Latin America:
A stoneworking culture in the mountains of Brazil

September 18, 2001
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Riding along the two-lane roadways out of the city of Vitoria, Brazil, the numerous cattle farms gradually mix with stoneworking operations. And a tour of the seemingly endless mountain ranges of Espirito Santo clearly shows how this state has been able to provide an extensive range of granite colors to the U.S. market.

A recent press tour, organized by Milanez & Milaneze of the Cachoeiro Marble & Granite Fair, offers a sampling of these companies:



Granasa

Tucked deep within the mountains of northern Espirito Santo is the city of Nova Ven?a, which has a rich tradition in producing natural stone. And this tradition is carried on by companies such as Granasa - Granitos Nacionais Ltda., which quarries Giallo Veneziano granite at a massive quarry on the outskirts of town.

Although Granasa has 11 different quarries, the site for Giallo Veneziano - one of the region's best-known materials - is the most important, according to Weverton Robson Zizinho of Granasa. The quarry produces 4,000 cubic meters of this stone per month, and it has been in operation for 20 years. A total of 96 people are working in Nova Ven?a, and as testament to the importance of stoneworking to the community, over 60% of the employees have been there for more than 16 years.

In extracting the stone, Granasa can be working up to a total of 14 different sites within the quarry at a single time. The stone is freed with a combination of drilling, blasting and diamond wire saws. Once sections of the quarry are exposed, diamond wire saws are used to free large walls of stone from the quarry face. These large pieces of stone are then broken down into rough blocks with drills.

The rough blocks are then delivered from the top of the mountain to the processing plant at the base. Material to be sold as blocks is trimmed on one of several diamond

wire saws, while material to be sold as slabs is processed

on one of six gangsaws - including two from Gaspari Menotti of Italy and four made by Brazilian firms, MGM and Cimef.

A total of 3,000 cubic meters of the monthly production is exported in block form. Blocks are shipped from the Vitoria port, and export targets include the U.S. as well as European destinations. Additionally, 500 cubic meters of material per month is used for sawn slabs, and the rest is fabricated into polished slabs at a plant in Vitoria. In addition to Giallo Veneziano, the company processes blocks of other materials, and it produces 10,000 square meters of these materials per month, all for the domestic market.

Looking to the future, the company is taking a number of steps to ensure that the quarry site will be prosperous for years to come. It maintains a large library of core drilling samples from the Giallo Veneziano site as well as other quarries to gauge the direction of future mining. Additionally, the company has taken strides to maintain the ecology of the areas surrounding the quarry and minimize environmental impact.

Rocha Branca

Also located near Nova Venec? Rocha Branca Minera? Com?io e Exporta? Ltda. operates a quarry for Samoa Light granite. The material has a predominantly yellow tone, although some sections of the quarry also produce a white material.

The quarry, which is only two years old, yields a total of 1,900 cubic meters of material per month. To extract the stone, oxygen burners create large vertical channels in the quarry, and diamond wire saws are also used to make smaller vertical cuts. Large sections of the quarry wall are then separated from the quarry face, and they are then formed into blocks.

A total of 40 workers are present at the site, and the company is presently working three different areas of the quarry. Most of the production is exported, particularly the yellow material. A major export target is Taiwan, where the granite is used for applications such as kitchen countertops.

Marbrasa

The ISO 9002 certification achieved by Marbrasa M?ores e Granitos do Brasil Ltda. in Cachoeiro is a benchmark for Brazilian stone companies, as it is the first company in the stone business to receive such an endorsement. The company, which has been in business for 32 years, was recommended for certification by Inmetro (in Brazil) and by ANSI-Rab QMS (in the U.S.) and certified by Bureau Veritas Quality International.

Marbrasa is part of the Itapemirim Group, a conglomerate of companies in several segments of business, from farming and cattle raising to tourism, dairy products, lumber and transportation, chaired by noted Brazilian entrepreneur Camilo Cola.

The 45,000-square-meter fabrication plant in Cachoeiro has recently undergone a $3.5 million investment program, which increases production capacity to 55,000 square meters per month. New equipment includes eight Barsanti gangsaws from Italy, which are so advanced that they will produce 50% more than the former 30 old gangsaws, according to the company.

Slabs are processed on Breton slab-polishing equipment from Italy, and the stone goes directly from the gangsaws to the polishing area to storage by means of automated equipment. The sides of the slabs feature a color-coding pattern that denotes the lot and sequencing of the material. This way, if there is a problem with a slab, the customer and the company can quickly determine exactly where and when the stone was quarried and fabricated.

