CNC Router Systems from Techno Inc.
CNC Automated Carpentry

Bermuda Woodworkers' CNC Router
Pays for Itself in 9 Months


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A Bermuda-based woodworking company's CNC (computer numeric controlled) machine paid for itself after only nine months of operation by allowing the company to profitably handle jobs they would have turned away in the past. There is a great need on the island for complicated woodwork, such as shutters, and decorative pieces, such as carved signs. Carpenters with traditional tools can't do these jobs fast enough to make them profitable. As the only owner of a CNC router on Bermuda, CNC Automated Carpentry has now captured this entire market. In the first nine months of using the router, the company produced a variety of pieces including decorated rafter ends, signs with elaborate lettering and logos, arched door frames, and $30,000 worth of shutters. Most of these projects would have taken days or weeks to do by hand, if they could have been done at all. Yet they were finished in hours on the CNC router. "Jobs that we would have turned away in the past have been done on the router at more than a 30 percent profit," says Rick Vesely, partner, CNC Automated Carpentry. "In less than one year of owning it, we've billed $450,000 worth of work."

CNC Automated Carpentry of Bermuda was started last year by three partners with many years of construction experience on the island. Having worked with traditional tools all of their careers, they knew there were certain jobs that were just too time- consuming to be profitable. For example, nearly all houses on the island have shutters to protect against storms and also to provide shade in the heat of the day. "The demand for new shutters is huge, but making them by hand is extremely difficult," says Rick Vesely, one of CNC Automated Carpentry's partners. "With our previous methods, we just turned away that work." Other projects were also too labor-intensive to be profitable. These included any kind of highly detailed woodwork, such as decorative touches on rafters, or intricately lettered signs for homes or businesses. Since carpenters on Bermuda could not do this type of work without losing money, it was either sent abroad or just not done.

Finding the right CNC router
When the three partners decided to start their own business, they realized that the ability to take on the jobs that typically left the island would be a strong competitive advantage. One of the options they found was a louvre-groover machine, which is specific to producing shutters. At a cost of $35,000, it was ruled out because that was all it could do. "There was a lot of other work besides shutters that we wanted do and we couldn't see tying up so much of our capital on one machine," Vesely adds. So they looked into computer technology that could automate the production of intricate and difficult pieces. "We didn't know a lot about computers, but we knew there were machines that could be programmed to cut wood automatically according to drawings in the computer," says Vesely. "This would be preferable to a louvre-groover because it could perform multiple operations, such as routing, shaping, mortising, and so on."

Quickly, they turned their search to the Internet. After some initial research, they were not thrilled. First, they found a heavy and expensive machining center designed mostly for metalworking. The enormous price tag of the machining center greatly exceeded their company's budget allocation of $50,000. Next, they looked into an inexpensive router but it was also less accurate and wasn't equipped to handle the highly intricate carving that they needed for their detailed artistic carvings. Then, they found the Techno CNC router from Techno-isel, New Hyde Park, New York, which offered the best of both worlds; the Techno router was affordable, accurate and versatile. Truly a great deal for the Bermuda woodworkers. The machine performs production routing and drilling on a wide variety of materials including wood, plastic, MDF, solid surfacing materials and nonferrous metals. The machine price included CAM software capable of creating designs as well as importing them from nearly every CAD system.

After we studied these routers for a while, we learned why the Techno CNC router delivers higher accuracy compared to the low-end routers," says Vesely. "One reason is that it is made of higher quality materials." For example, the Techno router is constructed on steel stress-relieved bases with hardened steel linear ways. Its shaft-and-bearing system produces very smooth, play-free motion and is an extremely rigid system that produces high-quality cuts. The machine also uses anti-backlash ball screws. These screws have excellent power transmission due to the rolling ball contact between the nut and screws. This type of contact ensures low friction, low
wear, and long life. The ball screws also make it possible to produce wooden parts to the machine resolution of 0.0005 inch. "Instead of being ball screw-driven, the less expensive machines use rack and pinion gearing, which has too much play to make accurate cuts in small areas." Vesely adds. "Also, this type of gearing wears out quickly in the dusty environment of a carpentry shop. The other main difference we found between the Techno router and the others was that the Techno uses a servomotor to control cutting motion while other machines use stepper motors, which can give a stair-step cutting effect." A servomotor gives the Techno router a positioning accuracy of +1 mm in 300 mm and a repeatability of 0.01 mm.

Good vendor support
None of the partners had ever used CNC equipment before. "Our only computer experience was with PCs," says Vesely. "When we got the router, we didn't even know how to turn it on. That's another big reason we're happy we went with Techno," he adds. "They have provided us with excellent support. They walked us through all the issues we were unfamiliar with, from creating drawings in the CAM program to setting up parts on the table. They have never failed to help us when we had a question."

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Since installing the Techno router, CNC Automated Carpentry has found it to be "the most versatile tool in the shop," according to Vesely. The wide range of projects that the router has been used for certainly bears this out. One of its main roles is for producing shutters. "Now we are meeting this huge demand," says Vesely. The partners have also used the router to create large pieces such as templates that were cumbersome to do by hand. "Another construction company needed these really large templates for arched doorways," Vesely explains. "With traditional tools, they would have had to lay out three or four sheets of plywood or MDF board on the ground and cut these 180-inch radiuses with a jig saw. Then they would have spent a lot of time hand sanding to their marks, but even so, templates would not have been accurate enough." He estimates that the job would have taken six or seven hours to do by hand. Instead, the other company asked CNC Automated Carpentry to make the templates on the CNC router. Vesely was able to program the arch shape and have templates ready to cut in an hour. Total time to produce five templates, including programming and cutting, was two days. "They were perfect half rounds, which was far more accurate than they ever could have been by hand," he adds.

On another job, the router was used to create scrollwork for the exposed ends of rafters. This was a big job involving about 60 15-foot rafters. Normally, the scrollwork would have been hand cut from plywood templates. "This job would have been very labor-intensive by hand because after all the time you spent cutting, you would have to go back and sand each rafter as well. It would have taken at least two days," explains Vesely. "We programmed the scrollwork in the CAM program, put these large rafters on the router and cut each one in less than 20 seconds. We did all 60 in one hour. As fast as we could we put a rafter on the router and press 'Start,' it was done." After evaluating the labor hours and the cost of the materials, the company determined that it made a 35 percent profit on that job.

The company also used the router to create a menu box for a restaurant. It could have been just a basic wooden box, but knowing how easy it would be to do more elaborate work with the Techno CNC router, Vesely decided to embellish the box. "The restaurant is called Robin Hood Pub and their sign has little Robin Hood hats on it," he explains. "I programmed a few of those hats and some arrows in the CAM software and used the Techno CNC router to carve those features into the wood. It made it more interesting than just plain wood." He also used the router for an unusual job involving a BMW convertible. The owner wanted speakers mounted in the trunk and had left some oval holes for access to the wiring. He wanted to cover these holes with something that he could see through but wouldn't break due to vibration from the speakers. Vesely used the Techno CNC router to cut one-inch thick pieces of acrylic to fit the holes precisely. Then he took the additional step of carving the BMW and speaker vendor's logos in acrylic. "When people see these, they don't think they were done on this island," Vesely adds.

The purchase of a CNC router was an excellent way for the three partners of CNC Automated Carpentry to start their business. It ensured a competitive edge and has enabled the company to handle a great deal of work with only four people. And the router paid for itself so quickly that its use in the future will be even more profitable.
 

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