I sent them an inquiry to see what it would cost to set up what I needed. I have a feeling it will be too costly, but only one way to find out.
AutoDrill got back to me pretty quickly. Their opinion was that the best route was to mount a 5 spindle head to a decent size drill press. Unfortunately, they said the cost is quite high for a home or small business use. It could run about $2000. Considering that a good drill press would run $500-900, that comes to a much higher price tag than I was considering/hoping.
I'm still thinking it would be better for me to take 5 drill heads and mount it to a steel plate and have it powered by a 5 hp motor attached to a belt.
Lots of drill presses available on Craigslist. Here's an interesting one near you:
Lol, my concern wasn't the drill press, it was the $2k to convert it to a 5 spindle head.
....not a bad idea. It might be even easier overall to pick up some cheap (HD or Harbor) drill presses...all the same model (and even a couple of spares for the future), and come up with a mounting system.
I'd consider something that looks like a "sensitive drill press", where the workpiece/table is moved into stationary drill heads.
Anybody wanting to make a "Quick-and-Dirty" mock-up first could consider a Harbor Freight dado set at about $25 apiece (and use the 20% off coupons ~ $20 each bought 1 at a time). They don't last very long, but cut the soft pine well enough for a few.
I would not consider them for an actual production machine. If you're gonna compete, get the best carbide you can buy - mount them on tool steel form cutters, build a arbor shaft that will take the load and then some, support the bearings with serious rigidity, and figure the drive system to be appropriate for the power applied. Power the machine so that the motor runs at 50% or lower - burning a little more juice is cheaper than burning motors!
Building a weak "Q & D" mock-up is not a bad idea at all - it reveals all the problems before you design the real thing. Use it to test on scrap wood - not even good enough for real parts, or at least the worst wood of the run. Try to cut your blanks so that there are no knots near the fingers - better parts and lower load on the machine, not to mention longer cutter life and the staples go in straight after you cut 'em.
Daniel Y - Another point about wood planks cupping is that plainsawn planks tend to cup much more severely than quartersawn planks. Quartersawn sugarpine makes excellent boxes as it cups, warps and shrinks, very little, and lasts longer than cypress when treated with 50% Linseed oil / 50% Mineral spirits if you dunk them for 3 to 5 minutes, and paint them every year or two (depending on your climate).
One more trick for you guys drilling the side bars - make the profile, slice it into pieces about 4 or 5 parts thick, drill the holes, then slice them apart. Wah-lah! Holes in 4 or 5 parts instead of a $2,000 multi spindle head.
Just make sure you get that piece dead plumb before drilling or every pieces will have holes drilled just slightly more and more off center.