ShopBot Tools in large-scale manufacturing: Wood-Mode

Following is a 2009 update to Cabinetmaker FDM’s article by editor Karl D. Forth, about ShopBot CNC Tools in use at Wood-Mode. The article speaks to the benefits to large-scale operations of incorporating smaller CNC routers in cell-based operations. Since its original publication, Wood-Mode has grown its stable of ShopBot Tools to 16 tools. We’ve taken the liberty of adding some photography of the beautiful product that Wood-Mode offers in its Wood-Mode and Brookhaven lines.

By any measure, Wood-Mode Inc. is a large operation. But it is unlike many other large cabinet manufacturers. “We are, for the most part, a very large job shop,”says chairman and CEO Robert Gronlund. “We are focused on how we can be more efficient in just-in-time.”

The privately owned company was started in 1942 and employs 2,100 in a large, integrated 1.3 million-square-foot plant in Kreamer, Pa., that does everything from process green lumber to carry out delivery in Wood-Mode trucks. The company produces custom cabinetry for every room in the home. Annual sales revenue is more than $200 million.

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The Kreamer factory produces 1,600 to 1,800 units per day. Wood-Mode makes custom and semi-custom kitchen and bath cabinets, and custom cabinetry for other rooms. There are two product lines, Wood-Mode and Brookhaven, in both framed and frameless. Wood-Mode sells through independent sales representatives to 850 Wood-Mode/Brookhaven independent dealers. When Gronlund goes to a trade show, he says he spends half the time looking at big machines with the capacity to make thousands of pieces and the other half looking at smaller equipment normally used in a small shop.

Despite its size, Wood-Mode employs something small to improve its manufacturing process. It has 16 ShopBot CNC machines in use, equipment normally used in much smaller shops. The ShopBots are primarily used for point-to-point boring for hardware, doors and drawers. The first one was purchased as an inventor’s kit in 1999.

Flexibility advantage
Joe May, director of manufacturing and engineering, says flexibility is the biggest advantage of the ShopBots. “We can configure each one differently for different types of products, without the expense of a bigger machine,” he says. “In the newest machine we have about $25,000 invested, so about every five weeks it pays for itself.”

The ShopBots work well in component part production. “Components can be anything,” May says. “A customer can want a completely unique profile. The ShopBot allows us to cope with that easily. We can build one component. And that’s what we do.”

The company has four product lines. The Wood-Mode 42 line is named for 1942, the year it was started. The Wood-Mode 84 frameless line was started in 1984. Brookhaven One is frameless, Brookhaven Two is frame. Making both frame and frameless cabinets in the same plant isn’t really an issue, May says. “One side of the assembly area is frame, the other is frameless.”

Manufacturing flow
May says it’s difficult to describe the flow without describing the buildings. Component parts, drawers, frames, drawer parts are all done in the A1 component plant. Special cabinets are done in A2, which is on the second floor. The C building makes flat sheet stock.

There are five basic steps in the manufacturing process:
• Rough mill.
• Component plant, with cutoff saws, sander/shapers.
• “Wood start,” which brings doors, frames and sides together for sanding before machining.
• Finishing is primarily catalyzed varnish. Wood-Mode is just getting into water-based.
• Assembly;  the company does very little finishing of assembled pieces.

Almost all doors are made here, but Wood-Mode outsources MDF doors. Wood-Mode cuts door pieces for assembly of five-piece doors, and has them go through a shaper/sander combination.

“I’ve been here five years and I’m still amazed by the volume of cabinets we put through,” May says. “We’re doing a better job of tracking systems with bar coding. We know where individual parts are.”

But many challenges remain. “It’s a constant ongoing effort to try to minimize bottlenecks. The goal is to be a little better than the day before. Even if you do one thing better, it helps,” says May.

Wood-Mode purchased its first ShopBot, a PR model, in 1999 to make templates for rails and panels. The company found it could do an infinitenumber of parts on one machine, and Wood-Mode went from 800 templates to eight programs on the ShopBot.

Parts come down to assembly, with frameless on one side, frame on other. There are four frameless assembly lines, each with its own boring. Two of the ShopBots are in components and eight are in assembly, where they are used for decorative hardware boring.

The ShopBots work well in component part production.

The ShopBots work well in component part production.

“We do the doors and the drawers independent of the final cabinet,” May says. “They take a drawer or door to the decorative hardware machine, with a tag so they know what hardware it needs to be bored for. Doors are finished, then bored. All hardware is field installed.”

