For as long as three years now (depending on where you’re located in the U.S.), most conversations among stone industry members have begun and ended with a discussion of the economy - specifically how bad it is and whether or not it is ever going to recover. And while we have a long road ahead of us until we’re all the way back, all indications are that the worst is behind us.

With this in mind, my interaction with stone fabricators lately has been a little different than it was during the depths of the recession - which seems to have been at or near the bottom from late 2008 through the middle of 2009. These days, we’re talking more about the craft of stoneworking and how fabricators are dealing with practical issues in the shop. The economy hasn’t been forgotten, to be sure, but it no longer dominates the conversation.

Maybe part of this is the fact that everyone - including me - is just plain tired of talking about the economy, since this mess certainly isn’t anything “new” anymore. Perhaps the recession has caused more fabrication shop owners and managers to look inward at their operations, and they are focusing more on increasing efficiency - even if it means making an initial investment to do so. Whatever the reasons may be, it is a welcome change.

Two prime examples of stone fabricators showcasing their stoneworking techniques and investments can be found in this issue of Stone World. In the first of these two “Fabricator Case Studies,” we report on Innovative Surfaces of Hastings, MN (page 48), which has made a number of investments in the latest technology, including a combination bridge saw/waterjet and a laser layout-projection workstation. “The [bridge saw/waterjet] has been great. We’ve had a lot better material utilization, and it has relieved some time on our CNCs,” explained Bruce Akins, owner of Innovative Surfaces. “We bought a laser [layout-projection workstation] at the same time, so all slabs are photographed and laid out prior to being cut.”

According to Akins, these investments have not only benefitted the company within the shop, but also in its customer interaction. “Our business is wholesale, so clients of our customers come to us after we’ve taken photos of the slabs, and view the photos and slabs for layout approval.” he said. “It’s nice to be able to view and manipulate the pieces prior to cutting.”

Our second “Fabricator Case Study” in this issue is South Shore Marble & Granite in Egg Harbor Township, NJ (page 58), and this company has also made some major investments over the past year or so, including a new CNC stoneworking center with a state-of-the-art pod management system that had just been introduced to the marketplace at the time. “We purchased that machine in late 2008, and it really changed the output of our shop and made it more efficient. We found that we could do a lot more,” said John DeBlasiis, owner of South Shore Marble & Granite. “Everything is set up automatically. We don’t have to set up or attach hoses. I believe it is the only one in the U.S. It’s a workhorse; we use it all day long.”

DeBlasiis also touted his investment in advanced digital templating technology, which he said helps the company process complex jobs. “We are not doing the same thing over and over again,” DeBlasiis said. “We are doing a lot of radius work and inverted corners to create a custom look.”

While the companies mentioned above are just two examples of fabrication shops that are investing in new equipment, it is always invigorating to speak with firms that have put this new technology into action. If you have recently made investments in your shop, Stone World would love to hear about them, so feel free to E-mail me at michael@stoneworld and let me know what is new at your shop.