While many fabricators believe the investment in CNC technology is well worth it, other have reservations on making the switch. Stone World recently asked a few fabricators from different regions of the U.S. to share their thoughts on the subject. Participants included:
• Brett Brunson, Evolution Design, Inc., South Smithfield, UT
• Buddy Ontra, Ontra Stone Concepts, Bridgeport, CT
• GK Naquin, Stone Interiors, Loxley, AL
Do you have CNC machinery in your shop?
Brunson: We have a Park Industries Destiny CNC machine purchased in 2007.
Naquin: Yes. We have three different manufacturers — Park Industries, Northwood and Intermac.
Ontra: No. I do not have a CNC. I do have a radial arm and a “fab center.” I guess they are sort of manual CNCs.
For those that do have CNC machines, did you consider it for a while before making the investment? Why or why not?
Brunson: We considered this machine for a couple of years. I started this business myself in 2000 from nothing, and it was a large purchase for me. I would have to finance the entire purchase to make it happen. It took me a while to believe I could sustain the workload and the payments.
Naquin: For 10 years we considered it, but our product line was more defined to line machines. In today’s market for non-commodity granite, it’s important to be able to have the tooling of the CNC to change your customer base from commodity cheap to detailed profitable work.
How did you go about deciding which machinery was best for your shop?
Brunson: We researched a few companies, and ultimately decided on Park Industries based on the service and reputation that came with them.
Naquin:Specific performance for each of our three locations. All machines met specific standards we required. We then choose by service to each location and relationship with the vendor.
For those that don’t have CNC machinery, what are some reasons you are hesitant to switch to this technology?
Ontra: I’m hesitant mainly because of cost. Then there is the learning pains and training. Not to mention possible employee resistance. On the other hand, I’m not a high-volume shop so my experience and the high skill level of my employees offsets my need for a CNC.
What machinery/tools do you use?
Ontra: As I previously mentioned, I use a “fab center,” the spindle on a gantry machine and a radial arm machine. I’m very comfortable with this equipment as I used them extensively when I worked with my former employer. We install an average of 3 to 5 kitchen counters per week. We also fabricate 2 to 3 for contractors who self install. In addition to the counters, we do quite a bit of custom detail work such as full slab shower walls and pans, floor-to-ceiling fireplace fronts and lots of miter edge and vein-match work. The sizes range from a small condo galley kitchen to a 10 to12 slab indoor “endless” swimming pool room.
For those with CNC machinery, have you noticed a difference in production since you started using it? If so, in what way?
Brunson: Production has improved in many ways. Quality of edging, sink holes etc. is fantastic. We can now produce difficult jobs quicker. Radius jobs and difficult shapes are no longer a major time constraint.
Naquin:We have always had a production shop with the straight line polishers. The difference is now we have many more shaped jobs, and the CNC is much faster and more accurate than conventional routers and hand shaping.
What benefits do you find to using CNC technology?
Brunson: The CNC is a workhorse. We are more technically capable and can produce more volume at the same time. I have never had a regret about buying the CNC machine.
Naquin: Using digital technology has increase the capacity of our template and flow through the verification process prior to production.
Have you found any disadvantages to using CNC technology? If so, what are they?
Brunson: I don’t see any disadvantages to the CNC. I am glad we all learned to fabricate manually and some of us are very good at it. This way if we happen to have a part on the machine go down, and we need to temporarily do some work by hand, we don’t miss a beat.
Naquin: None after you get your current staff adjusted to the change in processes.
Are you a fully digital shop? If not, is this something you are considering? Why or why not?
Brunson: We are not a fully digital shop. We still stick template and cut the majority of tops to size on a bridge saw. The CNC is used for lots of sink holes, and lots of edging —especially curved or lazy-susan tops. Going full digital is something we are currently looking at and most likely moving forward with in the very near future. We have spent time at other shops and seminars on this topic and can see the enormous time saving benefits. Not to mention the quality and accuracy that can be achieved.
For those without CNC equipment, do you ever think about making the investment? If so, do you see yourself doing so in the near future?
Ontra: I often think about purchasing a CNC. How could I not? I am aware of the benefits. I could let go of several of my very skilled fabricators and save some money (after the expense of the CNC purchase). But I kind of relish my role of the “crusty old throwback”— even though I’m only thrown back to 2004 or so. I don’t see myself making this purchase soon, but you never know. The need may present itself and then I’ll act accordingly. Actually, I’ve thought more about a waterjet or saw jet purchase.
Is there one in particular that you would like to start with?
Ontra: If I do decide to get a CNC, I would probably take a baby step and purchase a smaller version — sort of progressing from the radial arm into CNC technology.
Do you feel that your shop could benefit from CNC technology?
Ontra:I believe my shop could benefit from CNC technology. There would have to be the right circumstance for me to make the move, though. I wouldn’t do it simply for the sake of keeping up with the Joneses. When I built my shop in 2005, I had a similar conversation with the late Pete Chiporous. We discussed that the CNC (back in the olden days of 2005) was most beneficial for the shop that did not have a lot of skilled experienced personnel. However, someone with the experience and skills didn’t really need the machine and computer to do the work. We agreed that the cost to benefit had to be balanced.
For those with CNC machinery, what advice would you give to fabricators who are considering purchasing their first CNC machine?
Brunson:My advice would be that if the work load is there and/or if a fabricator is turning away work because production is the bottleneck, a CNC will be the biggest asset in the shop. The goal for us obviously is to be profitable. If you are making money doing it the way you do and are happy with your workload, why add more debt or stress. However if your goal is to grow, capture a few more jobs and produce high-quality work at a more efficient rate, a CNC is a must in our opinion.
Naquin:Understand the actual use you are purchasing the machine to perform. The CNCs can do many detailed programs, but if you don’t have a market for all the fancy performance, make sure it provides increased production in your mix of fabrication.
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