Photos: ContributedFather and son team Mike and Rob Clare.
Rob Clare started his company Diamond CNC just nine short years ago, but thanks to his commitment to automation and implementing the best technology, he is already achieving $500,000 income per employee. And what makes that even more impressive is the fact that he just 31 years old and is doing all of this in a smaller shop and with a total of just six employees.
“We know of guys that do the exact same thing in the exact same space and they have five or 10 times the employees, but they are not producing as much as we are and it’s all because of our commitment to automation,” says Clare.
Born and raised in Hamilton, Clare has been involved in the cabinetry business more or less all his life.
His father Mike Clare had his own shop building cabinets and kitchens and Clare says when he was growing up he was helping his dad to make some extra cash while he was in school.
Later, his dad was working at Richelieu Hardware, but he kept a shop behind the house where he continued to build kitchens.
“I would come home from school and rather than go inside and waste my time, I’d go to the shop and do some work and make some money,” Clare says.
“So that work ethic was instilled in me at a very young age, and I enjoyed doing it. It didn’t seem like work, it was something I really enjoyed.
And it was a way for me to earn some money and buy all the fun stuff kids want.”
After high school Clare started to work in construction and renovation, but it was not a great fit and “I was working too hard and not making enough money,” he says.
“That’s when my dad told me there are some real opportunities in the kitchen industry to make parts for people. He knew of all these kitchen companies dealing with labour shortages, guys with cabinet shops that were looking for someone to cut parts and components for them. It’s also something we had relied on when we were building kitchens in our small garage,” he says.
“We couldn’t really cut all of our own parts in the garage, so we had components cut for us to build our kitchens.”
His dad said there were still a lot of shops that needed parts, so they did more research and it wasn’t very long until Clare realized there was a real opportunity for a business.
“And I have to tell you I was really fortunate because my parents (Mike and Terri-Sue Clare) believed in me and were willing to put their house on the line so I could buy my first CNC machine and start the business. I am so grateful because there is no way I could have done any of this without them,” he says.
“That first $150,000 investment was really scary and we lost a lot of sleep over it, now we write checks for a quarter million and don’t think twice about it.”
Clare says it was a real trial by fire. “I didn’t go to school for it, I didn’t go to college, I didn’t even know how to spell CNC until we got one. But I worked hard and I was committed to it.”
That first machine was a single bed, 5x8 Thermwood CS-43 with manual loading and offloading and a 12-tool changer and Clare said he started working with it almost immediately.
“I was doing my regular job during the day and once I came home I started cutting sheets in the garage behind the house until about 10 p.m. every night and all weekend.
“We had this whole business plan drawn up, we would be doing this part time, my dad was helping me and I remember him telling me I would probably have to work without a pay for the first six months or even a year, but we would give it a try and see where it went.”
“So we got the machine and started to work expecting not to get paid for a long time, but it took just three months for me to quit my job because it took off so fast. I never expected that, it was great.
“My dad had a lot of connections in the industry and he was telling people about the company and word spread very quickly. He was always promoting me and helped me out and then it was word of mouth as more and more people heard about it.
Clare named the company Diamond CNC, because they used diamond tooling and they had a CNC machine.
“That was it,” he says with a laugh, “and we also drew up the company logo ourselves.”
Clare says they moved into their first “real” shop after about a year. Having previously expanded the shop behind the house from 1,800 to 3,600 sq. ft., they needed more space and rented a 10,000 sq. ft. shop in Brantford.
After another couple of years they expanded again and this time purchased rather than leased a
building on the other side of Brantford. It wasn’t a whole lot bigger, but it
was a more useable space, which meant they could streamline the
layout of the production area and improve efficiency.
“We were there for 2 ½ years, but then we figured out that we were still wasting a lot of time moving stuff around,” Clare says.
“You could only build five or six boxes before we had to move them to another line. The same with edgebanding and hanging doors. You could only do so much and then you had to move things around again. I figured out we spent almost 30 per cent of our time moving stuff and that didn’t make sense.
So we moved again, this time to a 32,000 sq. ft. building in Nanticoke, Ont.”
And while all of this was going on, Clare kept reinvesting their profits into more and better technology to make things more efficient and that strategy has paid off nicely.
Case in point, the number of employees hasn’t changed significantly over the years.
Clare said he’d hired two or three people early on and over the years, despite the company’s strong growth, they still only have three people working in the shop.
“And that’s only made possible because we’ve added so much technology.
“So in the new building we have lots of space, which has enabled us to lay out production much more efficiently and we no longer waste time moving stuff around.
“And we are still pretty lean, my mom and dad work in the office part time and deliver and paint part time,
My dad still does all the finishing. I have three full time people on the production floor and I manage everything.
Asked about the equipment he is running now, Clare says, “It’s everything I ever wanted.”
“Well we had the Thermwood and then when we moved into that first bigger shop we added another one of those and had an operator run both of them side by side. We also bought a used HOMAG edgebander and that was something I never thought we could afford. And we actually just replaced it this Christmas, it lasted us about seven years.
“We replaced it with the Rolls Royce of all machines, a HOMAG S512, its fully cnc-controlled motors and the quality that is coming off that machine is just unbelievable. In fact that machine and the quality it produces has enabled us to land
a couple of bigger contracts now that we wouldn’t have been able to get otherwise.
