Advancing the stone tradition of Southern Spain

August 22, 2001
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The quarries that dot the landscape of Southern Spain serve as ample testament to the region's history of stone production. And this stoneworking culture is being maintained by a new generation of quarriers and fabricators who are implementing state-of-the-art machinery.

The focal point of the region's stone culture is the small village of Macael in the region of Andalucia, where quarrying has been part of the culture since Roman times. In fact, one of Spain's most notable historic landmarks - Alhambra, which is located in nearby Granada - is made from Macael marble.

Today, the Macael area of Andalucia has nearly 300 stone producers, and it is growing at a rate of 20% each year. According to Asociacion Provincial de Empresarios del Marmol (APEM), the business association for the stone producers, a total of 1.83 million tons of stone is being extracted each year, and the annual turnover is $237 million. Moreover, to ensure continued success for the industry, firms have invested nearly $230 million in new technology, according to the association.

The most common and popular stone from the region is Macael White marble, which comes in many different varieties. Over recent years, yellow marble from the region has also gained popularity. APEM reports that in 1999, 1.05 million tons of Macael White were quarried, along with 237,000 tons of other white varieties, and 538,000 tons of colored marble. On the fabrication side, the region produced 10.82 million square meters of material in 1999.

The quarries themselves actually belong to the government, and they are leased to the companies for 5-year terms. The quarries operate year-round, and all of the quarry roads and electrical systems are owned by the government. To keep the area pleasing to the residents, there are strict environmental rules being developed regarding the replanting of trees.

Often, several different firms can be found working the same deposit. The colors within a single quarry can vary a great deal, requiring experience and careful attention by the quarry master.

Standard equipment for quarrying includes front loaders and diamond wire saws. In extracting the stone, blasting occurs first, and then a backhoe is used to clear the waste. Then the vertical cuts are made with the diamond wire saws. Large beds of marble are freed from the quarry face, and are pushed onto massive piles of dirt, which cushions the impact. Then, the diamond wire saws produce square blocks.

One of the biggest challenges for quarriers in Macael is the large overburden that covers the quarrying sites. Even in the valleys, there is tremendous overburden. But despite the obstacles, the quarriers use 100% of the production from the quarries, according to APEM. By-products from the quarries are used for crushed and granulated stone products. The quarriers work together and store waste in a general area, where it literally forms a man-made mountain.

Also, some stone suppliers utilize the darker material that is removed from the top of a deposit, which is a mica-schist. This material is cut into a cleft-faced product, which the producers refer to as "slate." It is primarily used for landscape applications in Northern Spain.

The history of stoneworking in the Macael region has given rise to other aspects of the trade. In addition to standard quarrying and fabrication, local firms have been producing specialty items, mosaics and architectural projects, and they are also importing stone materials and even manufacturing engineered stone products. A recent press tour, sponsored by the Andalucia Government (CdeA) and the Chamber of Commerce of the City of Almeria, offers a sampling of these companies:

Tino Stone Group

The Tino Stone Group is comprised of multiple branches that cover all aspects of the business, including quarrying, fabrication, subcontracting and installation. Tino Canteras, S.L. is the branch of the group that does the quarrying. And while it is one of the largest quarriers in Macael, it also quarries marble, limestone and sandstone throughout Spain, and it has joint ventures with quarries in foreign countries. Additionally, it holds contractual agreements with many others for the supply of rough blocks.

Quality control is a major concern during quarrying, and a company specialist catalogs and classifies each block to ensure precise continuity of tone. Tino maintains an elaborate block storage system, and the company stocks blocks in Spain as well as in Carrara, Italy.

The fabrication is done by Tino M?oles, S.L., which operates three marble factories in the Macael area. In the slab and tile plant, a Barsanti slab polisher and a Barsanti tile line run side by side. These machines were purchased a little over one year ago.

In addition to producing tiles and slabs, Tino specailizes in architectural projects. At the time of Stone World's visit, the company was working on such projects as the Hotel Sofitel in Dubai, which was designed by Hirsch Bedner Associates of Atlanta, GA, and utilizes Amarillo Parador; and the Oriental Mandarin Hotel in Miami, which is designed with Amarillo Triani. The company also fabricated stone for several Hyatt Hotels, including two in China and one in Warsaw, Poland, as well as a Westin Hotel in Dublin, Ireland.

For these projects, the company fabricates custom architectural elements such as vanities and reception desktops as well as cladding and fluted columns. When shipping stone for a custom project, the company makes its own crates to precisely fit the sizes being produced.

Equipment for cut-to-size work includes a Pellegrini RW 2100 computer-controlled diamond wire saw, four GMM Tenca bridge saws, one GMM Axia 38 bridge saw and a Pellegrini flaming and bushhammering machine.

Approximately 60% of the company's business comes from within Spain, although the company also has a strong presence in the U.S., where it has 16 distributors. Currently, the U.S. comprises 20% of Tino's sales, and its goal is to increase this figure to 40% in the near future. The company's annual turnover is $43 million.

