Steady growth in Texas

February 1, 2005
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Empire Countertops, Inc. of Pilot Point, TX, started out small 15 years ago and gradually grew as its reputation for professional stone installations spread. In the beginning, Empire used traditional machines that did a good job, but were slow, according to production manager Curtis Peacock. Today, with a range of advanced machinery, the company runs about 18,000 to 20,000 square feet of material per month. This production rate allows Empire to process 47 to 60 kitchen countertops per week, keeping busy a growing staff of 78 employees that handle only granite.

The company's 40,000 square-foot facility for granite handles islands as big as 40 square feet that weigh up to 900 pounds. Empire cuts sink holes, and profiles bullnose, demi and round edge treatments on countertops.

In addition to working slowly, the original machines processed countertops in the usual horizontal orientation, which took up considerable space at Empire's tight, growing quarters. The company saw the need for additional machinery, but also realized that available floor space was limited. Empire looked at CNC and manual machines; those that processed slabs horizontally and those that processed vertically; simple machines and complex units. They wanted new machines that would be easy to operate, provide high-quality countertops, and increase production capabilities that would eliminate the need for a second shift.

After careful consideration, the company selected two Marmo Meccanica USA vertical machines. The first was the LCT 522 Vertical Polishing Machine, which is designed to handle seven or eight bullnose profiles. It can polish squared off and inclined edges on granite slabs as well as torodial edges and other convex shapes. The second purchase was an LCV 711 Flat Edge Polishing Machine, used primarily for flat edges on backsplashes.

These machines provided Empire with numerous benefits, Peacock explained. First, they allowed the company to process granite slabs vertically -- not horizontally -- freeing up valuable shop floor space. Before, when a 40-square-foot island slab went through the machine, it had to be rotated three more times to profile 1 1⁄4 -inch-thick edges on the front, back and fourth side. Rotating a slab that size multiple times required considerable floor space in front of the machine, Peacock said. Now, the slab stands straight up and is processed vertically.

A second benefit was user-friendly operation. Peacock and the Empire operators found the LCT 522 machine to be very easy to program and operate. “To profile, the operator inputs the material and thickness, specifies how many degrees it is to be polished from 180 to 0 degrees, and selects the speed,” he explained. “The conveyor belt takes the slab and the machine profiles the edge, which is followed by the polishing operation.”

Peacock also said that learning the new equipment was a relatively quick process. “It took about an hour of training for our operators to learn how to operate the machine and set-up a job,” he said. “It took another month or two to learn different operating features such as changing polishing pads in a timely manner and checking to ensure air pressure is good.”

The success of the LCV 711 and LCT 522 led to the purchase of two similar, additional units. One of the LCT 522 units is dedicated to bullnose profiles, and the other is dedicated to demi-bullnose profiles. The LCV 711s are dedicated to flat polishes. This “assembly line” type layout allows each machine to continuously run at high production rates with virtually no downtime, maximizing efficiencies and allowing a fast payback, according to Empire.

For sawing operations, the company added a Marmo Meccanica HTO-1/B heavy-duty bridge saw. With a cutting speed of 200 lineal feet of 3-cm material per hour, the HTO-1/B speeds the cutting of countertops to size, Empire reports.

During the fabrication process, one operator is responsible for two machines, and each uses a crane to handle pieces that routinely weigh 900 pounds. As the granite slab exits the polishing machine, the operator puts a single clamp on it, uses the crane to swing it around and runs it through the same machine to process another edge. The bridge saw is located nearby to cut countertops to size.

Daily uptime for each edge polisher during the eight-hour shift is seven hours. The only downtime occurs when the operators change polishing heads, which takes about 30 minutes. Because these machines are constantly in use and run trouble free, Peacock estimates a one- to two-year ROI (return on investment) payback. “We're running demis around 32 to 38 feet per hour, and the flat edge polisher runs a minimum of 45 to 50 feet per hour,” said Peacock. “Sure, there are machines that run twice that speed, but they are three or four times as expensive and more difficult to operate. For the price you pay, the Marmo Meccanica USA edge profiles machines are the best value for the dollar.”

As a result of its growth, Empire estimates it has approximately 28% of the granite countertop business in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. Last year alone, the company grew 10 to 12%, and it attributes much of its success to keeping reliable equipment.

Empire prides itself on processing a countertop in five days -- from template measurement to machining to installation. Peacock described a typical operational sequence as follows: The granite slab is brought to the machining area. The template of the island or countertop is placed over the slab, where it is cut to size by the Marmo Meccanica bridge saw. The requested edge is profiled, and then the corners are profiled. The corners could be a 3-inch radius or a 90-degree angle -- or a custom corner requested by the homeowner. The four corners are then polished on the polishing machines to match the four sides.

“We're very pleased with [the machinery],” Peacock said. “They do a good job for us and allow us to effectively compete in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. They helped us grow to where we are today, and will help us increase market share even more tomorrow.”

End box

Empire Countertops, Inc.
Pilot Point, TX

Type of work: Residential kitchen countertops
Machinery: Two Marmo Meccanica LCV 711 edging units for flat polishing; two LCT 522 edging units for bullnose and demi-bullnose polishing; Marmo Meccanica HTO-1/B heavy-duty bridge saw
Number of Employees: 78
Production Rate: 47 to 60 kitchens per week

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