As the stone industry continues to grow and advance, a broad range of innovations have been launched for stone fabricators - in the shop as well as in the field. In the templating sector, new digital systems have been introduced for optimum efficiency and accuracy, and they are being used by fabricators of all sizes. The following is a look at some of the digital templating systems on the market today.

Laser Products

The LT-55 Precision Laser Templator from Laser Products offers precision laser measuring in real time. According to the company, the unit provides field measurements in DXF format with multi-color and multi-plane files, while offering low operating costs in the field and at the shop.

The software is loaded on the HP PDA which is already attached and ready to go. In 1 1⁄2 minutes, users can have a 50-point measurement on DXF, Laser Products reports, and there is no extended download times. With the LT-55, users can see the drawing before you leave the jobsite and can e-mail it back to the shop.

PhotoTop® from Fabricator's Choice

Tom Harms, president of Fabricator's Choice, the North American distributor of PhotoTop® digital templating software, recently announced the release of Version 2.7, which is designed to be as much as eight times faster than the original version. Harms explained that the staff at Green Mesa, the software developers, wanted to bring the speed up to the point where the typical countertop could be processed on a laptop computer in the vehicle between templating jobs. This goal was accomplished by reducing the job image downloads to a time period of 2 to 5 minutes.

With further refinements to the auto-recognition and interface features of the PhotoTop software, the advanced speed further enhances the effectiveness of the built-in batch processing capability. “Unattended batch processing on PhotoTop gives fabricators the ability to prepare over 200 typical jobs overnight for CNC file finishing,” said Harms.

While improvements in the software continue at the developer level, Fabricator's Choice also works on a continuing basis to refine its hands-on training programs for both PhotoTop and AutoCAD. Harms explained that Fabricator's Choice is providing technical support for PhotoTop and is looking to offer training in various locations around the country. Upgrades to PhotoTop 2.7 are presently being shipped to the existing user group, and all fabricators adding PhotoTop to their production capabilities will start with the advanced, higher speed version.

Faro Technologies

A new measuring system from Faro Technologies is known as the Digital Template FaroArm. This instrument is an articulating measuring arm/portable coordinate measuring machine (CMM) that is widely accepted in automotive, aerospace and heavy machinery manufacturing as a quality control and reverse engineering tool. The Digital Template employs tubed sections that are joined by rotating transducer “joints” that enable the probe on the end of the arm to move in any direction and record any point within its spherical reach.

To measure a datum point, an operator touches the stylus to the desired location and clicks a button on the handle. Because the process is simple, operators can record more data in less time than they could when they were using mechanical measuring implements. Thus, critical areas such as corners and radii on a countertop can be represented with greater data density to ensure accuracy, according to Faro. Altogether, hundreds of points may be collected to define a single project. The instrument is completely portable, enabling representatives to travel from location to location, and measurements are recorded as a computer file that is both a three-dimensional digital picture and a record of the project. Templaters can e-mail the files directly to the shop from their remote location.

During the templating process, a measurer carries the template, tripod and battery-powered laptop computer to the customer's home, sets up the equipment, and takes measurements along the wall mounting surfaces with the articulating arm. This instantly records all details of the installation in the computer - as a sequence of points or streaming lines - using software known as CAM2 Measure. File formats include common graphic and design formats, such as DXF, IGES, VDA, STEP and CSV. The position of cutouts for sinks, pillars, windows or other special shapes is noted digitally. When finished, the file represents a three-dimensional image of the space to be filled by the new countertop.

ETemplate System

ETemplate Photo from ETemplate System/Tri-Tech Solutions features a calibrated digital camera that records all of the data needed to design, cut and install a kitchen countertop. The camera works in conjunction with the ETemplate PhotoCapture™ field measuring kit, Intelli-Mark™ markers and scales. According to ETemplate System, there is no need for a tripod, and the technology produces digital template contours to within 1⁄32 inch.

After the data is recorded, ETemplate Photo exports the digital template in a DXF format that is compatible with any CAD/CAM output system that accepts the DXF format.

The data can then be e-mailed, sent to a CNC router, used to cut a vinyl template or used to print a highly detailed shop drawing. The data also includes square and linear footage, and defines the flatness of the area. According to ETemplate System, the product measures to +/- 1⁄32-inch tolerance. By designing and manufacturing to the “as-built” room, countertops can be designed and manufactured for simultaneous installation instead of waiting to measure countertops after cabinets are installed.

Countertop templating is the basis of ETemplate Photo's creation, and the company reports that development has been aided by hundreds of fabricators - resulting in a fully automatic processing system suited for automated or manual shops. ETemplate System also said it serves as a “stepping stone” for fabricators interested in moving into CNC technology.