 50 percent because of internal sabotage. "We assured all our people early on that this system would not cost them their jobs. We even hired 10 to 12 people after that commitment date, and they will stay on as well," he said. "We are keeping them through this interim phase on the assumption that business will continue to grow and be profitable."

Of course, there were tradeoffs. The company experienced no growth during the implementation phase. "We gave up short term growth and profitability for a while," Kaweck said.

The system in operation

Case Systems laminates all boards it processes through the system (using Monco of Orlando and Black Bros. equipment). Panels may be 1/2-inch, 3/4-inch or 1-inch think for low-pressure laminated materials or 3/4-inch for high-pressure laminates. Small PVC wheels on the transfer system keep laminated panels above the rollers to avoid scratching the finish.

Panels are cut into 5mm oversized strips by the MacMazza panel saw. Strips are then fed into the first edgebander which machines 3mm off the edge, applies edgebanding and backgrooves, if required. The pieces are 8-foot long at this point. Each of the IDM edgebanders have magazines for handling up to 12 different colors and thicknesses of edgebanding, and can apply consecutive treatments of different colors and materials, T-edging or PVC.

A pusher bar brings the piece back against the fence and pushes it into the second edgebander which takes off 2mm or whatever is needed to bring the piece to the proper size, then applies edgebanding.

The crosscut saw is the next step. This saw cuts at a speed of 80 meters per minute and can make a postform cut on the outside edge to prevent breakout. There may be one part coming out of a strip, or eight. The strips are cut 0.6mm oversize to allow for additional edge trimming to ensure a smooth edge for banding.

The part is rotated 90 degrees as it approaches edgebanders No. 3 and 4, in order to address the two opposite parallel edges. Before edgebanding, tooling at each machine takes 0.3mm off the edge and cleans up and dimensions the part.

A completely new process

While the Crossmatic saw can process 80 meters per minute, the line speed is dictated by the edgebanders and how fast the Biesse Matrix system processes the part. The Matrix system can be defined as the first step towards automatic factory flexible manufacturing system in the furniture sector, Kaweck said. Just as the plotter of a computer makes a drawing, so does the Matrix carry out programmed work on a panel. It allows real CAD/CAM in the furniture sector, he added.

The Matrix has modules for transversal and longitudinal boring. The first module, for transversal boring, has one head with 24 spindles, each of which operates independently. It bores holes for fastenings, hardware connection and other uses. (Construction holes are 5mm, dowel holes are 8mm.) "In essence, this is a modern version of a point-to-point boring machine," Kaweck said.

The heads reposition themselves from part of part, automatically. "Head movement is critical to the boring process," Kaweck added, "not only within one piece but from piece to piece as they are fed into the machine."

The second module has two heads and 18 spindles for longitudinal boring of rows or 32mm system holes. Spindles are independently controlled. (Additional modules are available for end boring and for dowel driving, Kaweck said, but Case Systems did not purchase them because it uses clips instead of dowel construction.)

Every part passes through the Matrix modules whether or not it needs drilling. If exists were to be set up after the crosscut saw or fourth edgebander, additional operators would be required to remove the parts. This system has one operator at one common exit point.

As parts exit the system, they are separated by type, job or color, or combinations thereof, for assembly. They may be stacked or put on rolling, not motorized, conveyor sections. Downstream areas - assembly, sub assembly and shipping - have yet to be automated.


"Before the Matrix was developed, it was proposed that strips be stacked and cut in a book in order to accommodate the number of parts coming down the line, but that implies a requirement for |like' things," said Bob Wiseman, CIM manager. A number of differing parts with unlike edgebanding and drilling requirements can move efficiently through the system. It is deal for small job orders. In fact, the system is most proficient when the part sequence is varied.

Constraints can arise at the cross cut saw when four cuts are necessary to create smaller parts. "We are learning to change requirements as they are issued by the computer," Wiseman said. "We need to group different types of parts but we have yet to determine what the optimal sequence is. Running all like parts in a row obviously is not."

Bottlenecks have also occurred at the Matrix when all parts have to be drilled. "We need to change the program so parts will be staggered," Wiseman added. "If the first part is an end panel with holes to be drilled, then the second part should be a top or bottom with no holes.

"We have the capacity to sequentially run different size parts, different colors, materials of varied thinkness. The system is built to accommodate all cutting, edging, slotting, grooving and boring. We can run an end piece that needs all those procedures, and a front that needs only cutting, edging and boring," Wiseman continued. "The front will go through, the end will go through and the system knows which is which. The key is not to get out of sequence. If a part is damaged somehow, we can't pull it out of the line because the next part will get the machining or edgebanding assigned to the damaged piece. It has to stay in line until the end, or we'll get garbage."

Kaweck added, "We formerly gave our laminating people the job requirements and let them do the laminating anyway they wanted to. We can no longer do that. It has to be in a specific sequence. It is absolutely imperative that order be maintained," he said.

Controls and software

"Edgebanders run at constant speed; that is not a variable to play with. But we do have control over the distance between parts going in. You want the next strip to be ready as soon as the first strip is cross cut. Each section of the transfer lines has speed controls," Kaweck explained. "We can manually adjust speed so parts are always available to the next machine when it is ready. Distance between strips, however, is controlled by software."

The company developed systems and modified front end Pattern Systems International software for estimating, engineering, order entry and material requisitioning, CADKit and CABPlanner software are used for 3-D design and for sales tools: PSI's Cut Planner was to be on line at the end of April.

