Now it's easier than ever for small to medium-sized shops to incorporate design and manufacturing software into their businesses. Product manufacturers are taking into account that the largest segment of woodworking manufacturing is the smaller shop â€” ranging from one to nine employees â€” providing crafted residential kitchens, either direct to consumers through their own showroom or local designer in their region, says Andy Allu, sales manager for 20-20 Technologies, a division of software manufacturer Pattern Systems International.
"We are estimating that this group represents approximately 60 percent of all cabinet manufacturing in North America," said Allu. "This group also represents the fastest-growing segment of CNC machinery purchases and leases because they are seeking ways to use process automation to improve their businesses and increase their volumes."
With the entry of lower cost routers and point-to-points, these machines are more available within the budget of the small to midsized shop, adds Allu. Unfortunately, prior software solutions were limited to either "one-part-at-a-time" programming at the machine or third-party software engineering solutions that cost almost as much as the machine itself. Those third-party solutions also lacked a seamless integration to state-of-the-art-design software, and were frequently too difficult and time-consuming for a smaller shop to implement.
Many of the latest products deal with this issue.
This past summer, Planit introduced a new program for closet designers and manufacturers, available in two versions: Solid Design for Closets and Solid Manufacturing for Closets.
"The design version is great for simply laying out closet jobs and produces excellent shop drawings as well as presentation drawings and renderings," said Planit's Don Diamond. "Both products have a photo-rendering option called Photo Vision 32 that creates life-like computer-generated photographs of the designs created by the operator to assist them in the selling process with their customers."
Diamond said the manufacturing version provides the user with all the necessary manufacturing information to build the project in the shop, as well as having the capability to be upgraded to a complete Screen-to-Machine system to seamlessly run any CNC equipment.
In October Planit introduced version 8.1 of its Cabnetware family of products: Cabnetware Designer, Cabnetware Case Planner, Cabnetware Detailer and Cabnetware Cabnetworks.
Earlier in 2007 Planit also delivered the latest upgrade, version 4.1, of its Cabinet Vision family of products: Solid Design, Solid and Solid Manufacturing.
Planit also offers an entry-level Kitchen Builder, a basic kitchen design program for under $3,000.
"As the needs of that shop owner demand more capabilities in his software he has an upgrade path available to allow him to graduate, in steps, to a more powerful program," said Diamond.
With the introduction of its DFMcnc at the AWFS show in 2007, 20-20 Technologies has enabled the delivery of a low-cost engineering solution that integrates the premium design capabilities of 20-20 Design with virtually all commercially available CNC machines, including machining centers and saws. The components of the DFM software comprise several individual applications which have already been successfully implemented in the woodworking marketplace, namely 20-20 Design, Drill-Mate, Nested Machining and Cut-Planner Optimizer.
"DFM is an excellent fit for smaller shops, typically between 3 to 15 employees," said Allu. "It delivers full-room design and rendering capabilities for both CNC and non-CNC shops. If the shop has no CNC but wants cut lists and manual saw optimization, then DFMse with Cut Planner will deliver manual report information. If the shop has or grows into CNC, then a very quick and inexpensive upgrade to DFMcnc provides integration of the cut lists directly to the machinery."
DFMcnc delivers easily configurable walls, windows and room plans which can be populated with cabinetry and appliances. Once the drawing is populated with all the products, it can be rendered in plan, elevation or 3D view and rendered in photo-realistic modes with the ability to easily adjust lighting, background and flooring choices, according to 20-20.
During the configuration of the drawing, DFMcnc is creating a part list based upon the cabinet manufacturer's own set of construction and joinery methods, parametrically adjusted for "non-standard" sizing or add-ons such as extra shelves. This part-list also includes identification of "buy-outs" (hardware or wood) which are not manufactured within the cabinetmaker's shop. "Cut Parts" are quickly and seamlessly integrated to the machines, either for nested-based or cell-based manufacturing processes. Currently the software is available for less than $10,000.
Cabinet Pro software is an all-inclusive cabinetmaking solution for both the small cabinet shop and the large manufacturer of cabinets, entertainment centers, doors, desks and closets, says Eliana Jimenez, marketing director of Siskiyou Products, the parent company of Cabinet Pro.
"We have Cabinet Pro Standard Edition which offers shop and finished drawings, floor plans, elevations, 3D perspectives, auto fill features, user-
defined cutlists, material reports, door reports and bidding reports," said Jimenez. "Cabinet Pro also offers a truly unified approach to CNC machining with a single software program that produces the g-code to run your CNC machine, along with providing 3D renderings, shop drawings, bids, cultists and panel optimization."
Jimenez says software buyers select Cabinet Pro programs because they are easy to use, provide accuracy of the cutlist and bidding reports, and because they are affordable.
"Because of the versatility of the different programs, the company reached a large group of shops including the one-man shop, to a large company with more than 200 employees. In fact, we have a couple of one-man shops who own a CNC machine and our CNC edition."
