Large-Scale Production / Quarrying Sites / International Coverage

A culture of quality and craftsmanship

April 2, 2012
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Walking through the facilities at Burlington Slate Ltd.’s headquarters in Kirkby-in-Furness, Cumbria, England — where its processing plants and largest quarry are located — workers in the location’s various sectors have clearly been instilled with similar values of providing a high-end product with consideration for the environment as well as employee health and safety. With this dynamic in place, the company is honoring its rich history in stoneworking, while also maintaining a keen eye on the future.

Burlington’s operation in the U.K. includes several stoneworking facilities at the Kirkby-in-Furness location, including plants for architectural products, tiles and roofing slate. The company operates a total of six different quarries in the Lake District, all of which are located within 15 miles of one another: Kirkby, Brandy Crag, Broughton Moor, Bursting Stone and Elterwater for slate, along with Baycliff, which yields two varieties of limestone.

The company was formed in 1843 by William Cavendish — the Second Earl of Burlington, later to become the 7th Duke of Devonshire — who brought together a group of independent quarrymen. It remains a family-owned business under the stewardship of Lord and Lady Cavendish, residents of nearby Holker Hall, who retain an active interest in the business today.

The stone being processed by Burlington is estimated to have been formed 450 million years ago, and there is evidence of quarrying activity dating back 450 years. “Early quarrying was done using dynamite, and it was taken out of the quarry with horses and carts,” explained Nick Williams, Sales & Marketing Director for Burlington. “The advent of the steam engine led to growth where the material was being transported by train and ship.”

Roofing slate was the first product created from Burlington’s material, and it remains widely popular in the U.K. “High-quality green slate was rare, so examples of this roofing material could be found around the world where the British Empire was in place,” Williams, said. “As an exemplar for so many years prior to testing methods, this shows the material in the hardest use — roofing slate — in the harshest environments. There are many examples of 200-year-old roofs, and some of them are even being reused.”

In the late 1950s, the company moved into production of architectural products, such as tiles and slabs, and it began using more automated processes. “There is a good economic reason for this, since much of the stone is well suited for architectural production,” Williams explained. “One of out four tons can be split into roofing, and our quarrymen pick the areas where stone will be extracted for roofing slate. We want to maximize our use of every piece of rock, and the Kirkby quarry is a very deep hole, so quarrying is expensive.”

Quarrying for the future

Quarrying operations are also conducted to ensure long-term prosperity. “We have plenty of reserves, but we are careful with them,” Williams said. “We look at the quarries and say, ‘Where do we want to be in 10 years?’ Our quarry methods focus on the long term, minimizing waste while also keeping it safe. We believe that we have plenty of life in our quarries because we manage them properly.”

In planning the quarry operations, company management examines specific projects that have been sold, along with anticipated projects, and it extracts material accordingly. “We quarry based upon need as opposed to building stock. This is why planning is key,” Williams said. “We need to have everything in place.”

Geological surveys are also regularly conducted to determine the direction for future quarrying operations within a site.

Each of Burlington’s quarries uses diamond wire sawing technology, which maximizes yield and minimizes waste and environmental impact. The process involves the drilling of two holes in the rock face, which are then fed with a diamond wire that is gradually retracted horizontally to ensure that rock is released from the face in as gentle a way as possible. Once undercut, the entire section of rock is split into more manageable sizes.

Although blasting takes place during the process, its low velocity of detonation causes minimal effect on the rock itself. The blocks (or clogs) are then transported to be processed into roofing, architectural or landscaping products.

Additionally, noise and dust created during Burlington’s quarrying and crushing operations are controlled by the fitting of modern silencers on capital equipment and by the deployment of water dust suppression on haul-roads and machinery.

Pieces are sorted at the quarry site and classified as architectural or roofing products. There are a total of 14 quarry workers permanently in place at the company’s Kirkby site — the company’s largest — while other crews move among the various quarry sites as needed.

Stoneworking operations

Working from blocks that measure 2 to 3 meters in length, the company operates several gangsaws as well as multiple Van Voorden block saws, which can accommodate circular blades as large as 2.5 meters in diameter.

After the blocks are sawn, products are cut to specific sizes using a range of equipment, including a B.V. multi-head cutter, a complete Simec tile line and a collection of bridge saws that includes models from Gregori, Bisso and Zambon as well as a computerized saw from Denver.

Specialty work is done using equipment such as a Thibaut T108 radial arm workstation for custom vanities and countertops and a Counterbreton NC120 CNC for projects with repetitive pieces, such as hotels.