Wood-Mode uses 219 different pieces of hardware, all with different center sizes and different spacings. May says they threw away about 40,000 drill bushings used for assembly fixtures. “We would have to make a whole new set of fixtures if there were any changes. It used to take us a month after we identified a new door style to get the jigs and fixtures to the floor.” Now it takes 15 minutes. Information comes to May’s office. He makes changes, and they go to everyone on the floor at the same time.

It’s important to note that setup is done by the operator on the screen. Operators pull up the door style on a screen. (They tried to do setups on the keyboard, but found that didn’t work as well.) The operator programs on the screen, and next to one ShopBot is a person who machines hinges on another ShopBot. Wood-Mode buys ShopBot’s inventor’s kit. “It’s not a toy. It’s not just for signmakers. It can be a

Programming for boring on the ShopBots is done on the screen. This is more efficient than using the keyboards.

Programming for boring on the ShopBots
is done on the screen. This is more
efficient than using the keyboards.

“There are a lot of people who want to do what we’re doing,” May says. “With the ShopBots,
you can do whatever you want. The only limitation is your imagination.”

New rough mill
One of the largest upgrades is a new rough mill operation. Weinig supplied most of the equipment, including a new Weinig CNC moulder (there are five moulders in all). Also here is a Newman Whitney planer, Raimann ripsaws and the LuxScan optimizing system. All components were integrated into the Weinig system. The new rough mill started in June, and can produce 30,000 board feet a shift.

Wood-Mode also has a new dust collection system, upgraded electrical service for the old building and a new compressed air system. The company also built six new dry kilns and increased capacity 30 percent.

Commitment to dealers
“I think we go to market very well, through independent sales reps,” Gronlund says. “We focus on the independent dealer as opposed to selling to larger home centers.” Normally, about 70 to 75 percent of Wood-Mode’s business is remodeling, but the builder business has been so strong that remodeling is about 60 percent.

“We strive to keep our costs down,” Gronlund says. “As we grow, we’ve found our biggest challenge is quality labor. We have good quality labor in this area, and we’ve started an aggressive training program.”

Government regulations and environmental issues are always a challenge, but Gronlund say imports will affect a different, larger-volume market than Wood-Mode serves.

“We’ve grown our business with the almost tidal wave of homebuilding,” he says. “We want to build more capacity on the same footprint, to increase capacity 15 percent, within existing buildings, We have already done that in the lumber mill and rough mill.  “Our strategic theme is qualitative growth, as opposed to quantitative growth.”

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A Journey from Maker to Maker PRO: The Timbrr Stylus story

The first thing that strikes you when you step inside Dom Peralta’s garage/maker space in San Mateo isn’t necessarily the high-pitched drilling of his ShopBot Desktop’s spindle. Rather it’s the very pleasant and heady aroma of natural California cedar. That’s because the ShopBot is hard at work precision-cutting wooden dowels of cedar for the Timbrr Stylus, an ergonomic stylus for you to use with your touchscreen tablet or smartphone.

Dom Peralta's garage/maker space/factory

Dom Peralta’s garage/maker space/factory

The Timbrr Stylus is the brainchild of the team of Dom Peralta and Jon Corpuz, corporate industrial designers by day, and entrepreneurial Maker Pros on nights, weekends….and just about every possible waking moment. Right now they’re hard at work getting Timbrr Styluses completed to show off at the 2014 Maker Faire in San Mateo, and putting the final touches on a Kickstarter campaign to help the duo expand production.

Timbrr cedar stylus with capacitive rubber tip

Timbrr cedar stylus with capacitive rubber tip

Read the full story and see more photos at


ShopBot Launches Official Certification Course for Teachers

ShopBot Tools has announced the launch of ShopBot Certification training. The program is being rolled out in Texas: career and technical education professionals can receive Level I Teacher Certification during the TIVA Conference in Austin, July 13th – 18th. TIVA is the state’s professional organization supporting career and technical educators.

Conference and course registration information is available here.

The ShopBot Certification program offers 4 levels of certification: Basic (Level I), Intermediate (II), Advanced (III), and Production (IV). The Production level includes cabinetmaking and manufacturing specific curriculum.  At each level students will study, practice and develop CNC related skills in 8 areas: CAD/CAM Design software, ShopBot Setup and Maintenance, ShopBot Control Software, Tooling, Hold downs, Materials, Finishing and Accessories.

The ShopBot Certification class at TIVA will qualify teachers to certify their students at Level I.

Randy Johnson, ShopBot Director of Education Outreach, will lead the training and will be assisted by Brett Dickinson, Construction Tech Teacher – Georgetown, Texas ISD.

