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Operator-assisted machines, while less advanced than full CNC machinery, are here to stay in this industry. They are generally much lower priced than fully automatic machines, and they are very familiar to most who have any history in the stone industry. These types of machines are usually developed by individuals seeking a more efficient path to achieving an end process or product.
Operator-assisted machines range from single-use machines like the Blue Ripper and Edgemate tool lines to multi-function machines like the Fab King and the Ghines Systhema fabrication center.
CNC machinery has become the standard for both intricate work and production volume. The ability of CNC saws, waterjets and routers has really expanded the possibilities of what is possible, practical and profitable for fabricators of all sizes.
It is now possible for a small two-man shop to turn out complex stonework in a timely and profitable fashion with the use of a CNC “fabcenter.” A fabcenter is the concept of a CNC saw/router combination for a small shop or modular processing solution for a larger shop. There are many versions available from leading manufacturers in the U.S. and Europe.
It is quite standard for a large-volume shop to have multiple CNC routers and at least one CNC cutting solution (CNC saw or saw/water jet combination). There are many advantages to an automated shop. First is the sheer volume that can be produced. But production is only the tip of the iceberg. An automated CNC shop can track job information through scheduling software, and it can track production through CAD/CAM software.
There is no “perfect time” to buy new machinery; it varies for everyone. There are many things to consider in addition to the actual cost of the machine. There are logistical costs, water, electrical power and air to operate the machine. There will be a learning curve until your crew is up to feeling comfortable with the machine — and so you feel comfortable with them and your $250,000 investment. A new machine will change the dynamic of your shop and perhaps of your workforce, whether it is an operator-assisted machine or a fully integrated CNC setup.
It is certainly exciting to have a new machine in any shop. It is always the buzz of the shop until it becomes standard operating procedure. In my opinion, the best thing a new machine does is that it gets people excited about the stone business. It renews and reinvigorates the morale of a shop like nothing else can, with a positive outlook for the future.