As fabricators invest more into CNC machines, the producers of these state-of-the-art machines are not standing idle. Stone Worldrecently asked a few CNC machinery companies to explain the importance of the CNC machine, the future of them and their observations from working with fabricators. Participants include:

• Mark Lauzon, Sasso

• Ann Greco, Salem Stone

• Alex Elzein, Prussiani

• Francesca Catena, Helios

• Doug Cicchini,Baca Systems

• Cevin Moberly, CMS Brembana

Describe the CNC machine(s) you offer fabricators.

Lauzon: With over 50, five-axis CNC saws installed in North America, including seven in the Seattle market alone, our K Series 5 Axis CNC saws are proven performers. 

Greco: Salem Stone offers the Italian made Denver line of CNC equipment. Our line of CNCs are designed using the same technologies used in the ultra-high precision metal fabrication industries. This ensures accurate tolerances and very long-term reliability. Salem and Denver continually work and strive to improve machine offerings to meet the needs of the customer’s application, market demand and evolution.

Elzein: Prussiani has been an innovator in the design and build of stone working machinery for the past 25 years. Our competitive advantage is that we have been building rugged CNC saws, routers and waterjet combos solely for the stone industry.

Catena: Starting from the needs of our customers, we have developed a wide range of CNC machines from simple photo etching machines, automatic sandblasters, pantographs, polishing machines up to large 8-axis fab centers and bridge saws.

We offer 100% Made-in-Italy technology with the best quality raw materials: solid structures with anticorrosive stainless steel coatings, PVC welded bellows, recirculating ball screws and linear guides for the best realization of the finished products and for the best endurance during the time.

Cicchini: Baca Systems designs and manufactures the Robo SawJet system, which utilizes a KUKA robot instead of a CNC-based Sawjet. Our team has been integrating robotic-based cutting solutions for nearly 30 years in manufacturing processes in the automotive, marine, bath, aerospace, wind turbine and thermoforming industries. We integrate the robot with the combination of a saw and a waterjet, providing a very flexible and productive cutting solution for fabricators. The robot can run for five years before the first scheduled maintenance, and the drive system is completely sealed, preventing the water, dust and silica from damaging the drive components.

Moberly: CMS / BREMBANA is the North American presence of CMS Industries, OEM, ISO 9001:2001 Certified, and leading worldwide supplier of solution-oriented, high-performance CNC machining center technology, including 5-axis CNC machines and high-performance waterjet cutting systems. For more than 25 years CMSNA has provided customers in the stone industry specific solutions that focus on efficient production, high machining accuracy and maximum cost-to-benefit ratio.  


Why should fabricators be investing in CNC machines?

Lauzon: Any shop looking to adapt and compete in a hyper-competitive market should not be without CNC cutting technology. The value this technology transcends what the machine actually does in the shop is a fantastic stepping-stone for transitioning to a digital shop. Suddenly, digital templating makes sense, and files and workflow can be managed in the cloud. Schedules and production data can be accessed by staff members on the fly, leading to increases in organization and productivity. Leveraging CNC technology, stone shops can now operate with the efficiency of small factories without the massive investment. In short, you won’t only be able to compete, but win.  

Greco: In today’s competitive market, there is an increasing need to separate companies from their competitors and CNC technology is a vehicle to accomplish this. CNC technology enables the ability to provide accurate repeatable productivity and output as well as custom niche market offerings. CNC bridge saws will dramatically increase production, decrease waste, and at the same time, reduce labor costs — also enabling the reallocation of labor and resources. CNC routers enable consistent quality, reliability and a separation from your competitors.

Elzein: We are in the time and age where technology is everywhere around us, and we should take advantage of it. The stone industry has almost matured on the machinery side, and technology has come a long way on software and hardware. I believe that now is the most opportune time to invest in technology to compete, and remain a serious player in our industry.

Catena: Eight reasons: To be more competitive on a market, which is more and more global; to triple the working hours: a CNC machine can work 24 hours a day contrary to an operator; to simplify the staff management; to comply with delivery terms; to improve productivity and profit; to improve time management: the fabricator can dedicate his time to look for new customers, capture new jobs and schedule marketing actions; to make the creativity faster and more accurate; and finally to produce high-quality work at a more efficient rate.

Cicchini: Investing in SawJet technology immediately adds to the bottom line by significantly speeding up the fabricating process, increasing material yield, and providing a safer environment for workers. Faster production and increased yield leads to being more competitive in the marketplace, and the additional capacity created allows for additional business to be added in the same manufacturing space. The Baca Systems robot uses digital template files, reducing the chance of mistakes and removing hours of labor associated with setting up a manually-templated job. Using a robot instead of a conventional bridge-based saw solution will increase profit by eliminating the maintenance and repairs that are common with bridge-based CNC sawing equipment.

Moberly: CNC machinery will produce a straighter, more precise end product with tighter tolerances. This is what started the trend of stone fabrication companies investing in this type of equipment. This type of precision is now common in all facets of manufacturing. Small gaps, perfectly matched seams, completely square edges and corners, or slight curves and angles that need to match existing walls. These are the types of things that designers and engineers are looking for. CNC machines also provide great labor savings, which is important to all companies.


From your perspective, what are fabricators looking for in CNC machines?

Lauzon: Like cell phones, the cost of 5-axis sawing technology has decreased in recent years as the features and ease of use have increased, making now a fantastic time for both small and large shops to deploy or update existing CNC sawing technology. Consider that most shops today are producing anywhere from 70 to 80% eased edge and/or mitered edges. If you are not currently automated, the logic for your first CNC machine tool to be a 5-axis saw makes a world of sense. You can miter, cut out sinks, core faucet holes and execute radius work with extraordinary precision and unprecedented speed. 

