Stone World

Michigan fabricator is a model of innovation

April 2, 2012
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Located in Kalamazoo, MI, Rock Solid Surfaces was founded five years ago by Andy Ross. Operating with a small staff and standard tooling, the company is able to complete high-end fabrication work with a combination of skill and innovation.

Ross became involved in the stone industry after his experiences with the material on a local project. “I managed a large commercial investment property remodel, installing prefabricated granite countertops,” he explained. “I cut sink holes, cut tops to length and installed the backsplash. When the project was completed, I continued to sell prefabricated granite — doing the work in customers’ front yards. I eventually built a tilt table, bought a forklift and worked with full slabs. We have recently moved to our current location, hired an employee and have put our focus on installing natural stone countertops.”

In addition to Ross and his employee working in the shop and on installations, Ross’ wife manages the company’s Web page and handles administrative tasks. “We can produce and install two 50-square-foot kitchens per week, assuming we don’t make any mistakes,” Ross said.
Slabs are cut to size using a modified worm-drive Skilsaw. A straightedge with a plastic glide for the saw was developed in-house, and it is equipped with a blade from Alpha Professional Tools.

“Inside radii are done with a 3-inch core bit and angle grinder,” Ross said. “Polishing was done with electric polishers for several years. We’ve recently moved to the air polishers with the addition of an adequate compressor.” Profiling is done with a Diarex Magnum hand router from GranQuartz, grinding stones and cup wheels.

In terms of upgrading the shop, the company has been focused on material handling. “We really haven’t added anything significant to our tool situation,” Ross said. “Lately, we’ve been working on racks, carts and work surfaces. We fabricate all of our carts, A-frames and jigs for the saws in house. The carts match the height of the tilt table; therefore we just slide the pieces on to the carts without needing vacuum lifters or booms and clamps. We had a boom specifically designed for our shop to accommodate the shortcomings of the forklift, as it is not tall enough to get the slabs off the delivery truck. We are relatively young at five years old, and started with no experience and no tooling. It has taken this long to figure out the best process for us as well as what specific tools are needed. This year, I plan to focus on building capital and possibly looking at a line polisher or a CNC for the future.”

Since its formation five years ago, Ross said that his company’s greatest advancement came not in product fabrication but in addressing the seams. “Learning to top polish was a breakthrough in my personal fabrication,” he said. “It gave me a new understanding for the polishing process. I learned this process from Scott McGourley from the Kasco Stone Web site.”

Ross added that he relies on the members of the Stone Fabricators Alliance to gain knowledge of trends, tooling and information.

With another worker now in the fold, Ross has specific objectives for employees learning the trade. “The goal is to have any employee execute any task of the fabrication process,” he said. “Right now he is not fully trained. I start by teaching the basics of polishing, and when they get that, we move on to routers, seam dressing, sink holes and finally layout and cutting. I am also training him to lead installs, so when we add another employee, they can polish and assist with the install — while I stay at the shop to continue fabricating and man the showroom.”
Ross also addressed what he feels are the right qualities for a new hire in a fabrication shop. “I lay more importance on good attitude and work ethic. I look for cleanliness, showing up on time, reliability and wanting to do a good job,” he said. “I don’t have a formal training program. I start with showing them how to polish. Then I give them the stuff and tell them to do it. You can’t teach someone how it ‘feels’ to polish; It just takes time. When they get that, I move them on to something else.”      

SIDEBAR

Rock Solid Surfaces

Kalamazoo, MI

Type of work: Granite, quartz and natural stone countertops

Machinery: Modified worm-drive Skilsaw, which is equipped with a straightedge and plastic glide developed in-house; diamond blades from Alpha Professional Tools; 3-inch core bit and angle grinder; Diarex Magnum hand router from GranQuartz, grinding stones and cup wheels.

Number of Employees: 3

Production Capacity: Fabrication and installation of two 50-square-foot kitchens per week