Brett is a veteran career and technical education teacher in Texas and is a strong proponent of using CNC as a teaching tool and as a way to make students career and college ready. He has been using ShopBot tools in his program since 2006 and has conducted a number of trainings in this area at TIVA summer conferences. Brett noted, “ShopBots are wonderful motivating and teaching tools. Students are learning skills in an area that are in high demand in industry. This equipment is perfect for teaching math and science concepts at which many students struggle by providing them hands-on learning through the designing and building of physical objects.”

Randy Johnson added, “At ShopBot, we want to do all we can to support the revitalization of technical education and manufacturing here in the U.S. We’re excited about ShopBot Certification because it means that we’re helping create well-trained, employable young people for 21st century jobs. Whether it’s training students for well-paying jobs right out of high school, or preparing pre-engineering students for college, this is a great way for us to help get American manufacturing back on track.”

Space is limited. Get more information and sign up for the Level I Teacher’s Certification Class here.

(Teacher certification for Levels 2-4 will be offered in the future.)

What can your students learn from making a sign?

If you’re a teacher making use of digital fabrication in your classroom, this may not surprise you. A relatively simple project can help you teach quite a number of topics. Check out Sallye Coyle’s blog post at, and you’ll see how making a lighted acrylic sign can help you instruct lessons about… CAD and CAM, the physics of optics, electricity and electronics, materials science, project management and documentation, and business topics such as quality control, cost analysis, market analysis, intellectual property….

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Handibot Smart Tool now available at!

We’re thrilled to announce that the Handibot® Smart Power Tool Developer Edition, first introduced by ShopBot Tools in a 2013 Kickstarter campaign, is now for sale at the online store.

The Handibot Smart Power Tool Developer Edition is a portable, digitally-controlled power tool for cutting, drilling, carving, and many other machining operations. You can cut woods, plastics, composite materials and soft metals with the power and precision of larger CNC tools.

Screen shot 2014-02-28 at 9.15.09 AMDavid Bryan, Handibot’s Head of Development, said, “Last Fall we put 150 Kickstarter Handibots into the hands of makers, DIY’ers, educators, and small manufacturers who are at work on all kinds of projects. Now we’re hugely excited to get the tool out into the larger world.”

Ted Hall, President of ShopBot, noted, “Handibot is really two tools – at least conceptually: It’s a small CNC tool that you can put to work right now on construction jobsites or DIY projects, and it’s also a new kind of “Smart Tool” that in the near future you’ll be able to control with job-oriented apps.” Unlike ‘traditional’ CNC tools that require you to place your material on the tool, you easily bring the Handibot to wherever your material or work is located — the floor, ceiling, walls, etc.

Randy Johnson, ShopBot’s Director of Education, added, “Because of its size, portability, and affordable price ($2,795) the Handibot is useful in classroom settings such as vocational, technical education and STEM programs. It allows for hands-on ‘teaching by making’ — without an investment in larger CNC tools.”

Ready-to-make classroom projects can be found at Here’s a father-and-children weekend design and cutting project where everyone enjoyed some hands-on learning (starring ShopBot’s Head of Production Support, Ryan Patterson, and his daughters…

The Handibot Developer Edition ships with a user-friendly CAD/CAM software suite for PCs or tablets running Windows. This software enables you to go from idea to making tangible objects using your Handibot with relative ease.

The Handibot Team is working on creating a suite of task-specific apps that will allow the tool to be run from multiple platforms and devices such as tablets and smartphones.

Submit your app ideas at's "Apps HQ"

Submit your app ideas at’s “Apps HQ”

World’s first “origami” kayak sets sail out of TechShop SF

Designer and Oru Kayak founder Anton Willis grew up in rural Mendocino County, with easy access to rivers, lakes, and the ocean. In 2008, a move into a small San Francisco apartment forced his fiberglass kayak into storage. Inspired by an article on new advances in the art and science of origami, Willis sketched a few ideas for a folding kayak. Sketches turned into countless paper models, and over 20 full-scale prototypes built with the help of the full-size ShopBot CNC at TechShop SF.  After user-testing on dozens of bays, lakes, rivers and oceans, Oru Kayaks are ready to explore the world. Read the full story and see video at our blog.

The Oru Kayak

The Oru Kayak

2014 Camp ShopBot Winter/Early Spring Lineup

Our Camp ShopBot season kicks off tomorrow, and we are sure excited about our winter/early spring line up! Our host Andy Redding from San Pasqual High School in Escondido, CA leads the way with his Camp on Saturday! This Camp filled up within a few days! (There was an attendance cap of 40 due to space limitations.) As teacher of Woodworking and Drafting, Andy is actively involving his high schoolers in digital fabrication and design. Randy Johnson, ShopBot’s Director of Education and past editor-in-chief of American Woodworker magazine, will be presenting to two of Andy’s classes on Friday before the Camp.

