Q:What are people doing in their shops to maximize their sawing efficiency? How are you loading slabs onto the saw? Have you made any improvements in this area? Have you invested in new technology in terms of blades and machinery? Has it been worth the investment? What is the biggest “bottleneck” or problem you're seeing in terms of sawing?

Mark Lauzon, Stoneworks, Hubbard, OR:Our shop runs a Park Industries Sierra bridge saw with the smaller motor and a 14-inch blade. It has worked very well for our needs. It is a manual saw with no automation.

We increase efficiency at the very beginning of the process. We digitize with our Laser Products LT55 laser in the field, and when we clean up the geometry in the shop, we make sure that the parts fit on the slab before we cut the templates. We also show rectangles that represent the slab and our “best” guess on how the individual parts should layout. This enables the sawyer to do much less thinking and spend more time cutting.

My sawyer also tries to lay out as many common cuts as possible. He does this with a long straight edge. The idea is that one blade pass will be a shared cut of several parts.

Having a CNC has made cutting much faster simply because we slightly overcut the parts and have them trimmed to size on the CNC.

We just placed an order for a new Northwood SawJet. I believe sawjet technology is going to revolutionize the industry as we know it. It is basically a waterjet with a CNC bridge saw. The idea is that the software that runs our CNC is identical to what will run the sawjet. The other advantage is we can skip the finger bit on our CNC, which will increase the productivity of our CNC.

Since we are now making the templates digitally, cutting digitally and processing digitally, we are truly 100% digital and template free. These are very interesting days we are living in; the technological advancements are incredible.

Donny Taylor, Albany, GA:We helped make the saw more efficient by doing the following:
  1. Setting up the day's cuts a day in advance. The slabs are placed in the “sold” rack next to the saw bay door. The sawyer then doesn't have to search the yard for the right slabs.
  2. Complicated layouts are done by me prior to cutting. This way, the sawyer doesn't have to spend as much time thinking.
  3. All templates are digitized after layout, and a cut sheet is printed - along with all the Northwood bar code sheets and splash chart. The sawyer gets the paperwork with all of the criteria (stone selection, edge, machine it should go to next, etc.). The machine the job goes to next is important for the sawyer to know. This determines whether or not the job gets overcut for CNC, or cut to size for the edge machine. Templates follow the cut job throughout the shop.

Ben Butler, Mark 1 Granite, Marble & Tile:Since the CNC and digitizer, sawing efficiency has gotten better. Stick templates come into the shop and get digitized. Then they are touched up/tweaked in the CAD program and then over-sized by 1/8 inch and made into rectangles. The rectangle drawings are printed out with measurements and any notes regarding rodding or grain direction. So in most cases, the sawyer only cuts rectangles, and then they are passed on to the CNC.

Brian Briggs, Granite Guys, Inc., Ft. Pierce, FL:We run a Johnson Marble Machinery bridge saw and load the saw with a forklift and an Anver slab clamp. My sawyer does the layout with customers when they request this to be done or on the saw - inefficiency at its finest. Luckily, we have a very experienced sawyer. He is able to do it this way and keep up with three fabricators and share in some responsibilities of management as well.

However, we are working on purchasing a Northwood N 138 CNC stoneworking center, and we know that we will have to improve on our flow through the saw. We are currently laying out a new system.

We recently switched from the stick templates to the Laser Products LT55. The vinyl templates make layout easier. You are able to see any areas that need to be avoided. Since the templates are manipulated in AllenCAD, all actual radii and/or crops are on the template. Also, if an odd-shaped laminate is needed, we just print a template for the laminate as well.

We will be installing a bridge crane over the saw and the CNC. This crane will have a vacuum lifter with power tilt from Wood's Powr-Grip. We are also going to have two half frames against the wall within the bridge crane's reach. The plan is to have one of the fabricators stage these frames with the jobs to be cut for the next two to three days. With the frames sitting side by side, layout can be done right next to the saw while cuts are being made. With the bridge crane and lifter, the sawyer does not have to wait for people to load and unload. We also plan to have a separate layout person to do the layout.