"Rhythm of production"

The next step will involve adding software for direct linkage to the automated system ("downloading from CAD to CAM"). Kaweck said, "The link can't be made until you understand how machinery works mechanically and electronically and understand the software that operates that system. Then you have to decide what is the optimal way to present panels to it for processing (optimal in terms of taking full advantage of mechanical capabilities of individual machines and the entire system). This has always been an issue in manufacturing in general, but particularly in the panel processing area," he added. "You can buy a CNC panel saw and you can cut like a demon, but you have only one edgebander. Then you buy another edgebander, and so on to try to balance out everything."

To balance the system is critical. Balance, which Pritelli refers to as "rhythm of production," becomes an important part of the upfront analysis - which determines first of all if you're a candidate for the system. Pritelli analyzed Case Systems products and components and specific machining requirements on a part-by-part basis before making his recommendations. "This is a unique line," Wiseman said. "We had to try to account for everything before the machinery was even on the drawing board."

Pritelli's installation crews were at Case Systems over a three-month period. To their credit, Kaweck said, problems that have since been encountered are not machinery oriented, but related to the learning curve, and debugging of software. "It is very important to have personnel with a solid background in electronics," he added. Case Systems' new electronic technician is a veteran of the military who was trained in missile guidance systems.

The systems approach

Case Systems' investment in the line was between $3.5 and $4 million, Kaweck said. "Everything was entirely new. It would not be feasible to try to integrate existing machinery. All the machines are CNC. It is important that all electronics, all hardware and software be compatible. Plus, we have several unique machines especially designed and engineered for processing in an automated line. It really wouldn't be sensible to use them as stand alone machines outside a line.

"In a line like this, parts are continually being processed," Kaweck continued. "The panel saw cuts one panel at a time into strips, cutting fast. We are not concerned with getting a perfect cut because we remachine all the edges and size the panels as they go through the edgebanders.

"This is quite different from a typical manufacturer our size who would have a CNC-controlled angular cutting system, capable of cutting large quantities of parts from three to six panels at time. The concept there is to have large runs of identical things.

That is one of the major differences of the systems approach to manufacturing, Kaweck said. "Because I'm cutting one panel at a time and addressing my production on a per part basis all the way through the system, short runs - even orders of a single unit - don't carry the economic penalty they did in the past."

Marketing changes

"It is no longer crucial for me to have a large volume of identical parts, they all take X amount of time anyway," Kaweck said. "Over the last decade large orders have been harder to come by. Everybody wants to do something different, especially in the architectural market. I can't tell a prospective customer, |Here's our product. We do it in six colors and four edgeband colors."

Kaweck said changes in marketing philosophy and pricing have been made by being more aggressive on jobs that are conducive to the new equipment. "We don't price small orders as high as we used to," he said. "We also don't price large orders as low.

"We have been test marketing office furniture over the past year, but are undecided about pursuing this market. Right now, 60 percent of our summer business is institutional casework. With our added capacity, we are also looking into the possibility of entering the kitchen cabinet market with a Eurostyle product."

The PVC option

Because of its new capabilities, Case Systems is actively promoting its 3mm PVC edge. About five years ago, the industry introduced PVC edging as an upcharge. Case Systems now offers it at no additional cost. "It is a super edge," Kaweck said. "PVC is very hard, durable and chemical resistant - properties which meet laboratory requirements - and it looks good, too."

"We had the capability to edge with PVC before, but it was costly and had to be done off in a corner. Our new edgebanding equipment does this on the fly," he said.

Material savings

Utilization of materials is another issue in the cabinet industry. Case Systems cuts huge quantities of standard 30-inch, 36-inch and 42-inch dimensions from 1/2-inch particleboard for back panels. "We had a good deal of waste before, but with the new system, we are able to use it for drawer parts," Kaweck said: The "waste" strips are cut to length on the cross cut saw and taken to an Alexander Dodd boring and doweling machine offline. (Dowels are used in drawers.)

Waste strips of any color are also used for stretchers concealed behind back panels and for base parts.

Only one thing lacking

With every machine operating smoothly and business looking very good, Kaweck said the one thing he would add to his system is a material handling carousel at the loading end. "This would allow us to have four bunks in at a time and avert some of the sequencing problems. With a carousel, you can put in a bunk and just use part of it. If red is the color you use on an ongoing basis and the immediate production requirement is for 15 panels, you would put in a bunk of 40, use the 15, take out the rest, and automatically have another bunk ready."

PHOTO : Panels are stacked in bunks according to job orders. They are then brought to the saw loading area by forklift.

PHOTO : The panels leave the loading platform one at a time to be cut to size by the MacMazza CNC panel saw.

PHOTO : This is the last time the panels will be touched by human hand until they reach the end of the automatic line.

PHOTO : Strips exit the panel saw onto the automatic RBO conveyor system and into the first of four IDM tenoner/edgebanders.

PHOTO : This shows another view with the panel saw on the right and the conveyors leading to the edgebander at far left.

PHOTO : A part is rotated 90 degrees as it approaches the second IDM tenoner/edgebander for dimensioning.

PHOTO : Parts can be bored vertically or longitudinally by the Biesse Matrix CNC drilling center.

PHOTO : This view shows the overall scope of the system.

PHOTO : CIM manager Bob Wiseman checks the control panel of the IDM edgebander.

PHOTO : Although 12 edgebanding materials can be stored and used in any order, only four colors are being used at edgebander No. 3.

PHOTO : In the assembly area, hinges are inserted into components prior to shipping.

PHOTO : Completed storage units are waiting to be shipped from the assembly area.

PHOTO : Door hardware is attached manually into holes bored by the Matrix.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Vance Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:includes related articles
Author:Garet, Barbara
Publication:Wood & Wood Products
Date:May 1, 1991
Previous Article:RTA cabinetmakers eye DIY market.
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