FABRICATOR CASE STUDIES: Taking the Plunge into Stone Fabrication

March 13, 2006
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Five years ago, Eric Kirby decided to branch out on his own and open Apex Surfaces, a 7,500-square-foot fabrication operation in Harmony, PA, which outputs eight kitchens a day.

With the experience gained from working for a solid surface business, the owner of Apex Surfaces in Harmony, PA, decided to branch out on his own and start a stone fabricating operation

> Five years ago, Eric Kirby set out to start his own fabrication business. With minimal equipment and staff, he was averaging about one kitchen a week. Since that time, his company, Apex Surfaces, has grown tremendously. And with a state-of-the-art facility, the company's production capacity continues to increase -- making for a prosperous operation.

The company's most recent investment is a Tri-Axe Warrior II bridge saw, which was bought from Sommer and Maca Industries of Cicero, IL.
“I was working for a solid surface fabricator in the area,” said Kirby. “He was looking at the concept of selling natural stone. He had me put the whole package together for him, but in the end, he couldn't do it. So I decided to do it on my own.”

The fabricator explained that he only had one employee at first to assist him. “I started with a rail saw, router and pick-up truck,” he said. “It was a very basic set-up. At that time, we were doing about one kitchen a week.”

According to Kirby, the new bridge saw has significantly increased Apex Surfaces' production capacity.
Apex Surfaces' fabrication operation is currently housed in a 7,500-square-foot building, which is located in Harmony, PA. “About 99% of our business is kitchens,” said Kirby. “We've grown quite a bit [since our start]. Now, we do about eight kitchens a day.”

The facility is equipped with two Denver Quota CNC machines, which were purchased from Vic International; a Montresor Luna 740 edging machine, supplied by Salem Stone; and two Globo Simplicity saws. The most recent addition to the shop is a Tri-Axe Warrior II bridge saw, which was bought from Sommer and Maca Industries.

The facility is also equipped with two Denver Quota CNC machines, which were supplied by Vic International of Knoxville, TN.
According to Kirby, the new Sommer and Maca bridge saw has definitely helped with production. “It has automotive cutting features,” he said. “It has greatly increased the number of slabs that we can produce. It is heavy duty and has an increased cutting speed. It can process twice the number of slabs than a low-speed saw.”

Slabs are also cut with one of two Globo Simplicity saws.
Currently, the company operates one shift. It has grown to include 39 employees, of which nine work in the shop. “We are in the stages of setting up a second shift,” said Kirby. “We hope to by early to late spring.”

In addition to the shop workers, Apex Surfaces also has four full-time installation crews. While installers still use traditional Luan plywood for templating at jobsites, the company has invested in a Stealth digitizer from BVH Gregg about a year ago as well as an electronic templating system from Etemplate System Tri-Tech Solutions, Inc. four months ago.

With 99% of the company's business comprised of the kitchen countertop market, a Montresor Luna 740 edging machine from Salem Stone of Winston-Salem, NC, is a key component in the production process.
“We have been playing for about a year [with digitizers],” said the fabricator. “The biggest problem is finding personnel that is confident to do it in the field. There are some training issues. [Digitizing] does change the business from start to finish, but it is not a quick change.”

Recently, Apex Surfaces completed a large-scale project for a new Marriott Hotel, which was built in Pittsburgh, PA. Among the fabrication work was furnishing vanity tops for the hotel's restrooms.

Keeping up with the demand

Apex Surfaces is currently in the process of building a 15,000-square-foot facility. “Our goal right now is basically to make more room,” said Kirby. “We are focusing on completing that move. Our biggest problem now is space for finished products.”

According to the fabricator, the company also intends to add two more CNC machines to its new facility, which is expected to be ready in August of this year. “We are keeping up with the demand,” he said.

The job also required making a 12-foot-long granite tabletop for a conference room.
Presently, the company maintains an inventory of between 300 to 500 slabs, but has plans of increasing to 700 to 900. “We get a lot from internal stockyards,” said Kirby. “We're just now starting to import ourselves. We are in the very beginning stages of that. It's part of the new process.”

Additionally, the company provided the stone tops in the Marriott registration area.
While kitchens comprise the majority of the company's business, Apex Surfaces did recently complete a large commercial project. “It's very atypical for us,” said Kirby. “It was a Marriott hotel in Pittsburgh.” The job included fabricating pieces for the hotel's restaurant, bar and two conference rooms - including a 12-foot conference table. Additionally, the company fabricated two fireplaces and the countertop for the registration desk.

Overall, Apex Surfaces' market spans a 150-mile radius. Located about 20 minutes outside of Pittsburgh, its territory ranges into parts of West Virginia and as far east as State College, PA.

Apex Surfaces

Harmony, PA

Type of work: Primarily kitchens, some commercial work

Machinery: two Denver Quota CNC machines purchased from Vic International of Knoxville, TN; a Montresor Luna 740 edging machine supplied by Salem Stone of Winston-Salem, NC; a Tri-Axe Warrior II bridge saw purchased from Sommer and Maca Industries of Cicero, IL; two Globo Simplicity saws; a Stealth digitizer from BVH Gregg Inc. of Missouri City, TX; and a digitizing templating system from Etemplate System Tri-Tech Solutions, Inc. of Raleigh, NC

Number of Employees: 39

Production Rate: 8 kitchens a day

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