Waterjet fabrication on a smaller scale
October 1, 2009
Established in 2003, Vintage Granite of Gilbert, AZ, moved in a new direction when it invested in a waterjet unit for its facility. Today, the three-man shop utilizes more digital technology than ever, and it processes stone for a broad scope of project types.
Vintage Granite was founded by T.J. Sherwood, who already had a background in the construction trade. Although the company started work with a traditional bridge saw, it made the shift to automated technology a couple of years later. “We were cutting stone with an Achilli bridge saw at first, but now our main piece of equipment is the Omax Fabricator waterjet,” Sherwood said. “I’ve had it for over three years. I bought it at the 2005 StonExpo Show, and they delivered it in January of 2006.”
Sherwood explained that a colleague in the fabrication business convinced him to explore the idea of investing in waterjet technology. “We had a friend who had two Flow waterjets, and he really talked them up,” he said. “We bought it to do countertop work, and we also bought an LT-55 laser templater from Laser Products at the same time. We wanted to go more digital.”
According to Sherwood, the investment in new technology allowed him to streamline the company’s production process. “We bought it to simplify operations,” he said. “We didn’t need [physical] templates, and our sinks come out perfect. It eliminates operator error, and our guys only have to router/polish the edge.”
The technology investments also allowed Vintage Granite to diversify its production. “I know in the stone industry, a lot of people don’t like prefabs. But my guys and I can really blow those jobs out with the waterjet and digital templating,” Sherwood said. “I can have the whole job cut and ready for install in 30 minutes unless you need to bullnose an edge or something. Jobs like that are gravy; I wish I had more of them.”
Learning the technologyDespite making a quick transition to digital technology, Sherwood said that learning the new equipment was simple. “It was super-easy; I was surprised,” he said. “Once the trainer from Omax left, I started using the waterjet right after that. I knew enough so that I didn’t have to revert back to the bridge saw. Now, three years later, after using it every day, I have learned some tips and tricks that help me out. It is super fast.
“The ergonomics of the software are simple,” Sherwood continued. “I didn’t have a background in CAD, but everything is where it needs to be, and it is easy to understand. Omax made the CNC to the point where it is simple to get everything done. They give free software upgrades for life, so I never have to pay for an upgrade package. I always have the latest and greatest. Repairs have been easy as well. You can understand each part easily, and every machine is upgradable.”
In terms of templating, all of the work is done using the LT-55. “We use it for everything,” Sherwood said. “It follows the bows in the wall and the out-of-square areas. But no matter what type of kitchen we’re working, it is always the same steps.”
For edgework, Vintage Granite relies on a Hercules portable router from Braxton-Bragg of Knoxville, TN. It also offers laser etching, which is completed using a laser etching unit from Vytek Laser Systems of Fitchburg, MA.
Since the downturn in the economy, Vintage Granite has seen a shift in its client base. “For most of my time, I was doing custom homes. One custom home a week would keep us busy,” Sherwood said. “For the last year, I’ve been doing more condos. It’s been a product of the market. I picked up a condo job with 100 units, and moved into that. But then when jobs like that end, you have to find something to do. Finding work right now can be a real challenge.”
The company’s marketing is basically word of mouth and referral, and it also developed a Web site at www.vintagegranite.com. “The site was designed by John Grant at suggestive.com, and it has drawn some customers as well,” Sherwood said.
Sidebar: Vintage GraniteGilbert, AZ
Type of work: custom residential kitchen countertops and multi-unit condominium projects
Machinery: Fabricator waterjet from Omax of Kent, WA; LT-55 laser templater from Laser Products of Romeoville, IL; Hercules portable router from Braxton-Bragg of Knoxville, TN; laser etching unit from Vytek Laser Systems of Fitchburg, MA
Number of Employees: 3
Production Rate: Depends on type of work being processed; one custom kitchen per week