Industry Insights

Do fabrication shop owners still have skills?

A couple of weeks ago, I attended the Stone Fabricators Alliance (SFA) MegaWorkshop in the St. Louis suburb of Collinsville, IL. In my view, this event is unique in the level of hands-on demonstrations it offers. Although some attendees noted that there was not as much large-scale machinery as last year, there was still a nice variety of equipment operating on the show floor. But for many people at the event, the most intriguing hands-on demonstrations took place inside "The Cage."

No, I'm not talking about a UFC event here. "The Cage" is literally a large area surrounded by a chain link fence on the MegaWorkshop show floor where attendees can test out the hand tools and accessories being showcased at the event. Shop owners/managers squared off against the rank-and-file last month at the "Fabricator Olympics" -- a competition held at the SFA MegaWorkshop in St. Louis, MO.

This year, the organizers of the SFA added a new dimension to the activities within The Cage with the introduction of the "Fabricator Olympics." This initiative tested the skills of stoneworking professionals in three different categories: flat edge polishing, edge profiling and top polishing. A large turnout of competitors entered the program, and it was one of the highlights on the show floor during the event's first two days. I was actually asked to judge the first stage of the competition -- flat edge polishing. At first, I was somewhat hesitant, because I never polished an edge in my life -- flat or otherwise. But then I came to the conclusion that I've seen enough stonework in my day that I can certainly tell good work from bad, so I joined the panel. From my viewpoint in The Cage, I made several observations of the competition:

  • People in this industry are not afraid of competition or showing off their skills. The amount of people taking part in the event kept growing as time went on. 
  • The people who were competing out there really wanted to win. No one was just doing it as a lark.
  • The competitors were a healthy mix of "shop guys" (who spend most of their time standing at a worktable with a grinder in their hands) and owners/managers (who obviously spend much of their time on multiple tasks).

That leads me to the question I posted as the title of this article. Do the shop owners still have the chops to compete side-by-side with the guys who run grinders eight hours per day? I would say that the answer is a resounding "yes." The best craftsmanship in the competition was achieved by both owners/managers as well as shop staff. In fact, two of the three winners came from the owner/manager side. Overall, it was a pretty cool experience to see this competition take place, and I commend the SFA on coming up with this initiative. It would be great to see them take the Fabricator Olympics to other North American trade shows as well, because no matter what else is going on out there, it is important to emphasize the craftsmanship and hand skills that are part of this trade.

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