Jim Marshall, The Beveled Edge Marble & Granite, Westminster, MD:We also have the Park Sierra. It's a very simple machine that most can learn to run in less than an hour, but it takes an experienced sawyer to be efficient. We do several things to increase productivity on our saw. We prefer to use blades from Italdiamant. This manufacturer stands behind their product, and if you have any problems whatsoever - tension loss, segment loss, out-of-round, etc. - they can fix it. When our blade slows up, and it impacts our production, we send it back for a “tune-up.” When we get the blade back, it cuts as if it were new.

Dialing in the blade is also important to keep the saw cutting fast. Park Industries outlines this procedure in its owners manual. It keeps the blade cutting plumb and square and will reduce resistance on the blade, resulting in faster cutting speeds. It will also make cutting cleaner, resulting in tighter seams and more rapid polishing times.

Automatic tilting tables are a huge factor in saw efficiency. It is the safest and quickest way to lay a slab down before cutting. Our table also has brakes on two sides, allowing us to stop the table without walking all the way around it. We use Durarock sheets between the slabs and table to save time on milling the table's surface. Milling the table takes too long when you can lay a few sheets of Durarock down and be cutting again in just a few minutes.

We also invested in the Laser Products LT55 laser templating system, along with a plotter, which speeds the layout process before cutting. We have a staging area where we do layouts when the slabs are in a vertical position. The sawyer can lay out the next job between cuts.

The saw is truly the backbone of a fabrication shop. Keeping the saw efficient will improve production throughout the entire shop.

Jeff Leun, The Stone Haus Inc., Chattanooga, TN:We are still in the “Stone Age” compared to others in that we use sticks and don't have the techno gear. Being that we are still without a CNC at this time, it didn't make sense and wouldn't help our sawing process at present. We lay templates out a day before, while the previous kitchen is being sawed. There is plenty of time for the sawyer [to do this] instead of standing around watching a blade spin. We just recently started using a fast-cutting blade on recommendation from John Bergman [of Bergman-Blair/Salem Stone], and we can say it has increased cutting speed and we haven't noticed a significant drop in blade life, at least not enough to be a concern. The biggest slowdown we have is when a large island comes through, and we will leave it on the table for as long as possible to be worked on. It can tie the saw up for a half day or more, but for some materials, for piece of mind, it is easier to just move the piece when its finished, and then we just raise the table and load it up. We have a crane in our future like Brian, and we hope that will increase loading and unloading efficiency by removing the forklift - and the third person - from the picture.

Matt Lansing, Stone Innovations, Inc., Plover, WI:For our company, sawing is one of the more streamlined operations in place. About two years ago, we purchased a CMS/Brembana Antea CNC bridge saw, which has allowed us a lot of flexibility with our sawing operations. Being able to cut from .dxf files - as well as the standard programmable cut - has sped up our sawing quite a bit. Being able to cut radius islands directly at the saw, so they can go directly to hand polishing, has relieved the CNC [stoneworking center] of that duty. Also, being able to cut that island anywhere on the saw table is a wonderful bit of CNC technology. We also use the CNC saw to cut our miter seams exactly to size, so they always fit perfectly tight.

And we still have the original Park Cougar we purchased back when we started the company, and it is still going strong. We use it to mainly cut the blanks for the jobs, which then go to our CMS/Brembana Maxima. It is also used for the occasional trimming of pieces and the odd, small job that we don't need to tie up the CNC saw with.

We made two big steps in the efficiency of our sawing operations. We are staging the slabs onto A-frames at the end of the day for the next day's sawing. There is a jib crane directly between the two saws, where the sawyers are able to pull slabs off and go directly to the saw - with minimal down time.

We also are cutting at a minimum of one day ahead of fabrication. This way, we can keep the saws busy with jobs as the drawings become available, and the guys in fabrication are never sitting and waiting for a piece of stone to polish. It also allows the CNC to constantly run, since it has a few kitchens at all times waiting for it.

