Re-emerging U.S. Stone Industry: “Taking the plunge” into CNC technology

February 1, 2007
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Top Line Co. of Pennsauken, NJ, recently purchased two Italian-made Omag Mill 4X CNC stoneworking centers from Salem Stone of Winston-Salem, NC.


Practically since childhood, Bruce MacLachlan has had a history in the kitchen-building business. Today, his company - Top Line Co., of Pennsauken, NJ - includes a busy solid surface shop as well as a state-of-the-art stoneworking facility in Pennsauken, NJ.

MacLachlan began in the kitchen and cabinetry business in Northern New Jersey at a young age, as his father was a wholesaler of laminate sheets. In 1978, at the age 24, he moved to Southern New Jersey, where he got involved with the distribution business and eventually purchased the company. He began manufacturing laminate countertops and became a sub-distributor for Wilsonart for a period of time.

A Sebring bridge saw from Matrix Stone Products of Rancho Cucamonga, CA, was one of the company’s first investments.

Over time, MacLachlan’s company became a vendor to Home Depot, and he ultimately retired in 1997, although this “retirement” lasted only a few years. Three years ago, he began doing countertop measuring and installations for the Lowe’s chain of retailers, working with DuPont Corian and ultimately, with granite. Although the stonework was outsourced to area fabricators, MacLachlan began learning about natural stone, and he finally decided to add stone fabrication to the company’s operations in early 2005.

Slabs are cut on a GMM Eura bridge saw, also purchased from Salem Stone.

Top Line’s stone fabrication shop is equipped with a range of modern machinery, including a GMM Eura bridge saw, which was purchased from Salem Stone, as well as a Sebring bridge saw from Matrix Stone Products. A Pedrini radial arm polisher is also used for processing sinkholes as needed.

In researching the equipment, company owner Bruce MacLachlan considered a range of factors. “We looked at a lot of machinery,” he said. “Price was important, but also the way [the Omag units] are constructed.”

Most recently, the company invested in two Italian-made Omag Mill 4X CNC stoneworking centers from Salem Stone. “We decided to take the plunge,” said MacLachlan. The Mill 4X machines hold 40 tools each, and they are equipped with larger spindles to accommodate ISO 50 tools.

The Omag CNC machines are equipped with Diamut tooling from Salem Stone, and they feature vacuum pods from Omag as well as Blick Industries.

In researching the equipment, MacLachlan considered a range of factors. “We looked at a lot of machinery,” he said. “Price was important, but also the way [the Omag units] are constructed. Dan [McDevitt from Salem Stone] has been very honest and straightforward to work with, and he gave us some excellent advice along the way.”

The Omag CNC machines are equipped with Diamut tooling from Salem Stone, and they feature vacuum pods from Omag as well as Blick Industries.

A Pedrini radial arm polisher is also used for processing sinkholes as needed.

Water is recycled using a system from Fraccaroli & Balzan of Italy, which was also purchased through Salem Stone. The units employ a combination of a flocculent and simple mechanical filter press to “clean” water that can be recycled back through CNC spindles.

Water is recycled using a system from Fraccaroli & Balzan of Italy, which was purchased through Salem Stone.

The company is currently processing 12 kitchens per day in natural stone materials and solid surface, and it has 48 employees total. With the CNCs in place, MacLachlan’s plan is to process half of the stonework using the automated machinery and half of the work - mostly the less complex edges - by hand. “I want the CNCs to be insurance against the men, and the men to be insurance against the CNCs,” he said.

In addition to advanced machinery, Top Line also relies on the skill of its stoneworkers.

The company has eight standard granite colors in stock, although it also fabricates other materials by request. Currently, approximately 35% of Top Line’s work comes from Lowe’s and other home centers, and the remaining 65% is through dealers. To keep track of production, Top Line has developed its own software that can report the exact phase of processing or installation for each job being worked.

When templating projects, workers from Top Line create templates from assembled plywood sticks. These are digitized using an LT 55 laser templating system from Laser Products.

When templating projects, workers from Top Line create templates from assembled plywood sticks. These are digitized using an LT 55 laser templating system from Laser Products. In using this system, the template is laid out on a table, and “stops” are placed at various points on the template. The LT 55 then digitally records the dimensions of the template and creates a DXF file that is loaded onto a Palm Pilot.

The Palm Pilot is then connected to a PC, where the file is opened on AutoCAD, and the job is manipulated as needed (sharpening the corners, for example). In addition to programming the CNC machines digitally, the operator gets a printout for each job.

Finished products are shipped to the jobsite in box trucks, and the company has a total of seven trucks on the road.

Top Line Co. has seven installation trucks and three template vehicles on the road, and it takes pride in maintaining a high level of craftsmanship for each job it installs. As acknowledgement of this dedication to quality, Top Line Co. received the “Excellence in Installation” Award from Lowes for outstanding workmanship. “This covers hundreds of installers - everything from windows to carpet to roofing,” MacLachlan said.

Top Line Co.
Pennsauken, NJ

Type of work: kitchen countertops for Lowe’s home centers and kitchen and bath dealers

Machinery: Two Omag Mill 4X CNC stoneworking centers from Salem Stone of Winston-Salem, NC, equipped with tooling from Salem Stone as well as pods from Blick Industries of Laguna Beach, CA; GMM Eura bridge saw from Salem Stone; Sebring bridge saw from Matrix Stone Products of Rancho Cucamonga, CA; Fraccaroli & Balzan water treatment system from Salem Stone; radial arm polisher from Pedrini of Italy; LT 55 laser templating system from Laser Products of Romeoville, IL

Number of Employees: 48

Production Rate: 12 kitchens per day

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