Greco: Along with a reliable machine, it is very important to have a user-friendly software for the operator to interface with that is easy and simple to use. Our software is Windows and icon based and is easy to learn and very simple to use. It also tracks jobs, time and pieces processed, and enables you to job cost. More importantly is support — a strong technical service department to support the machine to include readily available parts is a key component to choosing the right machine.

Elzein: We hear from our customers that software, productivity and tech support are very important to them. For that reason, Prussiani has established a training, and service center in St. Louis to deliver all of the above to our customers.

Catena: The stone operators are looking for simplicity and productivity at the same time. A CNC machine must offer user-friendly software with simple digital interfaces. A CNC machine must be the result of the stone fabricator needs: speed, excellence of the finished products, easy use and immediacy, low indexes of rupture or failures and safety.

Cicchini: Ease of use, low maintenance, low operating cost, reliability, small footprint and flexibility for manufacturing are all critical for fabricators. There are robots that have been running for over eight years, two shifts per day and the robots have had absolutely no downtime or parts replaced during this time. Having a machine that is available every day and can be relied on to be able to process the production required for the day is extremely important to fabricators. Also, having a system that can be programmed at the machine by an operator with no CAM experience is a big advantage, allowing them to run the equipment without investing a great deal of training.

Moberly: The main concerns that I have seen are: quality of build and advancing technology to expand the usefulness of a machine and the ease of operation.


What is the future of CNC machines, or how are you looking to improve them?

Lauzon: Going forward I would expect that most of the changes to CNC sawing technology will focus on software and machine reliability. Again, it’s like cell phones — the core technology is mature, so the biggest areas we can expect change will be in user interface and software. That’s why Sasso engineers work closely with our customers to continually refine the designs and ease of use of our machines.

Greco: We believe in constant improvement and bridging the gap between customers and machine engineers through communication. This enables us to continually improve and develop our machine lines to meet the latest customer and market demands. We will continue to pioneer and provide cutting edge technology — enabling higher quality, faster processing times and the ability to meet customer and product demand.

Elzein: We continue to experiment with total automation in order to improve efficiency, thus increasing productivity. As the industry matures, profits will decline. Increasing productivity through automation and embracing computerization will become essential to survival in the industry.

Catena: The future of CNC machines is the synchronism between several machines — making different machines working all together. Having the highest number of interpolated axis, which moves simultaneously through robotic systems, to make the job of the modern stone operator easier, safer, more productive and profitable. The aim of our engineers is making the digital technology more and more user friendly and cost effective.

Cicchini: Our robot-based solution already addresses many of the weaknesses of the CNC-based technology. Having a SawJet solution that includes a motion system can move quickly from one point of work to the next, that can work in the fabricating environment without requiring a large amount of maintenance or resulting component failures, and requires a very small amount of floor space provides many advantages as compared to the current available CNC machinery. We have also developed software tools that provide production reporting, protection against collision, automated calibrations and other technological developments that improve uptime, performance and overall capability.

Moberly: The future for our industry is very exciting and software plays no small part. We have machines now that need virtually no programming. Most of it can be done automatically with very little input from an operator or programmer. The newest version of our software (coming soon) has some excellent new 3D capabilities, some advanced 5-axis tool path options and cloud back up, just to name a few.  From the machinery side, we continue to push the design of new machines and update the existing line to meet the expectations of our customers. Material and part handling has always been difficult in the stone sector, so we are looking at ways we can help automate even these areas.


What new plans do you have for your future CNC machines?

Lauzon: We take customer feedback seriously, and in the case of our 5-axis saws, we are now working on our fifth generation. Incremental refinements and a constant focus on user experience drives our design team. The explosive growth of our 5-axis CNC saws in the U.S. market is a testament to our dedication and passion for building outstanding machine tools.

Greco: Our new line of CNC saws and machining centers differ from the competition. Denver CNC machines use top-class electro spindles and CNC-OSAI control units with digital interface.  This is the go to controller for critical CNC machining applications that demand consistent reliability. Support is also readily available here in the U.S. The “X” axis has a rotating female block rather than a rotating ball screw, which drastically reduces vibration and noise equating to faster process speeds, higher quality and tighter machining tolerances. The “Y” axis drive system has a top notch single brushless motor on an angled rack and pinion ensuring maximum acceleration without fault, vibration or loss of synchronicity typical on dual Y-a and Y-b drive systems. There are also double supply electrical auxiliary units, water booster systems and preloaded pinions for automatic back-lash recovery. These are just a few of the many important differences between Denver CNC machines and other machines out there.

Elzein: We have just introduced our sawing and jetting machine, the Cut & Jet with 5-axis technology. We have also outfitted Cold Spring granite with two dual spindles Tango belt cutting machines that have made a great and positive impact on their productivity.

Catena: Great news for Helios technology, we are developing and improving the software with new codes in order to make it more and more accessible to all, just doing everything with a touch.

Cicchini: Robotic technology is always evolving at an extremely rapid pace, and as a result, new technology is always becoming available that can be implemented for the Robo SawJet and provide benefits for our customers. The KUKA robot that we use in our system is also used in applications for industries such as aerospace, automotive, medical treatment, machining, measurement and countless other manufacturing processes. Development in these other applications can often provide new technology that is applicable for the SawJet application, resulting in a constantly evolving product that is always being improved with additional capability.

Moberly:We’ve been showing a new Sprint Jet with a vacuum manipulator at the European shows last fall. Some new model waterjets configured with the U.S. market in mind, 3 - 5 axis with superior safety and sound protection and a built in dredge for spent garnet removal. We are also seeing a renewed interest in our VNT systems. This is our “Slab on, parts off” production system that can be used on our 5-axis machines.