Software offered by Cabinet Pro includes:
- Cabinet Pro for the manufacturer of cabinets, entertainment centers, doors and desks. It produces shop and finished drawings, floor plans, elevations, perspectives, pricing, unlimited user-defined cut lists, bids, financial charts and reports.
- Cabinet Pro CNC features everything that Cabinet Pro does plus panel optimization, and direct CNC support via g-code.
- Cabinet Pro Lite provides 3D renderings, shop drawings and cut lists.
- Door Pro for the manufacturer of cabinet doors.
- The Standard edition offers the features needed by a shop without a CNC router.
Jimenez reminds potential buyers to have put aside dedicated time to learn any software program, or they will get frustrated by the lack of immediate results.
"The decision to move from manually handling all aspects of the shop production, to incorporate a software to replace parts of the process, should be made when there is no pressure of any kind, as the person in charge of running the software should allocate plenty of time to learn the intricacies of a brand new concept," said Jimenez.
Alibre Design Workshop offers complete and unrestricted design, says Alibre's Max Freeman. The program fits the needs of many types of shops. Sheet Layout, a program that generates cut lists, tracks inventory, and creates cost reports among many other functions, comes with the program.
"Many programs focus only on one aspect of woodworking: kitchens, cabinets, doors, etc. Alibre Design's primary audience is the Mechanical CAD industry, and as a byproduct of that it is a general purpose modeler," said Freeman.
The software features a parametric modeler, which basically allows for fast and easy design changes, explains Freeman. For instance, the dimensions of a table or cabinet are represented as parameters, or variables, that can be easily edited and changed. With some packages, to change the value of a line, for example, you would have to delete it and recreate it. In Alibre Design, you just click on the dimension, type in a new value and the model, and 2D drawings update automatically.
The product also allows users to create 2D drawings for the shop floor, but rather than creating each view 2D separately; the views are automatically generated and associative. This basically means they are linked so when a model is updated, the 2D drawings and bill of materials update automatically. Alibre Design also provides a cut-list program.
Alibre Design has had a total of 16 releases. Alibre Design 10.0 is the current version, representing nearly eight years of refinement and customer input, Freeman said. It sells for around $1,000.
ArtCAM Pro from Delcam is the signmaker's and woodworker's design and CNC routing solution. The software's features have been designed to make day-to-day work easier, faster, more productive and profitable, according to the company's Web site.
"Delcam released in 2007 a new series of products within its ArtCAM family of artistic CAD/CAM software," said company spokesperson Mary Shaw. "Like the previous ArtCAM range, the new family of software is aimed at skilled artisans rather than engineers and requires little knowledge of engineering. The new entry-level version is called ArtCAM Express. It's specifically for the smaller business. ArtCAM Insignia, focuses on optimization, productivity and automation, and ArtCAM Pro, has flexible 3D modeling tools, combined with a range of machining options in one fully integrated package. The major change is that all of the new programs have the ability to import and machine 3D models. The range of machining functionality and modeling increases in the higher-level options, offers a seamless upgrade path, as your business grows."
The combination of the three ArtCAM programs can be used for nested-based manufacturing, carcass manufacturing, 2D cut-outs and 3D sculpted designs.
KCDw has been developing software for more than 20 years, dealing with the small to medium-sized cabinet shops. But KCDw's clientele has branched out during the last several years as have its products.
"KCDw has always dealt with the small to medium-sized cabinet shops and what really has changed in the last couple of years is that those small to medium-sized cabinet shops are buying CNC equipment in droves," said company spokesman Leslie Murphy. "They're buying lots of it. The big people already own it, so we've been dealing with all the CNC questions and aspects, increasing over the last four or five years. But in the last year or so, it's really gone through the roof. So we've spent most of our development effort simplifying the CNC set up."
The KCDw recently released Version 8 of its software.
"Probably the majority of our software is going for closets," said Murphy. "We [also] have many, many customers that are commercial cabinetmakers. That's a large piece of the market. I would say we are 65 percent residential customers and the rest would be different forms of commercial construction."
The small to medium-sized shops have been a target of KCDw since Day One, and that has not wavered. The thing that has changed with the smaller shops is that they are now buying high-tech CNC equipment. Five years ago it was very rare for a small shop to own it, according to Murphy.
The software business is a competitive one, but Murphy said KCDw had two distinct advantages over the competition.
"Ours is ease of use and its power. KCDw can make custom, very, very, very custom cabinets in just minutes where everyone else takes hours. It's a huge difference on ease of use â€” and that's where we shine. It seems like most of the other software packages out there don't consider that the most valuable thing that the cabinetmaker has is their time. We think that if we can save them time they can go out and do something else with it."
ETemplate Photo was introduced in 2001 and is currently in its 10th upgrade. The program provides users with a method of measuring both simple and complex as-built spaces in 3D using digital photography. The output of the system is 3D CAD data.
