fb-pixelCustom cabinets in reach with automation - The Boston Globe Skip to main content

Custom cabinets in reach with automation

On a well-made cabinet, Volker Braun (right) says, exposed frames will be consistent. Bill Greene/Globe Staff

Bordeaux finish with sable glaze on cherry. Natural finish with caramel glaze on maple. These might sound like gourmet dishes, but for Volker Braun, director of manufacturing at Metropolitan Cabinets and Countertops in Norwood, these keywords specify custom kitchen cabinet styles and finishes.

As Braun, 41, manages production, it is all about square corners and right angles, as he takes the art of cabinetmaking and elevates it to a highly automated process that creates ornate details without the cost and time of hand craftsmanship. After orders are placed, the cabinets are designed with a computerized system linked to woodworking machinery and software that produces floor plans, material reports, scheduling, and more.


Braun, who got his start in manufacturing at Mercedes-Benz in Germany, oversees the design and building of 25,0000 custom cabinets a year. “When custom cabinets are engineered to order,’’ said Braun, “every one is completely different, which makes it challenging.’’

What’s more difficult - building a Mercedes or a custom kitchen?

A lot of upfront work and prototyping goes into making a car, but we don’t have the luxury of casting for cabinets. Everything is individually made, so making a cabinet can be quite a complicated process.

What are the steps in the manufacturing process?

We will be soon implementing 3-D designs from which we can conceptualize the kitchen, then automatically program the routers, panel saws, and other machinery to create parts. There are various other steps: holes for dowels are drilled, hardware is sorted, boxes are assembled, parts are wrapped.

What are the signs of a well-made cabinet?

The box construction should be made of plywood; all exposed frames on doors and panels need to be consistent; the sides, tops, and bottoms should be flush; the finish superior and, of course, the dimensions need to be precise.


What is an example of a recent kitchen design?

We recently completed a kitchen with stacked cabinets and finished interiors, beaded frames, and white paint glaze on maple. Some of the features included a custom hood for the stove, glass doors with grids, and an island with a cooling drawer.

How have you tweaked operations?

We rearranged work stations so tools, screws, and hardware were centralized and the assemblers don’t have to go searching for items. In addition, it’s crucial to be sure the upfront work of designing and engineering is correct. If it is, everything else goes smoothly.

Are you a hobbyist in your spare time?

I am. About five years ago, I bought a fixer-upper in Holden.

What sort of kitchens do you prefer?

I like the typical New England painted kitchen with simple shaker panel doors.