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Cabinet Maker's Efficiency Gains Hinge On RFID

Custom Cupboards is believed to be the first cabinet maker to use an RFID system to route materials through production and automatically direct assembly, inspection and packaging processes.
Dec 03, 2008This article was originally published by RFID Update.

December 3, 2008—Careful carpenters follow the maxim "Measure twice, cut once." That phrase may give way to "Tag and read before you cut" at Custom Cupboards, a $33 million cabinet maker headquartered in Wichita, Kansas. Custom Cupboards became the first firm to use an RFID-driven production management system that was developed by Stiles Machinery, which provides production equipment and process solutions for wood products manufacturers.

Custom Cupboards uses the RFID system from Stiles to track work in process and to automatically guide production equipment. Materials needed for an order are kitted and a Gen2 RFID tag is permanently applied to one of the pieces at the start of the production process. When materials arrive at a production station the RFID tag is read to automatically identify the job order in Custom Cupboards's automated production control system, which Stiles provided. The production equipment then automatically makes the cuts or performs other activity required for the specific job, without requiring operator intervention to set up the machine. Some operations are performed by robotic assembly.

"The system guides operators through what you want them to do, so they don't have to worry about it or look up anything," David Kuramazusampson, Stiles' software development supervisor, told RFID Update. "Before, everything was done with paperwork."

A total of five RFID readers (three fixed-position readers from Alien Technology and two Motorola handhelds) are used. RFID-enabled automated operations include production, quality inspection and box making for the finished product. Custom Cupboards plans to extend its use of RFID to shipping operations, Kuramazusampson said.

Custom Cupboards credits the RFID system for improving manufacturing throughput by approximately 10 percent, including a 50 percent improvement in the final inspection process. The workflow data also helps pinpoint process and quality problems and reduce waste.

Other wood products manufacturers could attain similar results, Kuramazusampson said. Tight production control is especially important for Custom Cupboards and other woodworkers because many products are custom ordered and not mass produced.

"I think benefits could be fairly standard," he said, and noted other plants are testing the system. "The ROI is something our industry still has a hard time understanding, because companies have difficulty pinpointing what they are really spending to manufacture and how much errors cost."

Finnish firm Honkarakenne uses a similar system on a larger scale -- the pre-fabricated housing manufacturer uses RFID tags on logs to communicate milling instructions to produce the lumber required for each house kit (see Log House Maker Using RFID to Track Material).
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