“It’s such a high caliber and it’s something that these new clients are expecting and demanding and that has been opening some doors for us.”
Clare says that purchase was “a hard buy, because of the investment necessary, but our old machine just couldn’t keep up to our level of production. We are six people in total, but we are doing 15 to
20 kitchens a week.
“We also realized that the right software makes a huge difference. We started out with free software and that works great, for a while, but now we pay for very sophisticated software and that has made a huge difference. We have $50,000 into just the program, but we don’t have any more mistakes. There is no mislabeled components, there are no scrap pieces, no scrap parts and no one in our shop has a tape measure.
There is no need for it. The information on every label is correct and there are no more scrap cabinets in our shop.
And this in turn has allowed us to take yet another step towards more automation. So we’ve added barcode readers and a HOMAG dowel inserter.”
One end of our shop, the production part, is all HOMAG and the finishing end is all CNC Automation. These are our preferred suppliers
And yet, all of his success notwithstanding, Clare is never satisfied with the status quo.
In the two years they have been in the Nanticoke shop, he says they have changed their layout three times to try different things and optimize their processes and he will continue to look for improvements.
Clare credits automation, from the latest edgebander to the HOMAG CENTATEQ N300 automated CNC with auto on- and offloading and the HOMAG’s vertical DRILLTEQ V-200. But all the technology and equipment doesn’t mean anything without being extremely organization
“You add all of this up and you end up with a pretty automated production facility,” he says.
They are using the DRILLTEQ V-200
to drill all of their doors.
“We don’t have a mini press, drill press or hinging machines. The doors have barcodes and we drill the door before it is finished. So if there is a problem we’re only wrecking a raw door, there is no labour yet because it is still unfinished. If you drill a painted door and make a mistake then there are a couple of hours of prep time and paint in it, so it’s a lot of waste. And you don’t need a skilled of worker to mount your doors on cabinets
“Like I said, every bit of money we’ve made has been reinvested into more equipment and technology to improve our operation. If you look around the shop and you see the number of people and the type of equipment we have it’s absolutely overkill. No piece of equipment runs all day every day, with our small staff I have everyone crossed trained to handle multiple areas. We could produce 100s of cabinets a day, we have the equipment to do that, but we don’t have the people. So we continue to look towards more automation,” he says.
Diamond CNC started out cutting parts for customers, but those days are long gone.
“Our customers demanded more and more from us so over the years, which is why we’ve added edgebanding and finishing and assembly. So now we only produce complete cabinets. It’s how the business evolved as a result of customer demand. Now everything we do is completely finished and shipped fully assembled and ready to install.
“Now we are a full-on dealer and manufacturer of assembled cabinets and we offer a complete catalogue as well as custom orders.”
Diamond CNC uses Allmoxy, an online configurator for all their orders. That means customers design and place their orders online “and since our HOMAG software is sophisticated enough to receive the files and create patterns and cutlists, we don’t even have to do any programming anymore. The software handles everything.”
Clare says its just great because they don’t manually input anything, “we just download a file from Allmoxy and Cutrite creates all the labels and cutlists for us.
There is no manual input from us, and it also means there are no mistakes on our end. Whatever the customer inputs gets produced in our shop, no mistakes.”
Customers have had no problems adapting to this way of putting in their orders and for the few who prefer a more old-school approach, Clare says his dad is there to assist anyone who wants it. “He puts the order in with them and they then just sign off on a paper copy.
“It’s really great technology and it has helped us be so much more efficient because, as I said, it eliminates us having to worry about manually inputting anything. Everything is done just once and it works.”
In addition to embracing automation, Clare says they are also committed to provide the best possible customer service.
“If we say it will take four weeks for us do fill an order then that’s when we will deliver. And if there are ever any issues – and we don’t have many – we make it right within a week. With other dealers you may have to wait eight weeks, but not with us, we fix it within days.
Many customers come to the factory and pick up their orders, but Clare says they also run a couple of trucks to make deliveries. “So if they want their order delivered, we do that as well. We deliver within 100 kilometres and we just charge enough to cover our cost, this is not a moneymaker for us, we make our money in the shop.
When asked what’s next, Clare says he says he is just getting started.
“I purchased an ABB robot about 11 months ago and it’s still just sitting there in a corner in the shop, still in its box, and I tell people all the time that this thing is going to take their job some day.
“And I don’t say that to discourage them, the team we have are great, but I think they are underutilized, humans being machine feeders and operators is a waste of time and resources. I think robots are the future.
“I opened the box for the first time this week and I am now going to work on implementing it somewhere in our production line.” Clare has taught himself to write code and program machines and he said his next task is to figure out how to program the robot and put it to work.
“I told the edgeband operator that I will replace her with this thing once I figure it out and she can then do more skilled labour because her talents are wasted feeding a machine.
“It will take some time, but I am committed to make us even more efficient and part of that is to have robots do mundane labour.”
To find out more about Rob Clare and Diamond CNC, have a look at their YouTube channel at
www.youtube.com/@diamondcncIN THE SHOP
HOMAG CENTATEQ N-300
HOMAG DRILLTEQ D-200
HOMAG DRILLTEQ V-200
HOMAG SAWTEQ B-200
HOMAG EDGETEQ S-512
BONACIN CLOSER 2500
EDDA SPINNER 1000
HOCKER VACUMOBIL 300