Georgia State University’s Ernest G. Welch School of Art & Design hosts the Atlanta area Camp on Feb. 22. They are proud new owners of a 4×8 PRS alpha. This art school is known for its iron foundry program. They will be utilizing ShopBot’s 3-D capabilities for creating molds in Assistant Professor Mike Wsol‘s new course this summer! Though it is only 1 week away, you can still register for this Camp. We have over 50 people attending so far! Sign up using our Google Form HERE.

Wayne Locke of Locke Designs and Woodworks has hosted the Austin, Texas Camp for over 10 years! This 2-day Camp, held on February 28 & March 1, is like a yearly reunion from many ShopBotters. This year we already have over 70 people registered! Randy will be bringing the Handibot with him and there will be multiple guest presenters, and of course plenty of time to mingle and share ideas with other ShopBotters. Register for the Austin Camp HERE.

Our Northern Florida Camp is at Florida State University’s School of Theatre’s Technical Production Department in Tallahassee on Saturday, March 22. This should be a great camp as they just moved into a new huge facility, which was an old middle school. There are a few ShopBot models in the building including a 4×8 PRS Alpha and a Desktop with spindle. Registration is open so sign up using our Google Form HERE.

We end March with a new Pittsburgh area Camp at TechShop on Saturday, March 29. This is one of the first TechShop based Camps we’ve had! If you haven’t visited a TechShop before, you are in for a treat. They have lots of toys to play with besides a ShopBot. Our Pittsburgh hosts will be giving tours for anyone interested in seeing their whole facility. Register HERE for that Camp and stay tuned for further details.

Students and teachers are welcome at all Camps, as are those who are looking into purchasing a ShopBot. Other Camps in the works for April and May are TechShop Chandler in Arizona on April 26 and North Carolina in May. We will also have Camps  in Philadelphia, Minneapolis, NYC, Ann Arbor, Chicago, Virginia, Seattle and more later this year. Stay tuned! If you want to make sure you are on our mailing list, drop us a note at CampShopBot at g mail dot com.

Florida State U. informs and inspires with digital fabrication techniques

Professors at Florida State University in Tallahassee are helping to prepare their students for a multitude of career possibilities, by exposing them to the techniques of digital fabrication. They’re making use of digital fab from many angles, and it’s fascinating to learn about. Projects range from a huge 3D printer that instructor Winston Graves describes as a “MakerBot on steroids” …..

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….to the Flat-Pack Furniture Project, inspiring graduate-level design students to incorporate digital fab techniques into their work…

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For more pictures and the full story, see our education website,

Production Case Study: Handibot Smart Tool

Hi, I’m Ryan Patterson, head of Production Support at ShopBot Tools. One important aspect of our company that I think sets us apart is the way we work with people to customize solutions for their production needs, from helping them to choose the right tools or tools, to assisting them with the configuration of tools to meet their changing needs. I’ll be blogging here on a semi-regular basis to share examples of this — starting with this entry that’s “close to home.” It’s the story of how we made some changes to our production method of Handibot Smart Tools here at ShopBot HQ.

While the Handibot was being designed, the production group had a general idea on how we would produce the product.  The prototypes were cut on a PRS Alpha using a large universal vacuum system with a bleeder board.  One Handibot was produced using a third sheet of 4×8 material.  We thought we would scale this up to fill/nest a full 4×8 sheet of parts.  We started cutting the first sheet and the estimated time to finish one sheet was a little over an hour.   We were quickly able to see this would not work.  A universal vacuum system uses a sheet of MDF as a spoil/bleeder. Over the time of cutting the MDF compressed and affected the depth of cuts.  As we started making the final thru-cuts, the vacuum was not holding the parts in place.  At this point we had two options,  stay with the large format system (4×8 machine) with a gasket vacuum or move to a smaller cell based system (using the ShopBot Desktop machines).

We decided to use the smaller Desktop system with fixtures and a high pressure vacuum system.


With a cutting area of 24×18, we would need four different fixtures to have enough parts to produce one Handibot.  Now we had to decide how many desktops we should use.  One thought was to use one for each fixture and this is what we did.  We later scaled back to using two Desktops, as we found that the cutting was not the bottleneck to producing the Handibots.  This scalability was one reason for selecting the Desktop cell based option.  As our efficiency down the line increases, we can quickly add another Desktop.