Cosentino

Established in 1980, three generations of the same family have worked for Cosentino. Since its origin, Cosentino has quarried the stone in Macael, and it has expanded to quarry other Spanish materials such as Tranco, Perlado, Marron Emperador and Amarillo Indalo. The company also imports material, such as travertine from Italy and green marble from India.

At present, Cosentino has eight quarries in full production, including six in Macael and two others. Using modern equipment and experienced quarrying personnel, the company extracts 20,000 cubic meters of material per year.

The fabrication plants span across an area of over 25,000 square meters, which include several sawing, cutting, calibrating, filling, polishing, bushhammering and special finishing lines. Over the past few years, Cosentino has engaged in a significant investment program for new stone machinery.

Machinery includes six gangsaws from Mapor, a Portuguese firm, and two other gangsaws from Breton. Slabs are processed on Breton machinery, including a Levibreton automated slab polisher. Equipment for cut-to-size work includes Breton bridge saws as well as a Contourbreton NC 760 numerically controlled stoneworking center. Edgework is done with a Syntheses automated edging machine from Comandulli.

In addition to quarried stone, Cosentino began producing Silestone, an engineered stone product, in 1989. Today, Silestone comprises 65% of the company's overall turnover. Recently, it made a $150 million investment in a new plant from Breton. There are three Breton lines producing Silestone in total, comprising one of the largest Bretonstone plants in the world. The company produces 700 slabs measuring 300 x 138 cm per day, and all of the slabs are automatically handled after they are produced.

According to the company, once the Silestone slabs are manufactured, the fabrication process is the same as fabricating granite. However, due to its density, the material is harder to process than marble.

The company exports a total of 65% of its Silestone production and 12% of its natural stone production. In the U.S., where the company operates a sales office in Houston, TX, business is $60 million per year. Some of the most popular products include Silestone for kitchen countertops as well as Marron Imperador and Perlado natural stone in 2 and 3 cm slabs. The company is also starting to produce antiqued tiles for walls in small and large formats. A total of 600 containers were shipped to the US in 2000, and that total is expected to reach 1,000 in 2001.

Marmoles Sotomar S.L.

Established 30 years ago, Marmoles Sotomar S.L. is run by the Martinez Soto family. The company specializes in producing stone tiles in standard sizes of 12 x 12 and 12 x 24 inches, fabricating the white marble of the region as well as imported blocks of Roman travertine. Additionally, the company imports blocks from Greece, Turkey and Spain for the domestic market.

A total of 22 employees work at the plant and adjacent office. Equipment in the fabricating shop includes three blockcutters, including two from Pedrini and one from Barsanti, as well as two tile lines, one from Pedrini and one with components from Pedrini, Donatoni and Arena srl of Italy. In addition, Marmoles Sotomar S.L. has automated packing and material-handling equipment from Socomac.

The manufacturing process starts by moving the blocks to the blockcutters, and then the Socomac equipment automatically moves the finished strips to the tile line. Marmoles Sotomar S.L. produces 700 square meters of material in a 10-hour shift, and the company is looking to increase that total to 1,000 square meters this year. The company exports 40% of its production, including 20% to the U.S.

Crumar

The handworking skills of the employees at Crumar are evident upon entering the company's workshop. The company, which was started in 1989 and has 48 employees, specializes in handcrafted materials such as fireplaces, columns, balustrades, fountains and tables. In addition to producing specific items, Crumar manages architectural projects, such as hotels or restaurants, where the company handles all aspects of the project, such as design, fabrication and installation.

A total of 60% of the material fabricated for Crumar's work comes from within Spain, and the rest is imported from around the world. Work is processed through a combination of automated machinery and skilled handwork. Equipment for sawing includes a bridge saw from Canigo as well as a Micheletti block saw, both manufactured in Spain, as well as several smaller saws. Additionally, the company operates an automated lathe from Omag and several smaller lathes that operate in conjunction with hand tools by the artisans. Etching is done automatically with an Omag 87 M2 engraving machine.

But despite the automated machinery, the company relies heavily on the skill of its workers. When hiring new employees to fabricate the stone, Crumar starts workers with the polishing operations, and then moves them onto the more advanced work as they gain experience.

A total of 80 to 85% of production is exported, mostly throughout Europe, and 10% of production is exported to the U.S. The company is looking to increase its presence in the U.S., and expects to do so with a showroom in Las Vegas, NV, for the American market.

Marmoles Guiterrez Mena, S.A.

Founded in 1955, Marmoles Guiterrez Mena, S.A. has a multi-faceted role as a quarrier and a fabricator of tiles, slabs and cut-to-size pieces. The company has two quarries for White Macael and Yellow Macael marble, and it also has collaboration with other quarries. Marmoles Guiterrez Mena employs a total of 40 workers in the plant and quarries.

The company fabricates stone with Italian machinery, including GMM Tecna 36 bridge saws and a CMPI edging machine. The company also operates a tile line that was manufactured domestically. Prior to entering the fabrication shop, blocks are processed on a BM monoblade saw and Pellegrini wire saw. Smaller blocks are used for tiles, while larger ones are used for slabs and cut-to-size work.

