St. Meinrad, IN – The Schaefer brothers, co-owners of Automated Routing, don’t like the fact that the United States is losing so many jobs to China and other areas of the world where cheap labor and government subsidies make it difficult for US businesses to compete. So they decided to do something about it. They are fighting back using customized CNC router software solutions as well as equipment of their own design.
Automated Routing’s Evan Schaefer said, “We are doing everything we can to bring more jobs to the US and try to level the playing field. You can't do it with manual labor, compared to what companies pay their employees in Asia and other parts of the world. But you can do it with technology.”
For example, one of their best customers recently signed a one-year contract to produce 25,000 units per month of a single furniture component. It was previously made in China. Specialized equipment and software made it possible for the company to come in under its competitor’s price while guaranteeing just-in-time deliveries in days instead of weeks. This one project has added five more jobs to the company’s work force and brings the total to 18 jobs added since the beginning of the year.
Automated Routing supplies CNC manufactured wood furniture and casket components to manufacturers throughout the Midwest and beyond. They started out with just one machine and only produced parts for a few local companies. As the volume of parts increased, more equipment was purchased to supply the demand. Today, the company has 26 3-axis Thermwood routers, three 5-axis Bocci routers, and three CNC panel saws. Four engineers program all of this equipment using four seats of Mastercam Router software.
The company uses technology wherever it can to improve efficiency and reduce delivery times. Recently, they worked with Mastercam to develop a special SAP C-Hook applet to communicate with their SAP MRP software. The company produces thousands of part numbers. The SAP C-Hook applet alerts engineers if there has been a change made to a drawing the customer has submitted with the work order (which is frequently the case). This notification prevents the loss of significant time and money that can occur by inadvertently working with the wrong version of the drawing.
“Another thing we like about Mastercam,” said Schaefer “is that it is open enough that we develop our own C-Hooks and put those into the program to grow our business in different directions. For example, we developed the Romer measurement arm applet to import point data into Mastercam so we can quickly reverse engineer sculptured furniture components that utilize the company’s 5-axis routers for manufacturing plywood molds and for trimming finished products.
Technology also made it possible to go after new markets. Schaefer cited casket components as a very stable industry that has contributed to its growth. The company is also seeing a lot of activity in the medical furniture market. The renewed national focus on healthcare has resulted in a tremendous opportunity for the company to use CAD/CAM capabilities to manufacture new component designs for emerging product opportunities, from bariatric furniture to modular examination tables.
“Automation has also helped us penetrate new markets by accentuating our strengths, which are price and delivery. Customers want more than the best price so our typical lead time is less than two weeks on any quantity,” Schaefer said.
“Order sizes have come down over the years, so you have to get really creative to get the job set up and run. If you go back 10 years, a typical order might be 1000 and a small order might be 500. Today they might call you on Monday and say I need 50 by Friday. And that is a pretty good order. Even if they send us files with changes in the drawings, we’ll ship their product when they want it. That’s what we do.”
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