Fabricator Case Study: Flourishing in the granite sector

August 1, 2006
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With a 30,000-square-foot fabrication plant/showroom in Steger, IL, and a variety of state-of-the-art equipment, TTS Granite, Inc. fabricates an average of 25 to 30 kitchens a week.


The company's shop houses two Z. Bavelloni Italian-made CNC stoneworking centers.
TTS Granite, Inc. of Steger, IL, fabricates between 25 to 30 kitchens a week, with primary focus weighing on custom granite countertops. With a 30,000-square-foot showroom and fabrication plant located roughly 30 miles south of Chicago, and a new 2,000-square-foot showroom in Mokena, IL, the company continues to succeed.

In 1988, owner Joe Nicolazzi, his brother Aldo, and their parents, Joan and Aldo Sr., purchased Tom's Top Shop, and changed the name to TTS Laminating - which specialized in Corian and Formica countertops, as well as cabinets. Ten years later, Joe Nicolazzi realized that the marketplace was switching over to granite, and after completing a few jobs with the material, it was clear he needed to take the company in a new direction. Thus, TTS Granite was formed in 2000, and according to Joe Keane, Director of Inside Sales, the company has been growing at an astounding rate ever since.

“Having the two Bavelloni CNC machines means that we can have consistent edge profiles and sink cut-outs every time we use the machines,” explained Joe Keane, the company's Director of Inside Sales.

Equipping the factory

TTS Granite currently operates two Z. Bavelloni CNC stoneworking centers, a Flow Dual Bed waterjet from Flow International Corp. of Kent, WA, a Cougar bridge saw from Park Industries of St. Cloud, MN, and a Marmoelettromeccanica bridge saw from Regent Stone Products of Virginia Beach, VA.

The first Egar 320-4 CNC machine from Z. Bavelloni was purchased in early 2004. Nicolazzi was so impressed with the quality and customer service from Z. Bavelloni, that he decided to purchase a second larger CNC - an Egar 450-4.

“The software that the Bavelloni comes with is very user friendly,” Keane said, adding that the company also hired two experienced CNC operators so the transition was as seamless as possible.
“Having the two Bavelloni CNC machines means that we can have consistent edge profiles and sink cut-outs every time we use the machines,” Keane explained, adding that the CNC machines increased production and still maintained the high standards that the company holds. “Being able to bring the pieces to almost a full polish, and the tooling offered by Z. Bavelloni is an added benefit that we weren't expecting.”

According to Keane, it didn't take TTS Granite's employees long to have the CNC machines up and running. “The software that the Bavelloni comes with is very user friendly,” he said, adding that the company also hired two experienced CNC operators so the transition was as seamless as possible. “The biggest obstacle was the learning curve on what the machines are capable of. We wanted to make sure we were utilizing them to their fullest potential.”

Workers also operate a Marmoelettromeccanica bridge saw from Regent Stone Products of Virginia Beach, VA.
TTS has two workers who operate the machines on a daily basis, while another two are trained on the CNC in case they are needed. TTS also employs a full-time programmer who does the drawings and programming of the CNCs as well as the waterjet.

Late in 2004, the company purchased the Flow Dual Bed waterjet. “The benefit of having a waterjet means that we can do intricate inlays, and do inside and outside radii, etc., “ said Keane.

TTS Granite's facility is also equipped with a Flow Dual Bed waterjet from Flow International Corp. of Kent, WA.
Depending on the type of application, employees either make templates by hand, or utilize a Stealth Arm from BVG Gregg. The company also has a Neolt Digitizer for scanning the templates into a .dxf format to upload them into the waterjet or CNC.

Additionally, the company uses digitizing software and a tracking system from Global StonePro™ from Global E-Sourcing, Inc. of Schaumburg, IL. “We initially purchased the software for their drawing module,” explained Keane. “Once I started to research Global, I came across the inventory control module, and the ability to upload .dxf files and to schedule. Joe Nicolazzi, TTS Granite's owner, likes to be on the forefront of technology, and he thought it would be another good investment to make not only the sales team more efficient, but our fabrication plant more efficient as well.

The Flow waterjet allows the company to handle intricate inlays, and do inside and outside radii, according to Keane.
“I wanted the customer to be able to see what we were actually quoting,” he continued. “We have them review the drawings, sign off on the dimensions, edge profiles, sink cutouts, etc. It is also nice to give the measurer/templator a copy of the layout that they can actually read. A lot of the time, the customer provided specs are unclear or hard to read.”

Keane believes that the software is a great tool that many larger companies can benefit from. “The ability to not only provide a clear drawing to the customer, but to better track the inventory and scheduling are sure to make any company run more efficiently,” he said.

According to Keane, the company's state-of-the art facility is equipped to produce 35 to 45 kitchens a week without adding a night shift to the schedule, which already includes two shifts. “We also have an overhead crane system [from Gorbel Inc. of Fishers, NY] running throughout the entire shop to make it easier for our employees to move around pieces and slabs,” he added. “We have also purchased a water filtration system for the waterjet saw.”

Hand tools are used for more intricate operations.

Target markets

The majority of the company's fabrication is custom granite countertops, but it handles commercial applications as well. “We generally target custom home builders and real customers,” said Keane. “The builders make up 60% of our work, with the remaining 40% consisting of remodels and commercial jobs.”

Approximately 99% of the company's work is with granite slabs, but TTS also fabricates marble, limestone, travertine and some engineered stones. In addition to countertops, they also fabricate fireplace surrounds, outdoor tables and tub surrounds.

Due to steady growth, TTS Granite recently opened a second showroom in Mokena, IL, which occupies a 2,000-square-foot space.
“We primarily deal with custom home builders, so all of our jobs are very important to us,” said Keane. “We recently built a waterfall for a major car company at one of their dealerships that was 20- x 12-feet with Honey Onyx inlays. They were so impressed with the job that we are doing the same waterfall at another location.”

Over half of TTS Granite's inventory is imported directly from Brazil and India, while the remaining slabs are purchased through local suppliers.

The majority of the company's fabrication is custom granite countertops, and approximately 99% of the company's work is with granite slabs.

Employment

TTS Granite currently employs a staff of 41, which includes fabricators, measurers/templators, installers, sales representatives and administrators. “Most of the employees that have been with us for a while have a working knowledge of all aspects of the fabrication process,” Keane explained. “When an employee is hired, they start off initially as a polisher. From there they can move to the machines, or onto an install team.”

Keane said that the majority of new hires are found through referrals. “The first few days [on the job] are spent observing how to handle the stone in a safe manner,” he said. “When they are comfortable, they begin to learn how to polish.”

TTS also fabricates unique custom projects such as this outdoor bartop.

TTS Granite, Inc.
Steger, IL

Type of work: countertops, fireplace surrounds, outdoor tables, tub surrounds

Machinery: two Egar CNC stoneworking centers from Z. Bavelloni USA of Greensboro, NC; Flow Dual Bed waterjet from Flow International Corp. of Kent, WA; Cougar bridge saw from Park Industries of St. Cloud, MN; Marmoelettromeccanica bridge saw from Regent Stone Products of Virginia Beach, VA; nine overhead cranes; digitizing software and a tracking system from Global StonePro™ from Global E-Sourcing, Inc. of Schaumburg, IL; a Stealth Arm from BVG Gregg; a Neolt Digitizer

Number of Employees: 41

Production Rate: 25 to 30 kitchens a week

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