Software programs for the woodworking industry have developed significantly through the years to produce better solutions for shops of all sizes. And shops are relying on these innovations more than ever to keep ahead of the competition.
In years past, there was reluctance by professional woodworkers to incorporate CAD (computer-aided design) and CAM (computer-aided manufacturing) programs into their routine. Some believe they are more proficient drawing by hand, while others are deterred by the price. But those who have experienced its value say both CNC and non-CNC shops can benefit by decreasing lead times and costly mistakes, accurately calculate labor and material costs, and ultimately sell more jobs and earn higher profits.
"I know as an owner/operator, being head of sales, design/engineering and part of the manufacturing team of my company, that what I'm able to do with software - as a one-man show in the front office - there's no way I could do all of it as well as I do if I were hand-drawing the designs, says Leland Thomasette of Taghkanic Woodworking in Pawling, N.Y., who will present "CAD/CNC for the Small Custom Furniture Shop" in July at the AWFS fair.
• Autodesk Inc., 111 McInnis Parkway, San Rafael, CA 94903. Tel: 415-507-5000. www.autodesk.com
• CNC Software Inc., 671 Old Post Road, Tolland, CT 06084. Tel: 800-228-2877 www.mastercam.com
• Delcam, 275 E. South Temple, Suite 305, Salt Lake City, UT 84111. Tel: 877-335-2261. www.delcam.com
• KCD Software, 1252 Route 28, South Yarmouth, MA 02664. Tel: 508-760-1140. www.kcdsoftware.com
• Microvellum, 444 S. Haskell St., Central Point, OR 97502. Tel: 800-204-0913. www.microvellum.com
• Planit Solutions, 3800 Palisades Dr., Tuscaloosa, AL 35405. Tel: 800-280-6932. www.planit.com
• SA International, P.O. Box 16109, Salt Lake City, UT 84116. Tel: 800-229-9066. www.saintl.biz
• Siskiyou Products, 2645 Beverly Dr., Medford, OR 97504. Tel: 541-776-9133. www.siskiyouproducts.com
• Vectric Ltd., Unit 3 Dunstall Court, Astwood Lane, Feckenham, Worcesteshire, UK B96 6QH. www.vectric.com
"Many of our customers are small-shop owners and many are one-man shops. I don't know how to overemphasize this point: the correct software, used properly, can immediately turn a one-man shop into a two-, three-, or four-man shop right off the bat," he says.
Some cabinetmakers tend to underestimate the abilities of software, but don't realize its emulating the user's own techniques. Jimenez says cabinetmakers tend to think in terms of what they can touch, hold, feel and mold with their hands or machinery. Software is more abstract, but can be used to produce results that can be converted into a tangible object.
Jimenez says the major benefit of CAD software emerges in the bidding process. It allows woodworkers to impress clients with a quick, accurate and professional presentation. It also helps shop owners realize their actual expenses and charge accordingly.
"If you add up all of the different materials - like screws, glue, laminate, edgebanding - and calculate your labor, you'll realize there are a lot of hidden costs. Cabinetmakers are not even aware of this because they're so used to doing it for free and, as a result, people are struggling."
In alphabetical order, companies with CAD or CAD/CAM offerings include:
Autodesk Inc. has updated its entry-level AutoCAD LT program for 2-D drafting with a new feature called the Sheet Set Manager that organizes drawing sheets, automatically creates layout views and performs tasks across a sheet set. The company's flagship product, AutoCAD 2012, performs 3-D design with new and expanded work flows for conceptual design and model documentation, plus a slew of time-saving enhancements.
CNC Software has released its Mastercam Router X5 CAD/CAM program. New tools include an OptiRough tool path for removing large amounts of material quickly and smart hybrid finishing, which the company says intelligently blends two cutting techniques in a single tool path, switching between constant Z cutting and constant scallop machining for a finer finish with less work.
Another new feature is machine simulation for proving out multi-axis tool paths. It simulates the cutting process to make sure that the user has created the most effective cut, the part is located in the CNC machine's "sweet spot," and no fixtures, tools or any other machine components will meet unexpectedly.