Architectural products from Burlington are available with a range of surface finishes, including gritblasted, flame textured, honed, spot textured, sanded,         line textured, riven cleft, waterjet, brushed and polished. To this end, the company has two flaming and bushhammering units from Pellegini.

In addition to investing in modern equipment, Burlington’s processing operations rely heavily on the skill and experience of its workers. A total of 29 people work in the production of tiles and architectural pieces, and many of them have been with the company for 20 to 30 years, explained Terry Armistead, Production Manager at Burlington.

Among the many skills of Burlington’s workers, the company has several experts in the process of “riving” — hand-splitting — the natural stone pieces. This procedure is done for both architectural pieces as well as roofing slate. In fact, at the time of
Stone World’s visit to the facility, a worker was hand-splitting slate for an architectural project in Denmark.

For roofing production, the material is sawn into “columns” and then into smaller blocks. These blocks are in turn hand split, and then they move through the threshers to create the desired finished product. In addition to the traditional threshers, Burlington has incorporated modern machinery for roofing production into its operation.

Sales and marketing

From Burlington’s six quarries, the company offers a total of eight named materials — Kirkby Stone, Bursting Stone, Broughton Moor, Brandy Crag, Brandy Crag Silver, Elterwater, Baycliff Caulfeild and Baycliff Lord. Each material is not only distinguished by its rich coloration, but also by contrasting veins and markings that emphasize its natural origin.

Over the years, the sales team at Burlington has developed relationships with construction professionals around the world — including architects, designers and general contractors. One priority of the sales force is to ensure that the materials are being utilized in the proper applications. “We take pride in using the right stone in the right way,” Williams said. “It’s not all about selling stone. When our material is used, it needs to be done in a professional way. This is why we work hard to give range samples and help people really understand the stone. We show them what the stone looks like today and exactly what area of the quarry it is coming from. They can see all of the markings — what we call ‘Nature’s Signature’ — and then determine what is acceptable to them.”

The bulk of the company’s architectural production (about 90%) is for custom projects, with the stone selected specifically from the quarries. An inventory of stone tiles in standard formats such as 12 x 12 and 12 x 24 inches is also maintained, mostly for high-end residential projects.

Overall, roofing comprises approximately 40% of Burlington’s business. Another 15% comes from aggregates and landscape production, and the remainder is architectural products. Approximately 50% of the company’s architectural work is sold internationally — primarily to the U.S. and the Middle East.

Burlington has two employees, Fiona Cameron and Phil Harding, who came over from England to the U.S. in the mid-1980s and have a combined 60 years with the company. With Cameron working out of their office in Plano, TX, and Harding continually on the road, they have developed an extensive historical database of projects, architects, designers and end users.

Ongoing projects in the U.S. include a courthouse in Durham, NC, where the company is working with the general contractor, Whiting Turner. “The stone will be clad into our precast on the outside of our building and our garage,” explained Greg Tadd, Project Manager for Whiting Turner. “It is also hand set on the interior of the building and outside of the building. I was fortunate enough to see the Burlington quarries and their operations plant first hand a few months ago. I can say that I was extremely impressed with their entire operation. They have a tremendous Quality Control Program, and their operations are top notch. The stone is very unique, and Burlington is currently tracking slightly ahead of schedule on this project.”

Speaking on challenges in the marketplace, Harding pointed to the breaking of architectural specifications. “In an increasingly competitive market, it has become more difficult to hold architects’ specifications on established quarries like Burlington Stone, especially with the glut of inexpensive stone being brought into the U.S. and presented as alternatives to the more traditional quarries,” he said. “Having a presence in the U.S. and being able to meet with general contractors and subcontractors goes some way to reduce the chance of specifications being switched, but the costs of quarrying, operating a sophisticated organization, maintaining a high level of health and safety and having a strict environmental policy do have a cost. Sometimes decisions are made to make substitutions to stone companies that do not operate in such a way.”

Sales efforts have been augmented over the past two years by a new Web site, www.burlingtonstone.co.uk, which includes an online brochure. Additionally, the company has developed a new “Burlington App” for iPads and iPhones, which is available free from Apple’s App Store. This online guide is a design tool for architects, interior designers and other specifiers that offers access to information and over 300 images relating to Burlington and its natural stone product offerings.

Central to the App is over 90 high-resolution image samples portraying each of Burlington’s six slates and two limestones. “Probably the single most important attribute of the Burlington App is the unique way in which we can purvey the depth and diversity of our color palette, not just from stone to stone, but within each stone type,” Williams said.

