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Effective Early Learning Furniture

Bird-in-Hand Woodworks’ ‘No-Brainer’ Investment

The manufacturer of Childcraft furniture reaps 10 percent productivity gains after installing three Python XPR CNC routers from CNC Factory, all manned by one inexperienced worker.

Bill Brugmann, director of manufacturing for Bird-in-Hand Woodworks, wasn’t looking to buy a CNC router when he attended Wood Pro Expo Lancaster in October of 2018. Yet, less than nine months later, he found himself overseeing the delivery of not one, but three customized Python XPR CNC routers from CNC Factory.

“I really didn’t do a lot of homework, but I had this idea in the back of my mind for improving our parts production,” Brugmann recalls. “When I saw the Python at the show with its automatic rear-loading capability and back-to-front cutting movement, I knew I was on to something. I don’t know how else to say it, but it was the perfect machine for us.”

What especially made the Pythons an ideal fit for Bird-in-Hand’s requirements was CNC Factory’s willingness to manufacture the machines to handle 5 x 5 sheets of Baltic birch. “Most nesting routers are built for 4 x 8 panels,” Brugmann notes. “They customized the machines to our specifications – the load and unload tables, and the router table itself including vacuum hold-down placements.”

3 driverless Pythons, 1 novice operator

Bird-in-Hand Woodworks is the furniture manufacturing arm of the publicly-traded School Specialty. The company’s 75,000-square-foot factory in Lancaster, PA is dedicated to producing early learning furniture sold under the Childcraft name. Products include desks, tables and bookshelves.

Before the Pythons were installed, Bird-in-Hand produced parts by cutting 5 x 5 sheets of Baltic birch plywood to size on a panel saw and then processing them on CNC routers. It was a labor-intensive procedure that included multiple handlings of material from panel to final part.

“The majority of our parts don’t need any type of edge work so it made sense to have equipment that could machine a full panel,” Brugmann says. “In addition, because we are a seasonal business and hire a lot of temporary workers, we are always looking for equipment that’s kind of a no-brainer for somebody to run.”

The Pythons, with their fifth generation, driverless technology, fit the bill. Once the job is entered on the touchscreen, the Python manages the entire production cycle without human intervention. This includes automatically loading a panel onto the table, selecting the correct tool, adjusting the height of the tool and robotic dust hood based on substrate thickness, and cleaning the table after removing all parts from the cut sheet.

Because of the Python’s take-charge intelligence, one inexperienced worker is able to man all three of Bird-in-Hand Woodworks’ Pythons, which stand side by side. Collectively, the routers process up to 275 panels per eight-hour shift.

“Usually, all three Pythons are running the same pattern like a side or a shelf to maximize production,” Brugmann says. “The cycle of each machine is alternating by a minute or two. This allows us to have a single temporary worker unload the parts from the three machines.”

Brugmann estimates that when also taking into account the Python’s impact on downstream processes, most notably assembly, they have helped increase the plant’s overall productivity by 10 percent. That’s equivalent to six full-time employees.

“The machines paid for themselves within 18 months,” he adds.

“…when also taking into account the Python’s impact on downstream processes, most notably assembly, they have helped increase the plant’s overall productivity by 10 percent. That’s equivalent to six full-time employees.”

Building on a successful partnership

Brugmann says CNC Factory has been great to work with, including providing comprehensive onsite operator and maintenance training and dependable after-service support.

Based on the positive experience with the Pythons, Brugmann is talking with CNC Factory about purchasing up to three Scorpion LDR insertion machines.

“Right now, we do rabbet and dado construction, but we’re planning to totally redesign our product line to use the Lockdowel connector system,” Brugmann says. “Assembly is currently 50 percent of our workforce. I’d like to get that down to 35 percent.

“What I particularly like about how the Scorpion is how it automatically measures parts and calibrates drill setup,” Brugmann says. “Having the CNC Factory team as a backup, I think is super beneficial.”

Click here to learn more about Bird-in-Hand Woodworks/Childcraft.