Should you take the leap with digital templating?

December 1, 2006
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For over 10 years, you have fabricated an average of three granite countertops per week. Your bridge saw has been the only piece of machinery in your shop. You’ve cut hundreds of sinks out by hand and profiled the edges. Now, technology has taken off in the industry, and you’re feeling the “pinch” because your competitor down the road has recently installed a CNC stoneworking center. You’re a little apprehensive to take the “technology leap” to buy a CNC, but after hours of analyzing, you decide to make the investment.

Your CNC machine has arrived, and you can’t believe what it has done to your productivity. Now, rather than having six people work on fabricating three countertops per week, your employees are producing 10 countertops. Same manpower, triple the production; remarkable!

Now you’re asking yourself, “Since implementing the CNC into my shop has helped my company grow, where else can I adopt technology into my business? Are there more opportunities that I haven’t thought of? The wooden templates seem pretty archaic. Should I look into digital (electronic) templating?”

While in CNC training, I am often asked the question, “What is the best templating system to use?”  This is a tough question to answer. Hard templating (Luan strips, plastic, wood, etc.) has been around a long time. This is how everyone began templating jobs. Proven processes are sometimes hard to change. Your hard templating process has worked for you for years, but so did your bridge saw and hand tools. Before you dive into a new templating process, it’s very important that you understand your current process and costs that are associated with hard templating. For example:
  1. What are the actual costs of the Luan strips?  In addition, what does it cost you to keep an inventory on the shelves?
  2. If you are currently using Luan strips to template, how much time and manpower are you absorbing by transferring this information into CAD?
  3. Is there lag time from when the job gets templated to when the job is entered into CAD? What does this cost you in labor costs and efficiencies?
  4. How often are there measurement errors? What do these measurement errors cost you in lost productivity or mis-cut countertops?
  5. Do you need to have a larger vehicle to transport the hard templates?  Could you downsize your vehicle with a more economical vehicle?

Before you take the digital template leap, ask yourself these questions:
  1. What are the skills of your templaters?  Do they feel comfortable with technology? Remember, in order to use digital templating in the field, you will need someone at the office that can manipulate a CAD program. All field digitizers will require some CAD work.
  2. In the event that the digital template doesn’t work, what is your backup plan?
  3. If you are questioning a digitized measurement and do not have a hard template to refer to, what is the cost to send out a team to re-template a job?
  4. Do I need to purchase additional equipment for our vehicles in order to download the templates?  Time to get your template into production is almost immediate with wireless Internet service. What are the costs associated with wireless Internet?
  5. Who will help us with training?

I have found that some of the arm style digital templating equipment is easy to use, but you have to examine the costs if you have multiple measurement crews. The photo systems have the ability to make measurement and visual records, but file sizes may not always allow for easy transfer via the Internet or e-mail. The laser measurement systems are accurate, but don’t necessarily offer the visual acknowledgment of the photo or the Luan strip method.

One of the biggest considerations for you should be your employees. Before you decide on a templating process, get them involved. You may be taking them out of “production” for a few hours, but believe me, in the long run it will be worth it. If you choose to make the switch, the transition to a new templating system will be much smoother.

Weigh your options. Remember, time is money. The more time your shop employees spend templating, the less time is spent actually fabricating countertops. Again, your goal is to keep your machinery running as much as you can; the more your equipment runs, the higher the efficiency, which results in higher profits.

Do what is right for you and your company. Measure your comfort level of implementing technology. If you have already taken the “technology leap” by purchasing a CNC, you have first-hand experience with the impact it has had on your operation.

And if you select a digital templating system that fits the needs of your shop, you could already be cutting the countertop before the templating team has even returned from the field. Now that’s efficiency!

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