Changing with the times

January 17, 2002
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Cold Spring Granite Co. of Cold Spring, MN, has been operating for more than 100 years. The company currently has more than 30 quarries, located throughout the country including Carnelian granite.


The Granit Bronz division --located in Foundry West --is equipped with two drill machines.
Upon entering Cold Spring, MN --a little town situated about 75 miles outside of Minneapolis --its strong ties to the land become apparent. Rich in granite, Cold Spring is home to one of the largest quarriers and fabricators in the U.S. --Cold Spring Granite Co. And besides the fact that the company bears the town’s name, the land’s resources are reflected in the architecture of the area.

Cold Spring Granite, which remains a family-owned business, was established in 1898. Through the years, the company has continued to expand and improve its operation. With approximately 1,230 employees today --including a number of third- and fourth- generation craftsmen --the company has over 30 quarries and 24 individual manufacturing facilities in five areas of North America. In addition to Cold Spring, MN, these locations include Marble Falls, TX; Raymond, CA; Lake Placid, NY; and Lac du Bonnet, Manitoba, Canada. The company’s quarries and operations span more than 18,000 acres and occupy over 1.2 million square feet of manufacturing space.

One contributing factor to the success of Cold Spring Granite is the loyalty of its workers. The company has established the Cold Spring Granite Chairman’s Club, which recognizes employees with 25 years or more of service. Currently, there are over 190 employees throughout the company that are members of this elite group. These workers can be recognized by the special green helmets that they wear on the job.

Among the products available from Cold Spring are mausoleums.

Continuous improvement

But although dedicated workers are a necessity, success also hinges on a strong company methodology. As a result, Cold Spring Granite is making efforts to become a lean manufacturing organization. Introduced in 1999, Cold Spring Granite’s strategy is patterned after Toyota Motor Corp’s, which is considered to be the world model. Cold Spring Granite also utilizes the time-based management methods taught by the TBM Consulting Group, headed by CEO Anand Sharma, who was recently named a "hero of manufacturing" by Fortune magazine.

"We started a very aggressive campaign to be a better company," said Linda Mathiasen, Cold Spring’s corporate communications specialist. "During the last five to six years, we spent $50 million updating with new plants and new equipment. In 1999, we expanded our continuous improvement efforts to include lean manufacturing principles. Our goal is to increase productivity and flexibility by reducing waste while at the same time improving customer satisfaction."

The concept behind lean manufacturing is to eliminate wasteful non-value added processes throughout the organization. This will assist Cold Spring Granite in fulfilling orders and customers’ needs while using a minimum of labor, space, equipment and raw materials. The primary objective is to focus on what provides value to the customer, resulting in an improvement in quality, cost and delivery, according to the company.

Cold Spring Granite’s lean management program is continually evolving. Continuous improvement is practiced through "kaizen events," which is the Japanese equivalent for "continuous improvement." Each week the company forms kaizen teams, which are comprised of workers from various departments as well as non-employees --including customers and suppliers. Each team sets out to achieve specific goals to reduce inventory and floor space, increase productivity and reduce lead-time.

"Part of our corporate goal is to increase flexibility," said Chief Financial Officer Gregory Flint. "We’re starting to get some national recognition. I was at a conference where Boeing and Maytag wanted to know what we’re doing. It’s a little overwhelming that all the companies that we perceived as big are now looking at us."

According to Flint, one of the company’s primary focuses is improving delivery to meet customers’ expectations 100% of the time, even if delivery differs from the date set at the time of the order. Cold Spring’s Minnesota operation is separated into three divisions --MonuWest, Granite West and Foundry West. In July, it was reported that the 130,000-square-foot MonuWest plant yielded a 100% on-time manufacturing record for 25 consecutive weeks. For nearly half a year, 34,000 memorials and monuments --with different specifications requested by customers --were manufactured on time and delivered to thousands of destinations across the country. Cold Spring’s other plants are also successfully working towards a 100% on-time performance.