"Customers like the ability to visualize what they are measuring, which is possible because the measurements are done with photographs," said Paul Hansen, president of ETemplate Systems. "This allows anyone in the organization to see what the job site looks like and how it was measured, even though that individual was never at the job site."
Hansen says the system will benefit companies who need to create CAD designs from accurate as-built measurements, or who need to feed CAD data to their CNC. He says the system is mostly used by medium to large shops that use CAD design and may or may not have a CNC machine. ETemplate Photo is in the $12,000 price range.
RouterCAD has introduced two new products for both non-CNC and CNC users: CountertopCAD and Dovetail DrawerCAD.
"CountertopCAD is a very fast and powerful tool for creating countertops for granite, stone, marble and laminate countertop shops," says RouterCAD's Monica Shaw.
CountertopCAD has all the built-in features to create 2D and 3D custom countertops including back splashes, built-up edges, sink cutouts and fastener bolts. It also includes special shaping tools that create bull noses, and clipped and radius corners. CountertopCAD works very well with Proliner and the LT 55 digital template systems, according to Shaw. It can take drawings created in these systems and easily add to or clean up the drawings for CNC routers or water jet machines.
Dovetail DrawerCAD is designed to work with CNC routers for nested-based manufacturing. With the program, drawers can be pre-drilled for mounting specific drawer slides, or can be notched to allow under-mount drawer slide systems.
AutoCabinets is another one of RouterCAD's offerings, designed to speed up the process of creating cabinets, store fixtures, countertops, MDF doors, wainscot panels and specialty parts. It produces cultists, bill of materials and cost estimates. Every part can be saved as a Layered 3D DXF or DWG file for use with CNC routers. The program can design a curved stud wall including the plates, studs and sheathing, Shaw said.
Mastercam, produced by CNC Software Inc., is a pretty expansive CAD/CAM program that does everything from nesting to multiaxis cutting.
"Toolpaths are what we really do and that's the bread and butter of our software, which is generating g-code to power machines," said Mastercam's Ben Mund. "The software runs from 2D to 3D to five-axis."
CNC Software recently released Mastercam X2 Maintenance Release 2 (MR2), which offers new and improved toolpaths, block drill enhancements and common edge nesting.
AutoCAD allows design professionals the flexibility to work in an integrated environment for conceptual and detailed design, as well as create, manage and share in one environment. The program, updated regularly and now being introduced in its 2008 version, makes it fast and easy to explore design alternatives and then reuse that information as a basis for the documentation drawings needed to build the design, according to company spokesperson Marie Domingo.
AutoDesk also offers AutoCAD LT, a simpler version of AutoCAD that might be more appropriate for smaller woodworking shops.
AutoCAD LT is a 2D drafting and detailing product for design professionals who require full DWG native file format compatibility without 3D capabilities, advanced customization, or network licensing. The program allows users to minimize time-consuming workarounds with annotation scaling and layer properties per viewport while refining their aesthetic precision with text and table enhancements and multiple leaders.
A 30-day trial of AutoCAD LT 2008 is downloadable at www.autodesk.com.
Completely embedded with AutoCAD, the Microvellum's Toolbox features AutoCAD drawings containing all the manufacturing information necessary to create a bill of materials. Other features include, but are not limited to: automated exploded views for cut listing and part labeling within the drawing, the ability to create a product library conforming to your method of construction and machining, manufacturing reports that include edging, hardware, door and drawer details, the creation of 2D and 3D presentation, part geometry and machining creation for CNC applications or drawing applications only.
While Toolbox has been Microvellum's flagship product for a number of years, 2008 marks the beginning the company's all new MicroManager, says Microvellum's Clay Swayze.
MicroManager keeps track of critical company information in one convenient location. It also gives users the tools to take projects from the design stage, create an accurate estimate, determine when the project will best fit into production, create shop-wide schedules or schedules for individual work centers, compile work orders containing one or multiple projects for each phase of production, including installation scheduling.
Microvellum's MicroManager ERP system offers tools for business management, estimating, engineering, capacity planning, purchasing and production. This software has import/export options for accounting packages such as QuickBooks.
Other products from Microvellum include:
- Overdrive Pro allows for exclusive product creation if a drawing environment is not required. This Microsoft Excel-based product allows users to make formula-driven product libraries, attach machining operations and produce all of the manufacturing information.
- ALIS (Automated Labeling Integration Software) provides part labeling and product tracking in the shop.
ShopBot has teamed with CNC software company Vectric to create ShopBot's new proprietary CAD/CAM software, PartWorks and PartWorks3D. The PartWorks and PartWorks3D package replaces ShopBot's former software package, PartWizard and MillWizard, and is included in the purchase price of every new ShopBot. ShopBot will continue to support PartWizard and MillWizard for the life of current user's tools.
"Although PartWorks is not a nested-based software package, it has the capabilities to enhance any nested-based software by allowing users to design value-added, custom features and 3D additions for door and drawer fronts and other cabinet and furniture details," said ShopBot president Ted Hall.