In addition to slabs, the Cachoeiro factory fabricates stone for architectural projects. For this work, the company features advanced machinery such as a Contourbreton NC 120 numerically controlled stoneworking center for cut-to-size pieces and a Comandulli edging machine. Marbrasa has also created a technical department, which works on AutoCAD, for custom projects.

Another significant investment has been new equipment for producing tiles. This new machinery, strategically located near the quarries, is designed to produce 40,000 square meters per month, with $8 million invested. The production will be doubled after

the first year of installation, according to Marbrasa.

Marbrasa's finished products have been used on projects in Italy, Spain, Portugal, the U.S., Canada, the Middle East and several other countries.

All of the production in the factories is from blocks produced in the company's quarries. By continually investing in the quarrying process to ensure quality blocks, and by only using their own quarries, they have assurances of quality and availability, according to Marbrasa.

The company has a total of 15 quarries, mostly in Espirito Santo, with some others in Bahia for green and yellow varieties. Each quarry produces between 400 and 800 cubic meters per month, depending how much the rainfall hampers quarrying. Materials include Verde Butterfly, Verde Labrador, Acqua Verde and Ouro Brasil.

At its quarrying operations, Marbrasa has also shown concern for the surrounding landscape, as it employs a team of environmental consultants to treat the quarrying areas with a mixture of biofertilizers and seeds, which are blown into the air by a tanker truck that once belonged to the Brazilian Army. Additionally, a press filter enables the company to process the slurry from the gangsaws, separating it into recycled water and solid material which is compacted into small filter cake blocks. This replaces the old sedimentation ponds, and eases transport of waste.

To ensure the long-term success of its work force, Marbrasa's employees are eligible to take part in a comprehensive yearly program of training, updating and professional qualification courses. Additionally, the company has created a school, in cooperation with the state government, which is expected to graduate 80 employees this year who had not yet completed high school. Students are released early from their work from Monday through Friday to attend classes.

Mag-Ban

Mag-Ban M?res e Granitos Aquidaban Ltda. is a 12-year-old firm based in Cachoeiro de Itapemirim. The company owns 15 quarries in Espirito Santo and in Minas Gerais, and it has a processing plant with 60 workers in Cachoeiro. The company is 12 years old, and it has six Cimef gangsaws at the location in Cachoeiro, with two others at the quarries.

Slab polishing equipment is from MGM, a domestic firm, although the electronic controls for the machine are made in Italy. The company polishes a total of 18,000 square meters of material per month, and Mag-Ban has a strict quality control program to monitor color consistency and cracking, according to Tales Pena Machada of Mag-Ban.

In the near future, the company is planning more machinery additions. It is currently investing in a new edge polisher as well as new equipment for producing cut-to-size material.

According to Machado, Mag-Ban's main competition comes from Spain and Italy. As a result, the company is continually looking for new exotic materials with a wavy surface or crystals not found in European materials. Recently, it discovered a new red granite variety, which it has begun processing. In addition to new and exotic stones, the company also produces the classic materials of Brazil. To show visiting customers the true color of blocks in the storage yard, the material is power washed on a regular basis.

The company has been exporting its products for over five years. In addition to the U.S., export targets include Australia, Asia, Argentina, Bolivia and Venezuela.

Jacigua

Established in 1979, Jacigua Group is an export-driven company located in Cachoeiro de Itapemirim. A quarrier as well as a fabricator, the company specializes in the sale of finished slabs to the international market.

Block processing begins on gangsaws from Cimef, and the slabs are polished on machinery from Breton of Italy. A leading material for the company is Amarelo Icarai, although the green granites are also important, according to Joao B. Dalvi of Jacigua. For example, the company produces a green material called, Verde Ecologia, and Jacigua is also launching a new granite variety called Verde Agata.

While most of the company's business is slab sales, it also deals in tiles, according to Dalvi, and it is starting to look to the U.S. market as an export target. The fabricator works with five other companies in Cachoeiro and one in Sao Paulo to form Millennium, an export company. The companies, Cajugram, Sigma do Brasil, Qualita, Jacigua, Itapoama and Gran Marcal, have also built a 4,000-square-meter pavilion in Vitoria with displays of their products for architects, builders and contractors. Overall production of the Millennium Group is 100,000 square meters per month, Dalvi said.

With an eye on the environment, the company is planting new trees and other vegetation in the land surrounding its plant. It is also creating a man-made lake near the fabricating facility.

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