Branching into laser etching

March 10, 2004
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Streeters Decorating Center of Keokuk, IA, is a flooring company that has recently added a branch to its business called Lazer Graffix. Eric Ludwig and his father Greg established the name in 2001 as a specialist in stone etching. Greg and his wife, Cathy, had already owned Streeters since 1998, and it was relatively simple to add an extension to the business. In January of 2001, Eric Ludwig and his father attended the annual Surfaces Exposition in Las Vegas, NV. As they were passing by the Vytek booth, Eric Ludwig heard a ping that drew him to the table. When he saw what the Vytek's machinery could do, he wanted to be a part of it.

Using a laser-etching machine from Vytek, Lazer Graffix is able to create a broad range of etchings for items such as murals, fireplace surrounds, decorations for homes, dedication plaques and kitchen backsplashes. The materials used include granite, marble and glass. “The most popular products we produce are etchings on 6- x 6-inch pieces of granite and marble,” said Ludwig. “We do a lot for anniversaries and wedding photos on one single tile. Our customers like this because the etching is forever.

“Recently, I just finished my first 4- x 5-foot wall mural [etching] with paint as well as a fireplace surround,” Ludwig continued. “The mural is the 'Luncheon of the Boating Party' by Renoir. It is on display at the mall, and a lot of people stop to admire it.”

According to Ludwig, the company uses the Vytek Special FX Laser System for all of its etchings. “We plan to invest in another machine as soon as it is feasible,” he said. “We would like to purchase a larger machine that can hold a larger piece of stone. We want to be able to create monuments. We need a bigger table [for the laser machine] to put the granite or marble slabs on. The current capacity size that the Vytek Special FX Laser System can etch on is 2- x 3-foot slabs. With this laser etcher, we can [process] a 12-inch tile in about 20 minutes, and an 8- x 10-foot entryway in a day.

Learning to use the laser-etching unit was relatively simple for the owners. “When you buy a Vytek machine, they offer a two-day training program,” explained Ludwig. “A friend and I flew out to Littleton, MA [Vytek's headquarters] in March of 2001 where the program was being held. Basically they told us what to do for about an hour and then we had two days to just play with it.”

After Ludwig began using Vytek's Special FX Laser System, it became second nature to him. “Basically it's practice,” said Ludwig. “All you have to do is know how to scan pictures, change them and manipulate them in the computer. You learn more and more everyday as you do it. And you find short cuts.

“Anyone can use the machine if they can operate a computer,” explained Ludwig. “The way Vytek has their system set up, it's just scanning and printing. Once you know the basics, all you have to do is practice. I had never really worked with the manipulation and scanning of pictures, but I just learned and remembered the order of doing things. For the first couple of weeks, I had a list of things I had to follow, but now I do it by rote.”

Although the Vytek machine is simple, finding and conducting the business is not always that easy. The Ludwigs have come across challenges to explain the concept of stone etching, since it is a relatively new process. “We feel the market in the Midwest may be a little tougher than other regions in the U.S., explained Ludwig.” With our marketing on the Internet, home shows and mall displays, our future looks very good. For the Christmas season, we were stationed in the mall because the etchings are a great gift for anyone. It is a gift that lasts forever, but unfor-tunately the money and interest [need to come as well.]”

Overcoming this challenge will not happen overnight for Lazer Graffix, but they are taking steps to spark some interest for the difficult market. “We have created a Web site in order to reach others in the Midwest. We hope to be recognized as one of the future leaders in the etching industry.” said Ludwig.

End box

Lazer Graffix
Keokuk, IA

Type of work: Laser etching of granite
and marble tiles
Machinery: Vytek Special FX Laser
System
Number of Employees: 2

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