Before implementing lean manufacturing, Cold Spring Granite was certified for the ISO 9001 standard for quality management on March 12, 1996. According to the company, ISO creates the foundation for other improvements to occur. It was re-certified for another three years in 1999. Every six months, the company is audited to ensure compliance to this widely recognized international standard.

"As part of ISO, we developed a mission statement," said John Mattke, vice president and general manager of the Cold Spring Granite Memorial Group. "We went through a pretty exhaustive process. We have to know what our customers need and want in order to satisfy them. [And] we’re talking about all the things that a customer needs and not just what the product looks like. We really went from looking at our own little world to how we can broaden the value stream to help our customers. Whatever they need, we’re going to find it for them."

The quarries

Over 14,000,000 gross cubic feet of material is quarried annually by Cold Spring Granite.

The company’s quarries are scattered throughout the country. These areas include California, Minnesota, New York, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Ontario and Manitoba, Canada.

In total, the company has 55 front-end loaders for removing 20- to 30-ton blocks from its quarries. Over 350 trucks deliver raw material and ship finished goods from Cold Spring’s facilities each week.

The company operates approximately 118 drill rigs. Of those, about 70 are in the northern region and 48 in the southern region. In total, Cold Spring operates six slot drills --two hydraulic and four pneumatic. Additionally, it uses about 75 primary drills --70 hydraulic and five pneumatic; and 37 secondary drills, including 31 hydraulic and five pneumatic.

Down the road from the company’s headquarters are the Rockville White quarries, which sit across the street from one another. Rockville #1, as it is called, is about 100 years old. At the time of Stone World’s visit, it was inactive, but quarrying was scheduled to begin again on November 1, 2001, according to Quarry Manager Mark Roettger, who added that both quarries stretch across approximately 30 acres.

The Rockville #2 quarry typically produces about 20,000 cubic feet of material per month, which is used for structural building, mausoleums and markers. There are two slot drills and several Tamrock primary drills on site. "Slot drilling is something new for us," said the quarry manager. "We changed because we were hurting our yields with L-blasting. We’ve taken our yields from a low 30% to about 41%," he said. "The real benefit is going to be the next layer. Hopefully we will move there next summer."

The improvement at the quarry is due to the introduction of lean manufacturing. New methods have been implemented to save time and money. "We now free loaves, but do not extract the blocks until we get a customer’s request," said Roettger. "It allows us to do more cut-to-size rather than having blocks that sometimes don’t fit the size that is needed."

Another way the company has found to save on fuel is to build a block yard right on site. "We load right from the quarry to save time and money," said Roettger. "Another significant change over the last two years has been breaking up waste and selling it to a company to be used for aggregate and asphalt. It used to be just piled up." The quarry manager explained that Cold Spring stockpiles the material, which is broken down about every two or three months. A company then comes in twice a year to crush the stone.

According to Roettger, Cold Spring also designs and builds its own drill unit. "It’s a trimmer drill with a 360-degree rotation and 40-foot extension on the boom, which give it a lot of ability" he said, adding that the company began building drills in the mid-1990s. "We’ve built about 19 trimmer drills so far, and there is at least one at almost every quarry."

MonuWest

The MonuWest facility, which was designed for memorial fabrication, was opened in January 1997. "The ultimate goal for this plant is to never put [the finished product] on the ground," said John Mattke. "We finish it, put it on the truck and get it to the customer." According to Mattke, there is a slab inventory yard directly outside, and blocks are kept in the building, where a slab of a particular color can be cut when needed. "An exclusive agreement with Gem Granites of India allows us to supply many more colors," he said.

The fabricating process begins with the 19-head Breton polishing line. "This is a good piece of equipment," said Mattke. "It can lift heads high to polish thick pieces of stone." At first, only one side is polished because the stone then goes to the hydraulic splitter. Next, the granite material is separated by memorial style and sent by conveyor to the coordinating production line.

