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The Total Package


The Total Package (by Jeff Crissey)


Automated Production Solution fits into custom cabinet manufacturer’s lean philosophy

The Total Package

After adopting a lean manufacturing philosophy last year, Custom Cupboards has since made strides in reducing waste and improving the overall efficiency of its 200,000-sq.-ft. cabinet operation. The Wichita, Kan.-based company is currently undergoing a complete realignment of its value stream, reorganizing machinery layout and material flow to achieve a smoother production process.

As a large build-to-order manufacturer of custom cabinetry serving a dealer network that covers roughly two-thirds of the United States, Custom Cupboards faces the challenge of handling a seemingly endless number of product SKUs. It places a premium on packaging to reduce damage in transit, and this has helped build relationships with its customers and its in-house shipping carrier. Custom Cupboard’s average box price is $435, and it has specialty cabinets that cost as much as $10,000 each. Until 2005, the company was face-wrapping its cabinets with 1/8” foam and strapping them with single-faced corrugated cardboard, a practice that sometimes meant its finished goods were exposed to a greater chance of damage during shipping.

“We went to IWF 2004 in Atlanta looking at solutions for our packaging process, but mainly we were looking at small improvements like corner protectors,” says Andy Palmer, plant manager. “As I was there, I happened to walk through a packaging company’s booth and grab a brochure off the table. When I got back to the office, the packaging project dropped down the priority list. A month later, we had a large cabinet damaged in shipping, and the packaging project quickly moved back to priority number one.”

Palmer called Packsize, the company whose brochure he picked up in Atlanta, and arranged a visit to an industrial outfit using the company’s on-demand automated packaging system.

“We can change the height, width and depth on every cabinet we produce, but we can’t feasibly stock 400 or 500 SKUs of cardboard boxes and send a worker to get one for every cabinet we are packaging,” says Palmer. “When we visited the Packsize customer’s facility, we realized how well that packaging solution fits into our just-in-time production approach. The packaging system makes the box exactly the size you need every time and allows you to make any size and style of box you want.”

Custom Cupboards purchased a model EM5 CNC packaging machine and integrated it into an automated line. The machine operator enters the cabinet information from the inspection label into the EM5’s computer, and the machine optimizes the material, choosing from one of three sizes of fanfold corrugated cardboard stacks. Based on the code entered, cabinets with glass doors are recognized in the computer software, which then automatically double protects the front of the box.

“Based on the square footage of cardboard we were using prior to this system, it costs us a little more for the fanfold cardboard, but our warranty rework has decreased by 24 percent on shipping warranty, which is huge for us,” says Palmer. “We now only have a small amount of waste coming off the box machine. With our old system, there was a lot of waste and subsequent recycling required. Of our 200,000 sq. ft. of floor space, a lot of it is in our finish and assembly area because don’t build knock-down cabinets, we build all our cabinets before finish. Since the fanfold bales arrive on pallets, we can stack them all the way to the ceiling. Our box material storage only takes up about 250 sq.-ft. of floor space, which is a big improvement as well.”

Palmer says the on-demand packaging machine creates boxes the exact size of the cabinet, and it can even contour the boxes for angled and L-shaped cabinets, cutting down on wasted space inside the boxes and the potential for movement.

“Our truck loaders like the clean packaged look and how it allows them to pack the trucks a lot tighter to reduce movement in the trailer,” he says.

Custom Cupboards is currently working with its vendors on a solution that will further automate the packaging process.

“We are working on the software for a program so that when a cabinet passes our final inspection station on our final assembly line, the EM5 packaging machine will automatically make a box for that cabinet and be ready as soon as the cabinet comes off the line.”

The Total Package