Delcam offers ArtCAM software products for the woodworking industry. ArtCAM Express is considered the entry-level program.
"It's easy to learn, but still powered by ArtCAM's award-winning design and manufacturing software, ArtCAM Pro," says marketing manger Mary Shaw. "Delcam will be introducing a new modular system in ArtCAM Express 2011, which will allow users to add specific features to their express package through an online store."
ArtCAM Insignia is the next step up, allowing for the manufacture of 2-D products from conceptual sketches or pictures. Last, but not least, is ArtCAM Pro for producing 3-D products from sketches or pictures, then build up a multilayered relief model, sculpt a 3-D model or use customizable vector and relief libraries.
The company also offers Delcam Designer - an add-on for ArtCAM - that lets users create and work with both full 3-D models and ArtCAM reliefs.
KCD Software has started offering its entire Cabinet/Closet Software Suite as a rental with no obligation to purchase. The business solution software, designed for cabinetmakers, is continually updated. Its latest features include the custom library creator, which allows designers to save whole components like shelving units, islands, and kitchens for later use or modification.
"Being able to get into an easy-to-use, powerful design and build program without making a large investment changes the whole software playing field. KCD Software has created an economical solution for small and large shops to have virtually instant efficiencies by streamlining their design, pricing, cut listing and machining capabilities, thereby increasing profitability," says KCD marketing director Leslie Murphy.
As with all KCD Software products, each full-version rental includes free technical support. The rental options start at $95 a month.
Microvellum has released CabinetMaker Version 7, based in AutoCAD, which provides an easy-to-use front end solution for designers and includes the power and performance needed for manufacturing, says the company.
It features a "today screen," allowing the user to stay connected to Microvellum with access to training videos, product support, program updates and Microvellum community downloads.
A customizable product library can be matched to the user's existing product construction library. With it, the user can quickly change between machining methods, hardware, materials, door styles, face-frame options and more.
Reports and part labels can be created, as well as one-button 2-D shop drawings. But from a customer's perspective, the most impressive feature is the creation of photo-realistic renderings. Customers can see how a piece will look with 3-D perspective views, lighting effects and room walk-throughs.
Planit Solutions offers the latest version of its Cabinet Vision CAD program, 2011 R2, which will generate shop drawings, 3-D customer renderings, cut lists, material requirements, and estimates for bidding and pricing.
Planit also offers Cab-2-Nest, designed specifically for the small CNC-capable shop. Cabinets can be configured individually, including quantity and positions of doors, drawers, shelves, rollouts and more. Code is generated for nested-based machinery.
Another offering, Cabnetware, integrates room and cabinet design with manufacturing tools. Cabnetware is offered in three levels and is for residential and commercial manufacturers of casework, allowing them to generate detailed drawings for use with building contractors and architects.
Planit's Alphacam CAD/CAM software can manufacture simple routed parts to five-axis furniture components.
SA International's EnRoute Software offers four products, starting with Entry ATP, a CAM-only program that can import 2-D files. Basic ATP provides a 2-D CAD design interface.
Wood and WoodPro bat third and fourth in EnRoute's lineup. Wood offers 2-D and 3-D engraving capabilities, while 3-D designs can be created with WoodPro.
Siskiyou Products offers several versions of its Cabinet Pro design software. The standard edition supports the design of face frame, frameless, modular, custom and angled cabinets, as well as doors and drawers. It also has a refacing feature for remodelers.
The CNC edition of Cabinet Pro includes all capabilities of the standard edition, plus the ability to generate cut and material lists, drawings and machine code.
Vectric Ltd. offers Aspire 3 for the design and machining of 3-D products. The user can machine 3-D models supplied by a customer or designed in another 3-D CAD software package, according to the company.
VCarve Pro will design and machine 2-D and 2.5-D projects. The company also offers two CAM-only programs: Cut3D for multisided 3-D models and Cut2D for routing, milling and engraving flat 2-D designs.
This article originally appeared in the May 2011 issue.