We are currently using two Desktops with four fixtures.  The vacuum fixtures use a gasket around the inside of the cut with a high pressure low volume vacuum pump.  For this type of vacuum system to work, no thru-cuts can be made inside of the gasketed area. The red lines pictured show the channel for the gasket.

drawingThe fixtures were created using VCarve Pro by importing all the parts for a Handibot, then manually moving and rotating the parts around to fit in a 24 x 18 inch cutting area.  We used vector editing tools to offset geometry around the thru cuts to create the section for the vacuum.  Once the geometry was created, it was offset .25 inches to create a .25 inch wide channel.  This channel was cut .18 deep to fit the gasket of .25 x.25.   We then added holes for mounting and indexing to the table.  After the fixtures were cut we drilled a 1/4″ hole in the edge of the   fixture for a 1/4 tube to be added to the gasketed area.  Then we drilled a horizontal hole to connect with the edge drilled hole.  We then inserted a 1/4″ tube to be connected to the vacuum pump.

Due to the fact we were using two machines with four fixtures, we needed a quick and easy way to index the fixture to be placed in the same spot every time.  The index needed to be the same on both machines being used.  The first step was to mount a sheet of aluminum 3/8 thick x 24 x 18.  The aluminum was then surfaced to insure it to be flat.  The next step was to drill and tap indexing holes into the table.  We added matching thru holes drilled in to the fixtures.  The tapped holes gives us a way to index the fixture and a way to hold the fixture to the table.



pc and dt setup

Do you have a production support question we can help you with? Get in touch with me by email, to



Meet ProDesign 3D, a custom design/build firm for exacting boatbuilding customers.

Behind the scenes, ShopBot Tools custom-designs and builds ProDesign’s CNC solutions to ensure smooth sailing.

If pictures are indeed worth about a thousand words each, let’s start this journey via a visual trip to Marseilles, where France’s ProDesign 3D customizes designs and builds boats, catamarans and yachts for dozens of leading boatbuilders, and also designs and builds boat-building kits for motorboats and sailboats.  Here’s the ProDesign 3D racing team and their boat that they designed and built, entirely milled with their ShopBot CNC routers…

Team Photo hull

Team photo 1

Team photo 2

Here are some other finished boating projects from ProDesign 3D…

Red Cat

White racing speed

Yellow Cat

Johan Hallin, ProDesign’s Manager and Technical Sales Consultant, said, “I think what makes us stand out is, we are well-suited for any type of application and find a specific solution for our customers every time. One of our strengths is that we know well the needs of our customers and have the tools and expertise to realize their vision.”

Founded in 2001, ProDesign 3D has expertise in five main areas: engineering studies, 2D etching / prototyping, 3D volume machining, production of composite parts, and complete yachting maintenance and repair.

The company’s engineering experts will study your project from initial idea through the modeling, use 3D modeling software. They perform functions such as hull and stability studies, calculate structures and strength of materials. At this stage they provide conception, design, modeling, prototyping, and feasability studies.

Cad 1

Cad 2Cad 3

They will often use 2D milling to begin a physical model of the parts…


ProDesign’s machining center is equipped with three custom-built ShopBot CNC routers so that they can precisely perform volume cutting of various materials such as PVC and polyurethane foams, plastics, woods and other non-metallic materials. Some examples of materials that they make are masts, V-booms, full booms, master hull pilotines, catamaran hulls and beams. Here are some samples of their machining process…


machining V-Boom with the ShopBot CNC

Machining V-Boom with the ShopBot CNC

Machining in MDF

Machining in polyester paste


Machining in MDF




wood panels

wood panels

Molding for catamaran

Molding for catamaran


Johan noted, “Back in 2001 we built our own table (5.2 ‘ x  19.7′) for a ShopBot CNC router, which they custom-designed for us with a 3-foot Z axis. The tall axis allows us to, among other tasks, to machine 3D foam inserts for catamarans; we also use a 1-foot Z for cutting panels. Sallye and Jamie from Shopbot traveled to France to help us with the assembly and to train our team in the initial operation of the ShopBot tool.”

“We worked 6 years with just this one ShopBot tool. As the demand for our custom services grew, we then bought a ShopBot PRS Alpha (6.5 ‘ x 13′ x 1.6 ‘), continuing to use the first tool for larger pieces.  In 2013 we bought a third ShopBot, the PRS Alpha (5′ x 10′ x 1′).”

Johan said, “With our three ShopBot machines we can be very responsive to the demands of our customers, who are always pressed to have their parts quickly!”  Learn more about ProDesign’s processes and services at

To see other examples of ShopBot Tools at work in boat building, click here.

Learn more about ShopBot’s CNC tools here.

Give ShopBot a call to discuss your boat production needs, at 888-680-4466.