Making the move to automated stone fabrication

October 1, 2005
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When Gerali Custom Design of Elgin, IL, one of North America's largest solid surface fabricators, set its sights on stone, the owners knew they required a fully automated production line to meet their goals. After years of process-focused work with DuPont Corian, the company wanted efficient and effective fabrication processes for its new stone operation. And to achieve this goal, the company invested in state-of-the-art technology.

Gerali Custom Design (GCD) was founded by Dave Gerali in 1984, and he has led the company to continued success in over 20 years at the helm. This Chicago-based company's continued growth has led to four plant moves since its humble beginnings, and it currently resides in a purchased 50,000-square-foot building on 5 acres in Elgin, a Chicago suburb. The company employs nearly 90 people and works in several market segments, including large commercial contracts and residential projects for both contractors and large multi-branch retailers. Some notable commercial projects include U.S. Cellular Field (formerly Comiskey Park) and O'Hare International Airport in Chicago and Miller Park in Milwaukee, WI. The company serves the upper Midwest region and provides complete fabrication services, from in-field measurement to final installation.

Gerali Custom Design's history has been primarily in solid surface products, as evidenced by a recent honor from DuPont as one of the top 25 largest Corian fabricators in the country. However, GCD has also been a limited provider of natural stone and DuPont Zodiac engineered quartz material for several years as consumers have demanded more of these products.



Focusing on efficiency

Working with a company like DuPont for two decades as a high - volume, turnkey provider of solid surface products, Gerali Custom Design learned how to establish and use efficient systems and processes to maximize production and customer satisfaction. When considering their entrance into the stone market, the focus on buying machinery and working with companies that apply this same processcentric philosophy to stone fabrication was a critical requirement. “We take great pride in our innovative methods and equipment - as well as our reputation as a high-quality, reliable supplier - so those that we choose to partner with in the area of stone fabrication also need to understand the value of integrated systems, efficient work flow, and achieving maximum productivity,” explained Gerali.

Overall, Gerali and Phil Bastone, GCD's Vice President of Operations, thoroughly researched all of their stone equipment options for nearly two years to make sure their needs were going to be met and that they were partnering with the right people. This research ultimately led them to IGE Solutions, Inc. and Prussiani Engineering. IGE Solutions is the exclusive North American distributor for Italy-based Prussiani Engineering.

Michael Spellman, President and Founder of IGE Solutions, explained that Prussiani Engineering is a dedicated stone fabrication equipment manufacturer, and its CNC equipment is not converted or modified from wood, plastic, glass or some other industry or application. “We have nearly 25 years of fabrication experience, so we have seen a lot of manufacturers come and go,” Spellman said. “We partnered with Prussiani because they are here to stay. Their machines are designed exclusively for stone, and are heavy-duty, high-quality machines that are built for not only reliability, long life and low maintenance, but for maximum integration and automation, which is exactly what Gerali Custom Design was looking for.”

According to Bastone, finding equipment that would not break down was critical. “We began to see an unsettling pattern as we researched our different equipment options. Everyone seemed to boast about the length of time between motor problems and other mechanical failures on their equipment, as though these failures are just something that has to be expected and counted on,” he said. “But with the Prussiani equipment, which is built using a different approach than many machines in the industry, failures like this simply aren't an issue. We also liked Prussiani's ability to digitally integrate their various machines so that production can flow easily and with maximum efficiency between machines.”

Universal DXF files and a familiar Windows operating system help make the workflow on the Prussiani equipment seamless and user-friendly. Although the equipment requirements established by Gerali Custom Design were being met by IGE Solutions and Prussiani, they wanted to see the full line in action before making a final decision. Since IGE Solutions' approach to automation and integrated systems is relatively new to North American fabricators, Gerali and Bastone were flown to Zurich, Switzerland, where they toured an all-Prussiani-equipped plant. “We were amazed by the speed of the machines, the productivity of the plant, and the quality of the end product,” Gerali said. “It was exactly what we were looking for, as it met our process-focused, high-volume, high-quality approach.”

GCD decided on a full Prussiani production line, consisting of the Champion 5 patented 5-axis bridge saw, the Energia Plus CNC workstation and a straight line CNC polishing machine called the New Generation. In addition, GCD added IGE's U.S. Centrifuge water filtration / recirculation system for maximum production line efficiency. This equipment was installed in the summer of 2005. The internationally patented, 5-axis Champion 5 CNC bridge saw is the cornerstone of GCD's new stone fabrication line, and it can handle the production of three to five traditional bridge saws, IGE reports. The Champion 5 cuts automatically from digitized files - including a process for cutting the rodding reinforcement channels. Additionally, a suction lifting system automatically moves cut slabs out of the way to avoid over-cutting and waste. The Champion 5 cuts face up, and the saw blade rotates a full 360 degrees for maximum cutting efficiency. The Energia Plus workstation, which also fabricates face up, and the New Generation CNC polishing machine are both extremely fast and reliable, heavy-duty machines that also boast many advanced features. The New Generation straight line CNC polishing machine is a newer model for Prussiani, and GCD's is the first one in North America.

In addition to GCD's new natural stone fabrication capability, the company has also been able to increase its production of Zodiac and other quartz materials, which also require wet grinding and polishing fabrication methods.

Gerali was also pleased with the level of customer service GCD received from IGE Solutions, saying it made the expansion into natural stone go without difficulty. “Victor Trnavskis, our sales contact, Michael Spellman and the IGE Solutions' team did much more than guide our equipment purchase,” he said. “They went well beyond that to help educate us on stone fabrication, an area that we had little experience in. They made our transition into stone a much smoother process than it may have been.”

Currently, GCD is prepared to work with IGE Solutions to complete its stone fabrication line by adding an automatic conveyor system and slab rotator, and it is also considering a software program called IGE's TriOpt, which is designed to maximize the efficiency and profitability of stone fabricators. IGE's TriOpt manages all aspects of warehousing, production, and order processing through user-friendly barcode technology.

In addition to employing a workforce of nearly 90 people in the Chicago area, Gerali Custom Design is involved in a number of initiatives to help its surrounding community. Gerali currently provides space and resources to a large volunteer program called CARS, which repairs and restores donated cars, and then gives them to single mothers and others in need of transportation. This is a massive organization that provides more than 2,000 cars annually to people in the Chicago area. Gerali also supports a work-training program that teaches fabrication skills to people with few opportunities to move their lives forward.

“I enjoy giving back to the community and helping those in need, so the more this company grows, the more we can support these efforts and employ more people in need of a good job,” Gerali said. “It is a true win-win scenario.”

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