Industrial Utility Efficiency

Modern Woodcrafts Automates with Robotic Arms and Intelligent VSD Vacuum Pumps

"We’re manufacturing better products faster, and technology is making it possible,” says Joe Legere, Executive Vice President for Modern Woodcrafts. The Plainville, Connecticut-based manufacturer of high-end architectural millwork components for building interiors has developed a reputation for exacting quality synonymous with the iconic New York City properties which feature its products.


cncrouting machine

Fully automated CNC Routing machine requiring intermittent vacuum pressure of 18”HgV or deeper.


The unusual paneling on the 101st floor of the Freedom Tower was milled by Modern Woodcrafts. So were the display cases for Tiffany’s and the famous oval bar in the Plaza Hotel. Three additional floors for the New York offices of Facebook are being built out using an old-school building material—vertical grain Douglas fir—milled and finished by Modern Woodcrafts.

“The Facebook project was designed by Gehry Partners,” Legere explains. “They have a vision and our job is to turn it into reality. They specified vertical grain Doug fir for structural components, doors, casings and interior surfaces. It’s a beautiful material, shipped here from Portland, Oregon, and it’s a special challenge getting all the details right for every piece we work on.”


Fully Automated Material Store Increases Precision, Safety, Repeatability and Reduces Cost

While the Facebook build out involves primarily wood solids, Modern Woodcrafts is also known for milling sheet goods, such as wood veneers and MDF (medium density fiberboard) finished with urethane paint. “Our systems for sanding and polishing result in a perfect high-gloss finish that is repeatable on every panel,” says Legere. “The same mirror finish you’d expect to see on a Steinway grand piano you can see on an architectural panel. We’re doing it every day.”

The integrated process that leads to perfectly finished components begins in the plant’s new material store. “One way we’re staying at the leading edge in our market is by researching the latest innovations and choosing the best machine for each process,” Legere explains. “Our new material store, operational in June 2017, is one example. It combines a physical data base of sheet goods with a robotic arm that handles materials and presents them to a cutting machine for processing. After a few minutes, a finished part emerges. All of this occurs with zero human interaction.”

The material store includes inventory of up to 2,500 sheets. To the untrained eye they may appear randomly stacked, but Legere says that’s not the case. “The system knows where every sheet is located,” he explains. “As sheet materials enter our system, they are individually measured since they often vary in thickness. The system remembers this information for every sheet using logic analogous to a computer hard drive, where bits of data are stored on a certain sector and moved around as needed. A robotic arm sorts and stores the sheets, then retrieves the most appropriate ones as needed for each specific project. It’s sort of like a smart vending machine for sheet goods.”

When a project is preparing to run, the robotic arm fetches the required materials and organizes it all to run in the proper sequence through the cutting machine. Production is continuously buffered and materials are delivered precisely as they’re needed. While a sheet is being processed, the material store makes use of otherwise idle time to organize materials to optimize retrieval for projects in the queue.

“There are lots of safety issues involved with having our guys run a fork lift to pull a sheet here and a sheet there,” Legere says, “and the time spent doing that is non-value added. Product can be damaged by friction and scratches, too. We’ve developed a fully-automated manufacturing cell geared towards eliminating human handling and ensuring a consistent and repeatable production rate and sequence. It leverages our lean philosophy and is helping us move to batch one production. We’re planning for lights out manufacturing as well.”



Modern Woodcrafts upgraded to a Stratos Pro Fully Automated Processing Line, by Anderson America.


Legere says the material store presents a leap in production efficiency that can cut the lead time to build something custom from weeks down to days or even hours. “The price point for this technology is now about half what it was five years ago, and we are excited to be able to make the investment. The payback comes in multiple areas including a reduction in the non-value added labor of material handling, a reduction in material damage from not using a fork lift, better finished product quality with less handling, and faster cycle times.”


Centralized VSD Vacuum Pressure System Quieter and More Energy Efficient

Modern Woodcrafts goes about its precision work with the assistance of vacuum pressure. “The work piece remains stationary while an automated cutting tool moves around it,” says Legere. “It’s held in place with vacuum pressure pulled from below, through a panel of MDF (medium density fiberboard). It looks solid but it’s actually porous. Since it has uniform density, we can pull vacuum evenly across the entire work surface. Strong, consistent vacuum pressure enables us to work faster and more precisely.”



The centralized Atlas Copco models GHS 1300 VSD+ and one GHS 730 VSD+ minimize power draw during the vacuum off portion of the production cycle.


