Pennsylvania Correctional Industries recently put an Onsrud Panel Pro computer numerical control (CNC) router into operation at our SCI-Rockview wood furniture factory in Bellefonte, PA. This equipment uses computer software and CNC controller electronics to drive the mechanical systems making it possible to achieve far better accuracy and precision than a human operator using non-automated equipment. These machines work on three axis points in near perfect unison making them very efficient and giving this machine the capability of carving complex shapes.
The CNC controller and computer system work together as the “brain” for this machine, telling the motors and drive system which direction to move and how far. The computer then converts these commands into a digital signal which it relays to the CNC controller which converts the digital signal to varying voltages and currents that control the mechanical drive systems including the spindles that hold the cutting tools.
While this type of equipment has been in use for many years in private industry, the training required to become a skilled operator of this highly technical equipment was not available to inmates of the PA DOC until recently. PCI partnered with the DOC Bureau of Education to channel Vocational Education-trained inmates into employments at the PCI Wood Furniture factory, allowing us to take advantage of the efficiencies CNC woodworking equipment.
To date, two SCI-Rockview inmates have been trained in the use of the Onsrud CNC Router to date and six more are completing initial training. The skills these inmates have learned will allow them to secure work as ex-offenders in private industry including but not limited to cabinet factories, sheet metal operations and other industries using automated CNC cutting equipment.
Inmate training includes CNC Programming, Computer-Aided Design and design conversion to transfer information between different program formats.
Designs can be created directly in the router’s AlphaCAM software or imported from any drawing or design software including AutoCAD, an industry standard for design software. At SCI Rockview, most furniture designs are created in AutoCAD, and then imported to the Onsrud system.
AlphaCAM holds an inventory of all the tools (Router Bits) that are fitted for the Onsrud Panel Pro Router, and specifically what tools are loaded in the Tool Carousel.
With AlphaCAM, each geometry within a design is assigned a specific tool, depth of cut, rpm, feed rate, etc., to create a tool path or “machining”.
With all geometries machined, the tool paths are converted into a numerical code in the order the operator wants the part to be routed. The numerical code (NC) is then sent to the Onsrud Panel Pro Router (CNC).
The Onsrud Panel Pro Router is specifically designed to rout parts from sheets of any type of wood including plywood, medium density fiberboard (MDF), chipboard, laminated board, hardwoods and softwoods but it is fully capable of handling other materials including different types of plastic and even aluminum, as long as specifically designed router bits are used.
At SCI Rockview, the main task for the Onsrud Panel Pro Router (CNC) is to machine parts for furniture from melamine (Laminated Chipboard and Laminated MDF) but other jobs have also been done.
Jobs completed more efficiently and quickly using the CNC router include:
- Melamine Furniture Parts – A traditional and a contemporary office furniture line of office furniture has been designed and introduced to PCI customers. The furniture is made from Melamine with both MDF and chipboard cores, with several different laminates making it more cost-effective than standard solid-wood products and sales have already been made to DOC bureau’s including the Office of Chief Counsel, non-profit organizations and County office buildings.
- Hardwood Furniture Parts – Using various species in different thickness and size, PCI was chosen to produce furnishings for the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources for projects including the Nature Inn Conference Center at Bald Eagle State Park as well as an agency-wide initiative to standardize camping cottages. A line of beautiful Mission-style office furnishings have also been designed and produced on the router.
- Acrylic Mirrors – The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections proscribes a standardized mirror be used in all medium-security inmate cells. PCI is the supplier of these mirrors and they are truly standard when they are manufactured on the CNC machine
- Acrylic Door Card Holders – PA-DOC and County jails purchase these items form PCI to hold inmate information outside cell doors.
- Promotional Products – Among the recognition awards and other marketing items we have manufactured using the CNC router are ¼” clear acrylic coaster blanks that are later engraved on a Gerber 404 engraving machine, a Pennsylvania-shaped plaque in red oak with a routed t-slot on the back for wall mounting, Employee of the Year awards in red oak, cherry and walnut that also feature the routed t-slot of wall mounting.
- Engraved Wood Signs – These custom signs are gaining in popularity with many townships, boroughs, city and state parks and any signs larger than 48” X 48” are easily made on the CNC. We have designs that include straight cut and 3D engraving on a variety of hardwoods.
- Hardwood Table Tops and Desk Tops – The CNC router has made the process of machining shaped table tops much more efficient. Table tops engraved with the Pennsylvania State Seal are popular items for executive offices.
- Precision Jigs – Patterns in plywood and chipboard are made on the CNC for use on more conventional woodworking equipment throughout the factory improving our parts production throughout the factory.
- Acrylic templates – The CNC router has been invaluable in the machining of small engraved aluminum and brass plates for use on award plaques, firefighter’s accountability tags and key fobs.
- Fabric Patterns – The PCI Upholstery department makes use of the CNC router’s capabilities in machining soft plastic patterns to make standard seating recovering precise while minimizing waste.
It’s not hard to understand how important the incorporation of computer-controlled production machining is to any modern factory. At PCI, we’re pleased to add the skill set our inmate workers need to run this equipment to their resumes. The Panel Pro Router is improving the quality of our furniture factory products and increasing our inmates’ employability as they transition to work beyond the wall as ex-offenders.
Onsrud Panel Pro Router Specifications:
Table Size: 140” X 61” (Maximum Size Material)
Maximum Material Thickness: 10”
Normal Material Thickness: 1/8” – 2”
Spindle Speed: 0 – 24000 RPM
Tool Carousel Capacity: 12 Tools
Tool Shank Sizes: 1/8” – ¾”
Tool Sizes: 1/16” – ¾” (Plus Metric Sizes)
Multidrill: 9 Tool Gantry Type
Software: AlphaCAM 2011 R2