Diverse CNC stoneworking of cubic material
"With our shop, we try to be versatile," said Keith Molenhouse, the company's manager. "We do a lot of things at once, and we don't turn down a job because it is too big or too small."
Therefore, the company will accept jobs for both commercial and residential applications, with its mainstay being the commercial industry. "We do all exterior work, from window sills to wall cladding -- a lot of it is commercial, such as a library on Long Island, a lot of building wall panels."
Additionally, some of their more visible projects include major restorations along downtown Chicago's Wacker Drive and a number of Michigan Avenue storefronts.
The stone plant relies on both automated equipment and skilled people. Tri-State employs a total of 38 people, including 18 who work directly producing stone.
"Technology has taken away from the need for skill," said Molenhouse. "Because machinery can do a little more, we don't need as many skilled workers. We used to have five full-time stonecutters, but with newer technology, we cut down to three."
Though Tri-State doesn't have to hire as many people as they once did, when they do hire, they search for the best personnel. "We hire people based on common sense and a good work ethic," said Molenhouse. "We have the reputation of being a good company to work for because we take care of our workers and there is a lot of communication between us."
Because automation takes up most of the share of the work done in the shop, they have taken automation a step further by shifting production from traditional planers to two new Infinity CNC Profilers from Park Industries. One Infinity saws straight-line profiles, while the other is dedicated to routing work. "We bought a Park Profiler five years ago, and Park updated it three years later. Park bought the old one back, and we got the two new ones."
The new Infinity system at the shop makes it possible for Tri-State to finish 60 to 70 pieces per night. "At any given time, we have 20 different projects going on in various stages," said Molenhouse. "We have a residential sill department that we can do 30 to 40 hearths for fireplaces in any given day."
Alongside the Infinity, Tri-State runs a separate joining line that includes a Park Industries Jaguar diamond saw, with straight-line profiling capability. "The tools we use for fabricating depends on the type of work we are doing," said Molenhouse. "For individual pieces, we use a pointing or automated machine. It depends on the workflow."
Any new equipment is evaluated thoroughly by the shop before being purchased. "We evaluate new equipment by the cost factor, the recapture cost, labor savings and time savings," said Molenhouse. "We don't buy new technology just to have new technology. We don't go by how much a machine can produce, but how fast it can produce."
Because the market has been so good for Tri-State recently, their only obstacle is getting all the work assigned to them finished on time. "Our challenge is trying to keep up with work," said Molenhouse. "We are always under time constraints, so we are under pressure to get the shop drawing, submit it to the customer, who then has to submit it to the architect. We have no control over when the shop drawing will come back.
"All of our shop drawings can come back at the same time, so keeping the workflow constant is tough. Sometimes there is no good answer to that problem, because it is not a perfect science. But we communicate with our clients as much as possible."