After going through the splitters, the bases need to be rock pitched. A Thibaut 502 will then polish the second side of the piece. Additional equipment in MonuWest includes a Thibaut 630 flat edge polisher, a Pellegrini diamond wire saw, a Thibaut 305 that takes diamond drum cuts and then polishes, a Thibaut radial edge grinder and radial edge polisher as well as various other machines. The factory also includes some machinery made by Cold Spring itself. "In the early days, we made our own machinery," said Mattke. "At some point, we decided we would have to either sell equipment competitively or get out of it. So, we got out of it and now only make specialty machines."

According to Mattke, the layout of MonuWest was revamped to better utilize the space. "A lot of what we have been doing in implementing lean is setting up different cells where people can work back-to-back and help each other out rather than waiting around," he said. Currently, 110 employees work in the factory, including the night shift. Typically 12 to 14 workers comprise the night shift to monitor the automated equipment.

Last year, MonuWest produced over 100,000 pieces. Products included standard and custom designed upright monuments, grass markers, slants and hickeys, benches and signage.

Granite West

The Granite West facility, which spans across 126,000 square feet, opened in January 1986. The majority of the work produced includes cladding, veneer, edge polishing, paving, cut-to-size and slab finishing. Approximately 12 to 15 truckloads of products are shipped from the facility each week.

In 1999, Cold Spring introduced VantageTM slabs, which are primarily used in kitchen and bath countertop fabrication. The Vantage line is capable of loading, honing, heating, applying resin and curing granite slabs semi-automatically. According to the company, Vantage slabs are stronger and less porous than untreated natural stone. Slab color is enhanced to produce a deeper, richer color, while improving color consistency from slab to slab.

Before entering the Vantage line, slabs are cleaned to remove any dust particles. A thin layer of resin is applied and vacuum sealed to the partially finished slab surface to fill any micro-fissures and /or pits that may be present. After the resin has cured, the slab goes through the rest of the finishing process to achieve a high polish or smooth honed surface. Less than one percent of the exposed surface is resin, Cold Spring reports.

Also in 1999, the company created cells within Granite West to focus on reducing lead times by utilizing a one-piece flow. Within these cells, pieces are anchored, washed, blunted and bundled. "Each cell we have, from a manufacturing standpoint, shows how we are doing," said George Schnepf, vice president and general manager/commercial division. "Using lean principles, we look at what’s adding value. We’re constantly encouraging our employees to identify what is the best way to perform their jobs and make needed adjustments on a daily basis."

According to Schnepf, the lean manufacturing program is giving the company room for expansion. In 2000, six new Barsanti gangsaws were added to the Granite West facility, making for a total of 12. Additionally, Cold Spring’s factory in Texas also is equipped with four Barsanti gangsaws.

Granite West also includes a water-texturing machine, which was installed in 2000. This piece of equipment provides another option for achieving a thermal-like finish. It will waterblast any desired finish or texture onto the surface of 6- x 8-foot slabs. Among other equipment housed in the plant are a Park Industries Jaguar gantry diamond saw; the Breton Cat saw, which is designed to produce large quantities of cut-to-size pieces of the same dimension; a Marmo Meccanica LCV 711M edge polishing machine; a Hensel diamond saw, mostly used for odd sizes and pieces that are smaller than 12 x 12 inches; and a CMPI edge treatment machine, which produces bevels, bullnoses, polished heads and radial edges.

Foundry West

Granit Bronz, Cold Spring Granite’s bronze product line, employs approximately 100 workers as well as in-house sales, customer service, data entry and design. The first phase of the new bronze foundry was completed in the fall of 1998. It consists of 24,255 square feet and includes the finishing portion of the bronze process, including trimming, sandblasting, painting, powder coating, finishing, final inspection and shipping. Phase two is expected to begin the spring of 2002, which will include the production of a bronze plate from set-up through pouring.

Granit Bronz sells and manufactures flat bronze memorials, pre-assembled bronze-on-granite memorials, crypts and niche front plaques, bronze vases and bronze signage.

Cold Spring Granite adapted to lean manufacturing in order to be globally competitive, according to John Mattke. "It’s something we never had to think about 30 years ago," he said. "ISO certification helped us control. We needed to standardize. What [Cold Spring] was doing for so long wasn’t wrong. It was good manufacturing, but times have changed."

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