Production totals are 10,000 square meters of tiles and 2,000 square meters of slabs per week. The company is also looking to increase its presence in the cut-to-size market, and it wants projects such as hotels to be a key component of the business. To achieve this,

Marmoles Guiterrez Mena is planning to build a new facility for cut-to-size work with equipment from GMM, Omag and Brembana.

A total of 10% of production is exported, and the company is looking at the U.S. as a potential market in the future.

Jimarsa

Established in 1973, Jimarsa specializes in fabricating marble tiles. The operation stretches across 30,000 square meters, of which 5,000 square meters are dedicated to producing finished products.

A total of 80% of Jimarsa's production is Spanish material, from regions such as Alicante. The remaining 20% of production comes from imported material, particularly Roman travertine.

Blocks are processed on one of four Pedrini blockcutters, and Socomac equipment removes the strips from the blockcutters. For certain stones, the company applies a polyester resin to the strips to strengthen them. A UV light dries the resin, and then the stone is split and moves onto the tile line, which is comprised of components from Pedrini.

The company has 30 workers, and annual production is 200,000 square meters. A total of 85% of production is exported, including 40% to the U.S. According to the company, 700 square meters of material are shipped per day, representing 1 1/2 containers.

Cuellar Arquitectura del Marmol

The strength of Cuellar Arquitectura del Marmol lies in its experience in producing intricate architectural work. The company has four distinct areas of production. The first is specialized projects. A technical department - which is led by two registered architects - assists in project development for residences, hotels and shopping centers. The second area of expertise is columns and balustrades, including ones with polished and antiqued finishes with different capitals. The third area is production of borders, moldings and doorframes, and the fourth area is manufacturing of fireplaces.

Cuellar Arquitectura del Marmol has enjoyed some of its most significant growth over the past few years. It has grown from six employees two years ago to 28 workers in 2000. Additionally, it has won a national prize for architectural achievement on four different occasions.

A total of 70% of the material fabricated at Cuellar Arquitectura del Marmol is from Spain. The work begins with blocks, which are lifted with a crane onto a monoblade saw. From there, the pieces are moved to one of several saws, including a GMM Axia. The facility has four turning lathes for columns and balusters as well as an edging machine. However, the most difficult aspect of fabrication is finding and training workers for the handwork, according to the company. Training for the handcrafted fabrication takes approximately two years, and the shop managers must carefully evaluate the skills of workers to determine which tasks they are suited for.

A total of 20% of the company's work is shipped outside of Spain, including 12% to the U.S. At the time of Stone World's visit, the company was working on two different projects in the U.S. - the offices of Sprint Telephone in Kansas City. MO; and a condominium complex in Bontia Springs, FL. To bolster its worldwide presence, Cuellar Arquitectura del Marmol exhibits at international events such as Coverings in the U.S. and Stone+tec in Nuremberg, Germany. Prior to participating in these exhibitions, all of the company's business came from within Spain.

Jose Sabiote Fernadez, S.L.

A specialist in producing fireplaces and customized sinks, Jose Sabiote Fernadez, S.L. has been in business over 60 years. As an exporter of nearly all its production, the company has a total of 130 employees.

Automated stoneworking is done on one of two CMS Brembana Speed 3 machines. These computer numerically controlled machines perform functions such as milling, contouring and engraving, and they are equipped with a built-in computer for programming. Equipment also includes an Omag saw and turning lathe and a Pellegrini diamond wire saw for cutting curved pieces.

In addition to the advanced machinery, Jose Sabiote Fernadez must pay careful attention to its labor force. Handwork is an integral part of the fabrication process, and each section of the shop has a manager to supervise the work of the craftsmen.

A total of 90% of Jose Sabiote Fernadez's production is exported. The company's main export target is Germany, although 15% of exports also go to the U.S., and the company expects that figure to grow this year. Sinks are especially popular in the U.S., and they are distributed through Allante International of Wilmington, NC, which maintains a stock of sinks at its facility.

Grabados en Marmol

Although Grabados en Marmol was only founded in 1997, the ownership had worked in the marble industry for generations. The company specializes in producing mosaics and borders, and it also fabricates three-dimensional mosaic work. Almost all of the work is custom, and the company works directly with designers on a project.

In executing the work, the design is entered into a personal computer and plotted on paper. Then, skilled artisans assemble the mosaics by hand. A single design can have thousands of pieces. Because the company uses surplus stone from the surrounding factories for its mosaics, the raw material costs are economical.

In addition to mosaics, Grabados en Marmol also sandblasts stone pieces with custom designs. Borders are supplied either polished or unpolished, and stone designs are also done using colored resin filling or gold leaf paint.

A total of eight people work for the company, and the company is just beginning to export to Germany and France. It has explored the Coverings exposition in the U.S., and it has been working with the regional trade association to increase its presence in the international marketplace.

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