Fine-tuning a State-of-the-Art Operation
February 10, 2006
When expanding into stone fabrication, the owner of Down East Fabrication in Mechanicsburg, PA, invested in high-quality equipment and has taken measures to improve upon production efficiency.
Safety and efficiency were top priorities when Gary Smith of Down East Fabrication opened his stoneworking facility in 2002. As an experienced solid surface fabricator/ installer and an Authorized Zodiaq® Installer (AZI), Smith made the decision to branch out into natural stone fabrication when he built his current shop in Mechanicsburg, PA. And when considering machinery, tools and accessories, the fabricator chose equipment that would prove cost-effective as well as those that ensured a safe work environment.
â€œOne thing that I wanted to make sure of when we set this shop up was to make it as safe as possible,â€ said Smith. As a result, the company strictly enforces that the workers wear protective gear and follow safety guidelines, and the shop is equipped with state-of-the-art technology for safe handling and cutting of stone slabs. Moreover, the recent addition of a water treatment system from Water Treatment Technologies in Hampton, NH, allows for a clean workspace with maximum water recycling efficiency.
â€œThe system is awesome,â€ said Smith. â€œIt's just great. [Water Treatment Technologies] was very helpful when they set the new system up. They are one of the most professional equipment companies that we have dealt with.â€
Smith explained that he first started a solid surface business in 1989 in Dillsburg, PA. â€œIt was just me,â€ he said. â€œI was a kitchen and bath remodeler. I moved to this current building in 2002, and that's when I got involved with stone.â€
According to the fabricator, becoming an AZI has proven fruitful for his company. â€œZodiaq has taken over right now,â€ he said. â€œGranite is about 29%, and quartz is 38% of our business.â€
The Stone ShopToday, Down East Fabrication is comprised of 38 employees. The 44,000-square-foot facility consists of the stoneworking area as well as an area for fabricating Corian. The stone shop runs two eight-hour shifts - 4 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. - with four workers on each. â€œWe do that so each crew can interact with the other group, and both have four hours of supervised time,â€ said Smith, adding that the shop primarily runs five days a week with the possibility of some overtime.
Additionally, the company employs four installation crews, which each install about two kitchens a day. â€œWe have a fairly large AZI following,â€ said Smith. â€œWe do about 10 [of those] a week.â€
Templates are made with a Stealth Digitizer from BVH Gregg and a Pro Liner from Blick Industries. â€œThere's a whole bunch of technique involved with any digital templater,â€ said Smith. â€œThey all do a good job, but you have to use them a lot to make them efficient.â€
The stone shop is equipped with three AGM Intermac Master Stone 4000 CNC machines, which were purchased over a span of three years. â€œWe bought our first Intermac in 2002, a second in August 2004 and a third in June 2005,â€ said the fabricator, explaining that running the machines is not as difficult as programming them. â€œWe have a really strong crew right now. We have one worker on each shift out there running all three CNCs and two programmers for the stone shop. I like the efficiency. We bought these CNCs because one man can do all of it.â€
Other pieces of equipment in the shop include a Camma Master Saw and four Elephant cranes from AGM of Pineville, NC. The cranes, which feature a vacuum lifter, are stationed at each of the CNC machines as well as the bridge saw to make loading and unloading of slabs as easy and safe as possible.
Most of the diamond tooling for the CNC machines are supplied by Salem Stone of Winston Salem, NC. Additional tools and accessories are purchased through Regent Stone Products of Virginia Beach, VA, and GranQuartz of Tucker, GA.
With the interest of customers in mind, Down East Fabrication has designed an indoor area where slabs can be viewed. â€œWe pull one slab off from each of the current bundles so that our customers can look and see the veining,â€ said Smith, explaining that he has one inventory manager on staff to pull the slabs. â€œWe also try to include the country of origin.â€
According to Smith, the company acquires its material from local stone suppliers. Among the primary distributors are Dente Trading Co. Inc. in Cedar Grove, NJ, and Bramati Marble & Granite Inc. in Frederick, MD.
The company's market spans within 100 miles of the facility, said Smith. â€œOur territory is really vertical -- north and south,â€ he said. Approximately 19% of Down East Fabrication's market is commercial work, and it does some retail jobs as well. The company's primary market, however, is selling to builders and kitchen and bath dealers.
Improving ProductionTaking its efficiency goal a step further, Smith has been working with the South Carolina Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) to further enhance his operation. â€œThey work specifically with fabricators to improve their system,â€ he said. â€œA growing shop demands organization - especially when combining a Corian shop with a granite shop.â€
According to the fabricator, MEP has assisted his business tremendously. â€œMEP is a lot of work to get started, but then takes out the stress and reduces lead time,â€ said Smith. â€œWe are at a seven-day lead time right now, and we were at a 15- to 20-day lead time.â€
Smith also holds in high regard a custom-made truck complete with a built in crane system, which he recently purchased. According to the fabricator, this truck has significantly aided the delivery process - making it safe and efficient.