Modern Woodcrafts recently upgraded its vacuum production with a pair of intelligent vacuum pumps with Variable Speed Drive (VSD) from Atlas Copco. One model GHS 1300 VSD+ and one GHS 730 VSD+ work cooperatively to provide the pressure required, typically 18”HgV or deeper, in real time. Both feature groundbreaking technology including Atlas Copco’s patented inlet valve that provides modulating vacuum control working in conjunction with VSD vacuum production. The result is a leap forward in energy efficiency compared to oil-sealed and dry vane vacuum pumps.

All GHS VSD+ Series vacuum pumps are plug and play systems delivered as a fully-enclosed, complete package with a small footprint. Atlas Copco’s industry-leading Elektronikon® control system is standard equipment, as is the SMARTlink remote monitoring solution.

“Modern Woodcrafts was running two router tables, each equipped with a pair of dry vane pumps, for a total of four pumps,” according to Todd Galpin, Regional Sales Manager - USA Region East for Atlas Copco Compressors LLC in West Springfield, Massachusetts. “The vane pumps either ran at full speed or were turned off. Modern Woodcrafts was looking for better efficiency, better overall performance, and lower noise levels. The project heated up quickly when one of the existing vane pumps failed.”

“One of the vane pumps stopped working, and even when they did work they were noisy,” says Scott Thibodeau, Production Manager for Modern Woodcrafts. “We’re always taking steps to reduce noise pollution in our work environment. The Atlas Copco pumps are much quieter than the vane pumps to begin with, and because we centralized our vacuum system we were able to locate them in a dedicated room, directly adjacent to sawdust producing machines. That keeps our work environment quieter and our vacuum equipment cleaner.”

Vacuum is delivered to the router tables through a piping network and held at constant pressure right up to a control valve. When the valve opens, vacuum production instantly ramps up to meet the need. When a production cycle is done, the valve is closed and the pumps turn down or even shut down completely, according to demand.

“Much of the energy savings in this application occurs when vacuum to the router table is valved off,” Galpin explains. “While the vane pumps would continue to run, drawing full power, Atlas Copco’s VSD pump solution turns down automatically whenever demand drops, drawing only a few hp. It will even shut itself down and soft restart as needed. Modern Woodcrafts typically has a six-to-eight minute run cycle with vacuum on, followed by a two-to-four minute unload/clean/load cycle with vacuum off. Minimizing power draw during the vacuum off portion of the production cycle contributes significant energy savings.”



Atlas Copco’s GHS VSD+ Series vacuum pumps are a new generation of intelligent, oil-sealed, rotary screw vacuum pumps with unrivaled performance capabilities:

  • State-of-the-art vacuum technology with Variable Speed Drive (VSD+)
  • Innovative inlet control valve for a leap forward in energy efficiency (around 50% )
  • Set-point control to deliver lowest possible flow to match the required vacuum level or speed
  • Proven reliability and performance of Atlas Copco’s rotary screw element
  • Superior performance against benchmarked oil-sealed and dry vane vacuum pumps
  • Noise levels far below competing technologies
  • Reduced environmental impact through ultra-high oil retention at all operating pressures
  • Integrated system in a single, compact enclosure with plug-and-play installation
  • ISO 50001/14001 compliance for energy management and environmental commitments


“I love the vacuum project,” says Legere. “Everything about it works as we hoped and anticipated, especially the efficiency, dependability and quietness of equipment. It was a complicated project and it took some time to get it all running with the best products for our needs. I appreciate that Atlas Copco made it right. Atlas Copco even assisted us in securing a financial incentive from Eversource, our power utility, for investing in more efficient production machinery. From where I stand, Atlas Copco is the best for vacuum and also compressed air. Their variable speed technology is just fantastic because you only make what you need.”


An Exciting Future

Legere emphasizes that the vacuum project is part of an ongoing effort at Modern Woodcrafts to achieve greater control over the flow of automated production. “All around the world we are seeing the growth of small, focused, smart factories with systems connected through the Internet of Things. Customers define their needs and manufacturers build to demand, quickly and to a very high standard of quality. The systems we’re integrating today are moving us farther in that direction. Our material store, cutting machine, router table, paint and finish systems, polisher, compressed air and vacuum systems—all are the best machinery available for the job we need them to do. Our growth also means we’re able to redeploy our people to work in other areas of our operation, including in technical roles controlling automation. The way forward is pretty exciting.”


For more information on Modern Woodcrafts visit


For more information from the authors contact Todd Galpin, Regional Sales Manager - USA Region East, Atlas Copco Compressors at email: or Andrew Nezelek, Regional Sales Manager - Utility Vacuum, Atlas Copco Compressors at email: or visit


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