For customers who visit the company’s headquarters in the U.K. — named Cavendish House — Burlington has developed a high-end showroom, which features all of the company’s materials in a range of applications and surface finishes.

Environmental stewardship

Burlington’s focus remains fixed on working as closely as possible with organizations in the U.K. such as the CFNP (Council Forum for National Parks) to ensure that the integrity of the Lake District National Park is preserved for the enjoyment of generations.

Burlington was recently certified for operating an Environmental Management System which complies with the strict requirements of ISO 14001:2004. Additionally, the company is currently in the process of seeking a BREEAM rating for its products.

One goal at Burlington is to utilize 100% of the rock extracted from its quarry operations through the extensive recycling of all waste elements. “Whatever comes out of the ground needs to be used. It is crushed down to different grades — from decorative material to road gravel,” Williams explained. “We are even looking at what can be done with the dust.”

Landscape aggregates — including fines, mulches and paddlestones — are a key element in utilizing as much of the extracted stone as possible, along with traditional and random weathered walling stone.

In addition to these products, a number of initiatives have been introduced to maximize yield from the quarries as well as the production facilities. Among them, the company has begun processing a new material from its Brandy Crag quarry — Brandy Crag Silver — that had previous not been used in production. “While research that we undertook indicated that the softer and more lighter shades that this particular stone delivers were very much in vogue, the interest shown in Brandy Crag Silver by a whole host of homeowners, designers, specifiers and architects has certainly exceeded our expectations,” Williams explained. “It really does offer a unique blend of tones that are difficult to match, and demand for the stone reflects this.”

Additionally, the company has introduced a line of mosaics that is yielded from a process that begins with smaller stone pieces. The new mosaics are suitable for use on walls, floors and as edge or feature detailing, and they can be supplied in range of single colors or mixed materials.

The company also avoids using chemicals and processes that can pollute the environment, and it operates a water harvesting system that sees all water used on the main site recycled. Multiple reservoirs are located on the site, and they supply all of the water at the Kirkby-in-Furness location, even the offices.

Adjacent to the Kirkby quarry site, a wind farm supplies electricity directly into the National Grid.

Wherever possible, old areas of tipped material are being landscaped using a variety of methods. For quarries at higher altitudes, where planting would not be successful, the aim with these is to create a “crag and scree” effect. In this process, tips are being reshaped using smaller waste, with some rock faces being left exposed with the finer material below, thus imitating the natural effects of erosion. This in turn creates an environment where local indigenous plant life has a greater opportunity re-colonize the area.

For quarries at lower levels, the tips are landscaped using fine slate waste mixed with imported soil, and trees are then planted (under schemes agreed with the National Park).

“Our quarries are part of the vernacular of this area, but this is also a big spot for tourism,” Williams explained. “Our employees have lived around this area for generations, and they genuinely care about the area. We are family run, so we are not driven by shareholder value. There is an assurance of quality environmentalism, community and best practices. By adding products and utilizing our stone better, we also sustain the business over the years.”

At the Broughton Moor quarry, a 200-acre tree-planting scheme has been carried out under the Woodland Challenge Fund. This incorporates several species of native woodland, including alder, juniper, sessile oak, rowan and birch.

Additionally, two of Burlington’s quarries are bounded by Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The one at Kirkby is designated because of the heather moorland, and the one at Elterwater was designed for the oak woodland and its associated lichens and mosses. In the case of Elterwater quarry, a program of rhododendron eradication is underway to prevent this invasive plant from spreading into the SSSI.                                                              

SIDEBAR

Health and safety at the forefront 

Among the employees at Burlington Slate’s operation in the U.K., there is a gentleman named Ivan Ivanovic who carries a title that is somewhat unique in the stone industry: Health & Safety/Quality Manager. And after spending some time with this former military professional, who sits on multiple safety boards in the U.K., it is clear that the company is not only taking safety very seriously, but it is also making sure that it is a shared culture among its employees.

Among the many health and safety initiatives at Burlington, including extensive use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), the following measures are in place:

• Watering down of roads and machinery  to suppress dust

• Vacuum extraction on all drills

• A workwear policy in which no workwear leaves the site

• Regular testing of dust masks

• U.V. protection

• A speed limit of 10 mph through the facilities

• Use of a biodegradable chemical that acts as
a coagulant to minimize dust in the quarries

• Use of a specialized gel to minimize blasting during extraction

 

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