Stone Column

Re-emerging:
Flourishing with state-of-the art equipment

August 4, 2004
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In December 2000, Charlie Thiede launched a start-up stone fabricating company that simply relied on a saw and router to process countertops and it used basic hand-measuring techniques for creating templates. One year later, Rock Tops tossed aside its old-fashioned method of templating, and began using state-of-the art equipment that has allowed the company to develop on a rapid basis.

In early 2000, Thiede had set out to find the perfect granite countertop for his newly built home. Dissatisfied by the way his situation was handled, Thiede purchased a track saw and built it himself. By the time he had finished his countertop, as well as a few others, he had fallen in love with the business. That December, he bought a bridge saw and took space in a small building in Roseville, MI, where him and two others handled operations. By the end of the year, business had picked up so rapidly that even with a larger staff of 16, Thiede decided to quit his job as a salesman for the steel industry, and concentrate full force on the business. In 2003, he relocated to a 15,000-square-foot building in Macomb Township, MI, where 50 Rock Top workers are currently employed.

For the first couple of months in business, the company used a simple Stinger hand router and a Matrix Z-Max bridge saw. Months later, Thiede saw the values and advantages of using CNC technology, and purchased a Park Industries Odyssey stoneworking center. Soon thereafter, he brought Production Manager Keith Kargol on board. The new equipment, along with Kargol's knack for artistic design, substantially contributed to the company's development.

In 2001, Kargol began researching more efficient ways to template kitchens, and discovered electronic templating, a mobile system that shoots highly professional images for projects and accelerates the field measuring process. That is when he decided to purchase the ETemplate Photo[tm] from ETemplate Systems, a division of Tri-Tech Solutions Inc.

According to Kargol, even though the Version One is extreamly accurate, the Version Two with Intelli-Mark[tm] is much faster and easier to use. “We are able to take photos of anything, anywhere, allowing us to customize countertops more specifically to customers' desired needs, and to handle much more elaborate jobs,” he said.

Since the ETemplate Systems unit can handle complex curves and angles, Rock Tops is able to measure projects, including countertops, bathtub surrounds, vanities and wall cladding.

The softwear from ETemplate Systems product is significantly valuable for remodeling since it allows for detailed, accurate data to be taken without having to remove the existing countertops. “With this type of technology, we can change the shapes of islands, wrap things around walls, and detect arches and radiuses,” said Kargol. “We can create more options for customers and make it more simple to define what will be produced. All in all, more customer needs are met.”

After downloading pictures to a PC, the ETemplate Photo[tm] software converts the photos into an electronic template format that is supported by a wide array of CAD software.

Both men agree that electronic templating takes a lot of human error out of the measuring process by allowing the company to take pictures to verify what is what on a project. According to Thiede, people are quite impressed with their high-tech technology. “Builders, homeowners, contractors - they are all blown away by the equipment we use,” he said.

When Rock Tops moved into its current location, the company purchased a new CNC machine, the Intermac Master Stone 4000 from AGM. According to Kargol, this large, sophisticated 96- x 144-inch machine, allows Rock Tops to do a lot of things that other companies may have trouble doing. “This machine holds entire slabs plus some,” he said. “It can handle multiple slabs at a time, or even an entire kitchen at once.”

The company fabricates marble, slate, limestone, quartz surfacing, soapstone and granite - the most popular - which are quarried all over the world, including China, Italy, Brazil and Finland. Ninety-eight percent of Rock Tops business is fueled by local residential projects in Southeastern Michigan, leaving only a small portion of production for the commercial market. According to Thiede, Rock Tops doubles its sales every year. When he first started in the industry, he averaged two to three jobs a week, and now, the company handles about eight to 10 jobs a day.

About a year and a half ago, Bob Gasiorowski joined Rock Tops and became Thiede's partner.

Rock Tops mission is “to artfully merge technology and Old World craftsmanship in creating a quality product professionally installed,” and by doing away with traditional tools, and utilizing modern technology they have done rightfully so.

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