In order to separate themselves from the competition - which seems to be increasing on a daily basis - many stone fabricators in North America are researching and investing in new stoneworking technology. They are bringing in new equipment and tooling that allows them to increase their efficiency and quality in the shop, and we are seeing these advances in every market we visit. Examples of these developments can be seen in virtually every single issue ofStone World, including the five fabricators we profile in this issue.

But having the right technology in your shop is not necessarily enough to ensure that your finished stonework will stand out from the competition. The quality-control process needs to begin with choosing the right slab materials, and with more foreign slab producers targeting the U.S. market than ever before, there are many more factors to consider.

In preparingStone WorldMagazine over the years, our staff has visited slab production plants around the world - in Italy, Brazil, China, India and many other countries. And the process for transforming blocks into slabs is a large-scale operation that is truly a site to behold. Housing everything from massive gangsaws to sleek slab polishers to advanced resin-application machinery, these slab plants operate much in the same way as an assembly line, and the resulting slabs are what ultimately arrives at the loading dock of your shop. Whether your shop is large or small, and whether you are importing direct or through distributors, you should be aware of how your slabs are processed before they are added to your inventory. What type of polishing machinery is being used to create the slabs? How are they packaged for shipment to the U.S.? What is their quality-control process?

And if you are using resin-treated slabs (which is more than likely these days), there is a whole new set of factors to consider. What type of resin products are being used? How is the resin applied to the stone, and what technology are they using to ensure that it penetrates deep within the material, and not just on the surface? In finding the answers to these questions, working with a reputable stone distributor can be invaluable. Since I visit many of these international slab producers around the time of major industry trade shows, I often bump into North American slab importer/distributors at these plants. And I see these folks working tirelessly to ensure that the products they bring into the U.S. are of the utmost quality, and that they are being processed with the latest methods and technology.

In this issue ofStone World, we take a look at several slab processing plants in Italy, which have invested in some of the latest machinery and resin products in the marketplace (pages 182 to 194). Although they are only a tiny fraction of the many, many sophisticated slab processors around the world, they serve as good examples of what to look for in a slab producer. And by starting with the best quality materials, a fabricator can stand out in a very crowded marketplace.