Advanced slab fabrication in Italy

May 5, 2003
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Ten years ago, Grein Italia was established in Verona, Italy, as a branch of its Austrian parent company. Today, the company is establishing a new standard of precision for slab production with state-of-the-art machinery that can process with a tolerance of +/- 0.3 mm (1¿ inch).

The company was developed as a division of Grein, an Austrian company that was founded in 1856 by Ernst Grein. Since being established, the company has grown from a small stoneworking operation in Graz to an international company now being run by its sixth generation.

Grein Italia started with one building and added a second a few years later. It now has 30,000 square meters of space, including 11,000 square meters enclosed, and it imports blocks from around the world. The company's philosophy is to combine Austrian and German mentality with Italian style, according to Michael Cramer, one of Grein Italia's directors.

Approximately 80% of the machinery in the factory is from Breton, including two slab polishing lines and a calibrating line as well as a complete tile processing plant.

Over the past few years, Grein Italia has become involved in processing and marketing precision-calibrated slabs. The company has pointed out several advantages to calibrated slabs, including the following:

  • Joint accuracy is guaranteed to be perfect, with no rebate required to compensate for different thicknesses between two pieces.
  • Processing calibrated slabs on CNC machinery does not require manual touch-ups.
  • Calibrated panels as large as 24 x 24 inches can be produced even in thicknesses less than 3/4 inch, and they can be glued onto any surface without concerns over the joints.
  • Slabs can be used on both sides, with one side polished and the other with a light honed finish.

To create these slabs, block processing begins with the company's four gangsaws from BM, which can accommodate blocks as large as 450 cm wide x 350 cm deep. Raw slabs are then moved from the gangsaws to the calibrating line, a Levibreton KCP. This machine features a total of eight spindles equipped with Tyrolit Vincent diamond rollers that are 180 mm in diameter. This calibrating unit brings the slabs to a lightly honed finish.

From the calibrating line, the slabs move onto the Levibreton KG 3000 polishing unit, which has a total of 21 heads. This machine represents the latest generation of polishing equipment from Breton, and it is considered to be the fastest machine of its kind in the world -- not only in terms of the beam movement, but also in overall production. The bridge moves the spindles across the surface of the slab at a speed of 60 meters per minute, and the machine can process granite at a rate of 110 cm per minute when working with 2-meter-wide slabs.

The spindle-holding bridge is a single piece; therefore the working pressure of the heads on the material is centered each time only along the longitudinal belts of the slabs. The heads are equipped with high-speed diamond rollers for grinding, and the honing-polishing cast-iron units are the result of a new design that contains their weight and increases their rigidity. Moreover, a carefully designed system ensures the raising and lowering of the heads in a split second, with minimal lifting of the heads (a few millimeters) at the entry/exit of slabs, thus providing a better polish of the slab sides and a higher working speed.

To simplify operations, the Levibreton KG 3000 is equipped with a "touch screen" PC interface that operates in a Windows environment, with "APCS" (All Parameter Control System) software. This allows Grein to customize the major working parameters of the unit according to the type of slabs being processed and store them for easy recall.

Starting from blocks, the company can produce 500 square meters of slabs per day, with thicknesses of 2, 3 and 4 cm. Overall, the company can fabricate nearly 130,000 square meters of slabs per year.

In addition to slabs, Grein Italia also fabricates blocks into tiles with a full-scale tile line. For tile production, blocks are processed on one of two Breton blockcutters, an Ortobreton 4EG800 and an Ortobreton 4EG1100. The blockcutters are used to cut the material into "billets" (stone strips). The billets are then automatically delivered to the tile line, which includes a calibrating machine as well as a polisher with 18 polishing heads.

The company also processes cut-to-size architectural work, which is cut primarily with two bridge saws.

Grein Italia maintains 80,000 square meters of finished slabs in stock as well as 3,000 cubic meters of block material. It carries a total of 160 materials, including many new and exotic materials.

The company has a total of 48 people working in house and 10 more outside sales representatives. The annual turnover for Grein Italia is $20 million per year, and overall turnover for the group is $50 million. The company's breakdown of production is 70% slabs, 15% tiles and 15% cut-to-size work. Grein Italia seeks to do two or three major architectural projects each year, along with smaller custom work such as stairways and other elements.

Cramer explained that the company's philosophy is to sell on the basis of quality rather than price, which can separate them from other European competitors. One of company's fastest growing markets is the U.S., where it sells to manufacturers, particularly fabricators of kitchen countertops. These clients, Cramer said, will purchase anywhere from two to five containers at a time.

American consumers have become particularly interested in Grein Italia's production as it has become more educated, Cramer said. "The U.S. market has more understanding of natural stone than ever before," he said. "I think Americans are becoming very similar to the Germans in terms of quality."

To assist with direct marketing, a new concept for the company -- Grein Forum -- was introduced during last year's Marmomacc Fair. This modern showroom idea intends to make the process of purchasing stone more enjoyable for customers. The contemporary, open showroom features ample lighting and soft music to make the experience more pleasant for clients.

Additionally, the company offers an award for the best project using materials purchased from Grein Italia. The most recent winner was a bank project in Azul Macauba, which was the largest project of its kind in the world.

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