Curtis Marburger, Cornerstone Granite, Inc., Elizabethtown, PA:To pick up speed, I started leaving the blade running between cuts. Turning the saw off and on is one less thing to think about. We also found that we were running the cut-travel speed way too slow. Since we picked up the travel speed, we have had no blade glazing. We have a crane at the saw, with a cut rack that holds four big jobs.

Mark Meriaux, The Granite Shop, Smyrna, GA: We do a few things right, but have plenty of “room for improvement,” including at the saw. We only recently added an A-frame next to the saw, and it helps in laying out our multi-slab projects. My sawyer still has a bad habit of doing slab layout on the saw table (a terrible waste of machine time). If you do the layout prior to setting the slabs on the saw, you can keep the machine doing more of what it's designed for - cutting.

We have been using translucent vinyl templates (like Brian) for nearly two years now. They help greatly in laying out materials with a lot of movement or when we are doing vein-matched or book-matched materials.

Additionally, with our newer GMM Eura 35 saw, we can make repeat cuts and step cuts automatically. We can program it to cut a top and the backsplash in one set-up. Using simple functions like these can greatly improve your cutting speed. We also can use the repeat-cut function to mill down material into a special thickness. This operation used to take us a very long time with our older, manual-cut bridge saw.

Loading and unloading the saw has improved greatly in our new facility. The new saw table can be tilted from any position. My sawyer now prefers to load the table by tilting it sideways as opposed to tilting forward. This makes it easier for the forklift operator to place the piece on the table. For unloading, we use an overhead crane with a Wood's Powr-Grip 10-cup vacuum lifter. This makes “plucking” cut pieces from the saw table much easier.

Todd Luster, Tile Marble and Stone LLC, Shawnee, OK:We finally made a good decision in replacing a Sawing Systems Model 83 saw with a new Sawing Systems 515 Model saw with all the options. This alone increased our efficiency greatly. We have a jib crane and vacuum lifter that we use to load and unload pieces between the saw and Park Industries Pro Edge. This is nice because one person can handle large pieces without help when necessary. We hear of a lot of shops laying out the slabs ahead of time, and it is probably more efficient. We usually lay out the pieces as the slabs are being put on the table, so any problems or adjustments can be made at that time (i.e. scratches, cracks, etc.) With the new saw, layout became a lot faster for our sawyer - using the wireless remote and laser alignment and White-Out pens to mark the templates. We will eventually have a CNC in our future, but I am just not sure when.

Dustin B. Wallace, Take It for Granite, Batavia, OH:In my shop, saw efficiency has always been looked at a great deal. A saw is only working when it is running, so there are many things that have to be in place. Also, there are many processes we try to follow to minimize saw downtime and make sure our saw is working at its peak capability.

First thing, your saw has to be “tweaked” perfectly. By that, I mean your blade has to be plumb to your cutting surface. Plus, your blade can also be out of line with the direction it is going. In order to check this, every month when we change our blade, we check our X and Y axes with a dial indicator. Our goal is for these to be very close. There is no room for any tolerance here. Also, the table should be very level to your bridge. After all of this, now we can cut.

After many, many bridge saw blades, I finally found a 14-inch titanium blade with a large segment that fits my saw like a glove. It cuts very fast, and it doesn't “walk.” It lasts for about 3 _ to 4 weeks. Now I have a blade that maximizes my saws ability, and we always keep back-up blades just in case.

The next thing I like to have ready for my cutter is a good, legible shop drawing representing what is to be cut. The templates should also be ready to go, sitting next to the cutter's work area (his own area, untouched by fabricators). The slabs are then stacked in order next to the saw - cleaned and semi-inspected by our shop foreman.

The slabs are then lifted by the cutter using Manzelli vacuum lifters (with hydraulic tilt) and lowered onto the table. This is very safe and very quick. Right now, we have one overhead crane that is used by everyone in the shop. At times, this causes some congestion. However, we are planning on having a dedicated jib boom with suction cups just for the cutter. This will increase project flow from the saw.

In our shop, for now, everyone helps quickly unload the table. Eventually, this will be left to the cutter once the jib boom is in place.