FABRICATOR CASE STUDIES: Taking the Plunge into Stone Fabrication
March 13, 2006
With the experience gained from working for a solid surface business, the owner of Apex Surfaces in Harmony, PA, decided to branch out on his own and start a stone fabricating operation
> Five years ago, Eric Kirby set out to start his own fabrication business. With minimal equipment and staff, he was averaging about one kitchen a week. Since that time, his company, Apex Surfaces, has grown tremendously. And with a state-of-the-art facility, the company's production capacity continues to increase -- making for a prosperous operation.
â€œI was working for a solid surface fabricator in the area,â€ said Kirby. â€œHe was looking at the concept of selling natural stone. He had me put the whole package together for him, but in the end, he couldn't do it. So I decided to do it on my own.â€
The fabricator explained that he only had one employee at first to assist him. â€œI started with a rail saw, router and pick-up truck,â€ he said. â€œIt was a very basic set-up. At that time, we were doing about one kitchen a week.â€
Apex Surfaces' fabrication operation is currently housed in a 7,500-square-foot building, which is located in Harmony, PA. â€œAbout 99% of our business is kitchens,â€ said Kirby. â€œWe've grown quite a bit [since our start]. Now, we do about eight kitchens a day.â€
The facility is equipped with two Denver Quota CNC machines, which were purchased from Vic International; a Montresor Luna 740 edging machine, supplied by Salem Stone; and two Globo Simplicity saws. The most recent addition to the shop is a Tri-Axe Warrior II bridge saw, which was bought from Sommer and Maca Industries.
According to Kirby, the new Sommer and Maca bridge saw has definitely helped with production. â€œIt has automotive cutting features,â€ he said. â€œIt has greatly increased the number of slabs that we can produce. It is heavy duty and has an increased cutting speed. It can process twice the number of slabs than a low-speed saw.â€
Currently, the company operates one shift. It has grown to include 39 employees, of which nine work in the shop. â€œWe are in the stages of setting up a second shift,â€ said Kirby. â€œWe hope to by early to late spring.â€
In addition to the shop workers, Apex Surfaces also has four full-time installation crews. While installers still use traditional Luan plywood for templating at jobsites, the company has invested in a Stealth digitizer from BVH Gregg about a year ago as well as an electronic templating system from Etemplate System Tri-Tech Solutions, Inc. four months ago.
â€œWe have been playing for about a year [with digitizers],â€ said the fabricator. â€œThe biggest problem is finding personnel that is confident to do it in the field. There are some training issues. [Digitizing] does change the business from start to finish, but it is not a quick change.â€
Keeping up with the demandApex Surfaces is currently in the process of building a 15,000-square-foot facility. â€œOur goal right now is basically to make more room,â€ said Kirby. â€œWe are focusing on completing that move. Our biggest problem now is space for finished products.â€
According to the fabricator, the company also intends to add two more CNC machines to its new facility, which is expected to be ready in August of this year. â€œWe are keeping up with the demand,â€ he said.
Presently, the company maintains an inventory of between 300 to 500 slabs, but has plans of increasing to 700 to 900. â€œWe get a lot from internal stockyards,â€ said Kirby. â€œWe're just now starting to import ourselves. We are in the very beginning stages of that. It's part of the new process.â€
While kitchens comprise the majority of the company's business, Apex Surfaces did recently complete a large commercial project. â€œIt's very atypical for us,â€ said Kirby. â€œIt was a Marriott hotel in Pittsburgh.â€ The job included fabricating pieces for the hotel's restaurant, bar and two conference rooms - including a 12-foot conference table. Additionally, the company fabricated two fireplaces and the countertop for the registration desk.
Overall, Apex Surfaces' market spans a 150-mile radius. Located about 20 minutes outside of Pittsburgh, its territory ranges into parts of West Virginia and as far east as State College, PA.
Apex SurfacesHarmony, PA
Type of work: Primarily kitchens, some commercial work
Machinery: two Denver Quota CNC machines purchased from Vic International of Knoxville, TN; a Montresor Luna 740 edging machine supplied by Salem Stone of Winston-Salem, NC; a Tri-Axe Warrior II bridge saw purchased from Sommer and Maca Industries of Cicero, IL; two Globo Simplicity saws; a Stealth digitizer from BVH Gregg Inc. of Missouri City, TX; and a digitizing templating system from Etemplate System Tri-Tech Solutions, Inc. of Raleigh, NC
Number of Employees: 39
Production Rate: 8 kitchens a day