Robotic waterjet adds efficiency in Colorado
RocHenge of Denver, CO, operates out of a 30,000-square-foot facility that is equipped with a variety of high-end machinery, including a RoboCut saw/waterjet from U.S. Granite Robotics of Barrington, IL, which assists the company in producing an average of 40 kitchens a week.
The U.S. Granite Robotics RoboCut runs on six axes, and it was designed specifically for stoneworking. The six-axis robot, combined with a double-table cutting system, were designed to allow for maximum productivity and shorter time for loading and unloading slabs. The machine is equipped with a Saccardo 20-horsepower motor for the sawing head, which can be equipped with 16- to 18-inch blades. Meanwhile, a 50-horsepower pumping system from KMT Waterjet Systems of Baxter Springs, KS, supplies the waterjet functionality. “The Robocut is a combination saw and waterjet, and the waterjet pump tubing and nozzle are all KMT components,” explained Dean Kingston, General Manager of RocHenge.
Recently, RocHenge added a RoboEdge CNC edge profiler, also from U.S. Granite Robotics. The RoboEdge is a six-axis edge profiling robotic system, and it is equipped with an 18-horsepower spindle and an automatic tool changer. The robotic-controlled, variable-speed spindle processes straight edges along with decorative radius shapes in stone up to 6 cm in thickness.
According to Kingston, the RoboCut and the RoboEdge were purchased in late 2007. By investing in the machinery, RocHenge was able to increase production using the same labor force. “We now have more production capacity without increasing labor,” he said. “The U.S. Granite Robotics RoboCut machine gave us waterjet capabilities.”
Kingston added that the learning curve on the robotic machinery was fairly straightforward. “We received one week of training on the RoboCut machine and three days of training on the RoboEdge machine,” he said. “We spent another two to three weeks using the machine in limited production prior to running in full production.
“We have one specialist for maintenance and training, and then multiple operators,” he continued. “The biggest obstacle is making sure the CAD is accurate. The CNC will follow whatever path you tell. If the path is wrong, your part is wrong.”
Advanced stoneworking is also completed using a Breton NC160 CNC stoneworking center, which had been in place for a few years. Meanwhile, straight edge processing at RocHenge is done using a Pro-Edge III straight edge profiler from Park Industries of St. Cloud, MN, and a Montresor Luna straight edge profiler from Salem Stone of Winston-Salem, NC.
On the cutting side, two Zonato bridge saws are used in addition to the RoboCut, and material is moved around the facility using Gorbel overhead cranes and Manzanelli vacuum lifters from GranQuartz of Tucker, GA.
RocHenge templates, fabricates and installs kitchen countertops, vanities, tile and slab showers, tub areas, fireplace surrounds and hearths and inlaid tile and slab flooring. “We are partners with The Great Indoors for our retail kitchen work,” he said. “Using an internal sales force, we target commercial and high-end residential work.”
The company currently employs a staff of 58, plus subcontractors for the tile and slab divisions, and according to Kingston, there are different levels of specialization in the shop. “On the equipment side, the levels of specification are material movers, machine operators, machine programmers, CAD operators and Production Supervisor,” he explained. “On the manual fabrication side, there are polishers, fabricators and foreman. We like to have new employees start as material movers and train them from there.”
Kingston went on to say that a lot of employees are hired through referrals, and the company also posts help wanted ads electronically on Craigslist, as well as posting notices at local trade schools.
The growing cost of labor and material is becoming an all-too-familiar problem for the company, according to Kingston. “We address the labor issue by applying efficient solutions to every problem,” he said. “We have Gorbel cranes and Manzanelli vacuum lifters at each machine. This allows a single operator to load and unload the slabs and pieces by himself.”
As for saving on material, RocHenge utilizes 100% of the material that enters the company’s facility. “We will make tables out of the larger remnants, and various products such as a wine bottle holder from the sink cutouts and smaller pieces. The really small pieces are used for construction materials.”
RocHenge purchases its slabs from various sources, including area distributors. “We also import from overseas,” said Kingston, adding that the company has an employee and an office set up in China for handling overseas operations.
Some current projects include work for the RocHenge Conference Center at Coors Field in Denver, which is home to baseball’s Colorado Rockies. This project includes a large 120-foot, six-color inlaid mountain scene - cut from stone using the waterjet.
“We also completed mock-up rooms for the Ameristar Hotel and Casino being built in Blackhawk, CO,” said Kingston. “We will start work on the tile and slab portion of the 33-story, five-star hotel later this year.”