Stone World

Embracing technology at all stages of production

May 1, 2012
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Beginning his career with a masonry company in 1988, Marco Duran took a great liking to creating timeless solid structures which led him to an apprenticeship with a Master Stone Setter. After several years, his mentor retired and took back to his roots in Italy, thus allowing Duran to embark on his entrepreneur passion in a career specializing in stone setting and fabricating. Within the next 10 years, he honed his skills and had set an ambitious course to open a fabrication shop. In 2001, with minimal funds and heaps of aspiration and desire, he opened Atlas Marble and Granite.

Life began for Atlas Marble and Granite in a moderately sized 7,500-square-foot building in Newark, NJ. The space was a bare cinder block box which Duran began outfitting with basic first-level stone equipment, a used bridge saw and a couple of worktables and hand tools. While remaining in the same building today, Atlas has doubled its workable space to a 15,000-square-foot facility, and most importantly, advanced to a fully digitized operation.

It started with Duran going to his first trade show in 2005 at the New York Jacob Javitz Center. “I realized I was living in a fishbowl — comfortable and complacent with the conventional knowledge passed on by my Sicilian mentor,” he said.

Transitioning into digital technology

According to Duran, revamping his shop was a gradual progression. In 2006, he started with the basics by switching to air and water tools and eliminated air borne dust in the shop. Atlas purchased a Kaiser Rotary compressor along with Alpha polishing tools. In 2008, Atlas invested in a Dual Table Discovery CNC stoneworking center from Park Industries of St. Cloud MN, and the following year, a Water Jet from Flow International of Kent, WA, was added to the mix. 

While the machinery was a key component to the company’s customized stone production, it made for cramped quarters. As a result, Duran traded in both machines for a Park Fusion 4045 bridge saw/waterjet and a Titan 1800 CNC stoneworking center with an oversized table, which measures 16 x18 feet. The streamlined process allows fabrication of an entire kitchen in one shot. “A major selling point with Park is that it is user friendly,” said Duran. “The saw/jet takes stone cutting into the next stratosphere in cutting time and minimizing on material waste.”

The Titan uses Terminator CNC tooling from Continental DIA Products, Inc. of San Carlos, CA — supplied by Stone Boss of Fair Lawn NJ — and vacuum pods from Blick Industries of Laguna, CA. “The trio between the tooling, the pods and the efficiency of the Titan allows for a stress-free synergy in production which is why I invested with all three companies,” said Duran.

Additionally, Atlas also invested in a Pathfinder Slab Photo Station from Park Industries along with a Slabsmith Software system. “The software made a world of difference with its nesting capability — allowing vein matching complicated patterns, and furthermore, being able to electronically visualize the finished counters in 3D,” said Duran.

Templating in the field is done with a LT-55 Laser Templater from Laser Products Industries of Romeoville, IL. “The data is then refined with our Alpha cam software, and the countertop layout is nested and emailed to the customer for an approval and sign off,” said Duran. “Basically, we have gone from the Stone Age to the New Age in fabrication. We had a phobia of technology, simply because I didn’t know it. Today, we are at the point where we have gotten through the learning curve, and we feel very confident operating our equipment.”

Duran emphasized the importance of having the experience in traditional way of doing template and fabrication and installation as a prerequisite to programming automated equipment. “Once you understand how to work with stone, you program and operate with more confidence,” said Walter Meyer, the company’s programmer.

Additional equipment in the shop includes a GMM Euro 35 bridge saw from Salem Stone of Winston-Salem NC, and a Marmo Meccanica LCH 711M backsplash polishing machine as well as Gorbel cranes and Manzelli vacuum lifters from Gran Quartz of Tucker, GA. The company installed an ECS-EICH water recycling system from Fabricator’s Choice of St. Paul, MN.

Maintaining productivity

“We held our numbers through the recession,” said Duran, explaining that the company’s market covers a 100-mile radius. “We average 12 to 15 projects per week — ranging in size from 50 to 100 square feet. Atlas is more of a specialty boutique in the service it provides to its customers, but with the ability to facilitate a project on a grandiose scale.”

