Manufacturing the Impossible
West Ridge Cabinetry, Inc., increased job capabilities and overall efficiency with Alphacam automationIf two heads are better than one, five talented entrepreneurs joining forces to found a custom woodworking company sounds like a solid recipe for success.
That’s the idea behind West Ridge Cabinetry, Inc., of Nashua, Iowa, which was was founded in 2014 by five experienced entrepreneurs who combined their talents — among them construction, woodworking and fabrication — to deliver high-quality wood products.
“We primarily do residential work, but we’re doing more and more commercial and contract CNC work,” says Co-Owner Andy Shull, who left the corporate world more than a decade ago to begin a career in woodworking. “I grew up in a farm family and liked working with my hands, and woodworking was something that always interested me.”
After building his own timber-frame home, Shull began attracting business and ultimately opened up his own shop in 2005. He performed all of his work by hand, including the production of timber frames, using only traditional woodworking equipment.
When West Ridge Cabinetry was founded in 2014, the management team purchased a CNC router and the Alphacam CAM solution, by Vero Software, to program the new machinery.
“CAM software and software in general has always come naturally to me, and it allows us to avoid a lot of mistakes,” Shull says of implementing CAM. “I knew it was something we needed to do to be more efficient and to have the range of capabilities we require.”
West Ridge also saw a growing opportunity as it began to attract increasing amounts of business from contractors and manufacturers without CNC capabilities who wanted to outsource some of their workload.
"The reason we purchased Alphacam was that we wanted to be able to handle a broad range of projects … It’s like having a complete toolbox rather than a couple of specialized wrenches – you can work on anything.”
Andy Shull, co-owner
“Our business is doing more and more work as a CNC job shop, so we needed a flexible set of tools that allow us to work with data from a lot of different customers,” Shull says. “We like the diversification, and enjoy building long-term partnerships with other businesses. The beauty of Alphacam is that we can work with our customers’ CAD data directly rather than re-creating it ouselves. This saves a ton of time and cost, and reduces errors.”
As West Ridge performs a lot of low volume, high-mix manufacturing, the owners need a solution that provides both flexibility and power.
“The reason we purchased Alphacam was that we wanted to be able to handle a broad range of projects,” Shull says. “There are terrific tools available specific to the casework industry, and we take advantage of those as well. However, Alphacam removes all the constraints the come along with those specialized tools. It’s like having a complete toolbox rather than a couple of specialized wrenches – you can work on anything.”
West Ridge relies upon Alphacam’s solid model feature extraction capabilities to natively process CAD data from a long list of CAD packages, including SOLIDWORKS® by Dassault Systèmes, which the company uses to perform much of its own design work.
“Some customers verbally describe what they want, while others provide hand drawings, .dxf and .pdf files, or other types of 2D drawings,” Shull says. “It’s much faster and more accurate to communicate the customer’s design intent with a 3D model, which saves time and costs, and reduces error.”
Alphacam proved especially helpful on a recent large-scale job for which the company was subcontracted to complete wood-processing for an event venue. To get the job done, the company’s five-member shop crew was tasked with manufacturing 32 large custom assemblies, consisiting of over 1,500 total parts, within a very short timeframe.
“The project had a challenging deadline, and was fairly demanding from a design and engineering standpoint. In fact, we were told that everyone else who was asked to bid the
job dropped out because they felt it couldn’t be built as designed or completed in the time frame specified.”
To tackle the job, Shull created the required geometry in SOLIDWORKS and used the Alphacam Automation Manager to batch process multiple solid part files.
“Everything the automation manager does you could go through step by step, and sometimes you need that flexibility, but the automation manager can save you a lot of time,” he says. “It saved us hours and hours of time.”
Alphacam Automation Manager batch-processes multiple 2D or 3D CAD files; the CAD files can be Alphacam drawings, 2D CAD files, or solid model files from a number of design packages. The CAD data is analyzed, 3D features are extracted if present, machining styles are applied, parts are nested, code is created, and reports are genereated – including part labels with barcodes, if required.
“Automation manager brings together a lot of Alphacam’s functionality, including 3D feature extraction, auto styles, nesting, and reporting — and then does what is says — automates the typical step-by-step process,” Shull says. “Once set up properly, it speeds up programming immensely.”
Auto styles allow programmers to designate machining parameters and preferences that can be automatically applied to specific geometry, which helps shops set and consistently implement standards and best practices.
Shull notes that Alphacam support staff played an important role in helping the company learn to maximize the capabilities of the automation manager and complete the job on time.
“The Alphacam support people are awesome – which is pretty rare with software companies. They really helped me get up to speed quickly, so we could have confidence that everything would come out correctly,” he says. “The quality of their support is one of the biggest reasons I’d recommend Alphacam to other shops.”
Shull adds that learning how to use the software’s automation tools has made West Ridge Cabinetry even more competetive for future jobs.
“Because of the experience we gained with that project, I’ve contacted customers we already do work for to let them know that we’re even more competetive because we have that capability,” Shull says. “We’ve embraced the technology as a competetive advantage.”
About the Company
Name: West Ridge Cabinetry, Inc.
Business: Custom cabinetry, closet systems, and storage solutions
- Ability to work directly with customer CAD data
- Greater ability to handle a broad range of projects
- Automation features simplify large, challenging jobs
“The reason we purchased Alphacam was that we wanted to be able to handle a broad range of projects … It’s like having a complete toolbox rather than a couple of specialized wrenches – you can work on anything.”
Andy Shull, co-owner