According to Duran, Atlas Marble & Granite has down sized from a staff of 22 in 2009 to a current team of 12, but the company’s production level remained very steady. “It’s all about using the equipment to its fullest potential,” he said. “Every step of the way is structured and streamlined to ensure efficiency and maximize the productivity. One way of doing that is cross training all employees so that at all times each area of production and installation has coverage. Every employee is well versed with both aspects of the business of production and installation to further emphasize that a quality product is always the end result. It’s never about cutting the wrong corners, but rather giving a road map for all involved from start to sustainability. I make goals all the time, but I also make sure that they are achievable, accurate and reasonable. I am not a one-man show. I need my team to back up my ideas.”

In August 2011, Atlas Marble & Granite expanded into an additional 7,500 square feet of space, which is used for slab storage. On average, the company stocks approximately 200 slabs, which are primarily exotic stones, white marbles and quartzite.

“We really like working with Vermont Danby and Imperial Danby,” said Duran. “It’s all about educating the customer. There are a lot of great sealers from Stone Boss, which allow people to embrace what stone is. [For me], going to trade shows and learning the issues helps me sell more marble.”

According to Elizabeth Gmyrek, a designer and Duran’s partner, Atlas Marble & Granite fabricates a lot of white marbles and other non-typical kitchen surfaces — averaging about six to eight per month. “Thanks to the introduction of wonderful sealers, I can design a beautiful marble, limestone or onyx kitchen without the worries of staining, and allowing the customer to have an extraordinary look without compromising practicality,” she said. “I find that the most crucial aspect of the sale is listening to the customers’ requests and giving them a proper education on the end product. It’s not about deemphasizing the porosity, but rather emphasizing the aesthetics and proper maintenance.”

Marketing strategies

Thinking outside the box and searching for effective ways to market the company’s products has been a goal from inception, according to Duran. “I do not shy away from the internet, but rather want to use it to its fullest potential,” he said. “We have put emphasis on a user-friendly Web site that is guiding and informational to our customers.”

Recently, the company has finished a slab stone gallery, which allows customers to view the many colors of granite, in addition to quartz surfaces such as Caesarstone, Chroma, Silestone and Cambria. “One-stop shopping allows customer to make sink and faucet purchases at the showroom from brands such as Artisan and Alpha,” said Duran.

According to the fabricator, it takes a long vision, a concrete mission and an immediate action plan and strategy to make results happen. “The mission is to communicate the message to the audience in order to stimulate a sale,” he said.

Duran went on to say that proper marketing strategy of product, price, place and promotion is something that Atlas is focused on quite often as trends and technology force nuances and the inceptive to do a better job and put out a better product. The core team at Atlas is consistently going to trade shows such as KBIS or Coverings to bring the trends home and implement them into its current strategy. Also, through industry certifications, Atlas is further emphasizing how important it is to have that edge and drive to put out the best product it is capable of, according to Duran.

“I have a two-fold responsibility; the first to my customers to put out a product that they are pleased with and second is to my employees that they work for a company that they can be proud of,” he said.         

SIDEBAR

Atlas Marble & Granite

Newark, NJ

Type of work: customized residential

Machinery: a Fusion 4045 saw/waterjet, a Titan 1800 CNC stoneworking center and Slabsmith software — all from Park Industries of St. Cloud, MN; Terminator CNC tooling from Continental DIA Diamond Products, Inc. of San Carlos, CA — supplied by Stone Boss of Fair Lawn, NJ; vacuum pods from Blick Industries of Laguna, CA; a GMM Eura 35 bridge saw from Salem Stone of Winston-Salem, NC; an ECS-Eich water recycling system from Fabricator’s Choice of St. Paul, MN; a Gorbel crane and Manzelli vacuum lifter from GranQuartz of Tucker, GA; a LT-55 Laser Templator from Laser Products Industries of Romeoville, IL; fabrication supplies from Stone Boss

Number of Employees: 12

Production rate: 12 to 15 kitchens a week, averaging 50 to 100 square feet in size