Software that helps run our technology is all around us. It improves our lives in a variety of ways -- from the cell phones we carry in our pocket to the navigation systems in our cars. Technology makes our lives easier and more efficient. And relating to stone fabrication, as technology continues to evolve, the software in CNC machines continues to get better and assist fabricators. The stone industry may have started behind the technological curve, but it’s quickly catching up. The days of fabricators having to move every slab in their yard to show customers what that specific slab looks like, may be a thing of the past.

Digital slabs are becoming increasingly popular and the future for them looks promising. Digital slabs shouldn’t be thought of as a simple photo of a slab. It’s an accurate copy of real life. According to Bill Elliott of Northwood Designs, Inc. in Antwerp, NY, developer of Slabsmith, digital slabs allow the entire properties of a slab to be shown to a fabricator. “With the digital version of the slab, I know the exact dimensions; the color is accurate, and the parts that will fit in the slab or remnant are known making it more than just a photo of the slab,” said Elliott. “Then everything flows downhill from that. We can then manage inventories, manage remnants in a new way, do layouts in new ways. We know not only how many square feet are in a slab, but what the largest area we can use in it and what the largest rectangle we can make in that slab is. That also means we know exactly what is in stock if we need to meet certain needs. The possibilities are endless when you have an accurate digital version of a slab.”

Digital slabs don’t just help the fabrication process, but also the sales process. “Now that we have a digital version of the slab, we don’t have to move every slab in the rack to show the customer the color and/or movement of a slab,” said Elliott. “We also have a touch-enabled tablet-based solution we call the “Scan” module, where you can scan a rack, view the slabs on the rack, place slabs of interest in a ‘favorites’ list for the customer where you can see all the dimensions and specifications of the slab. The upshot being that you can narrow down the slab choices for a customer without needing to move slabs. All of this while walking through your slab yard or warehouse.  After the customer selects their specific slabs, the slab can be placed in a job and assigned to the customer, all from the tablet.”

Another software company that can significantly aid fabricators is Moraware, which offers two could-based software products. CounterGo for quoting countertops, which makes professional-looking quotes in minutes and quotes consistently between various sales staff. Additionally, JobTracker Standard Edition and JobTracker Inventory Edition are also available. “Designed from its inception for the fabrication industry, JobTracker’s focus is helping a fabrication business manage many jobs per day without missing tasks,” said Jason Pliml of Moraware. “Want to know the status of a job at any time? Check JobTracker. Want to know your schedule for the day? Check JobTracker. Need to print a work packet or a route map? JobTracker. Looking for a report of how many square feet each crew installed in October and November? Need to hold a job because a slab was dropped? Looking to go paperless?”

The inventory edition of JobTracker has the same functionality of the standard edition, plus creating and receiving purchase orders, tracking which slabs go to which jobs, printing labels, allocating slabs to jobs and tracking remnants. JobTracker can help a fabricator run their business more efficiently because it keeps everyone on the same page from template to install.

“The inefficiency of file folders, whiteboards and texting coworkers to determine the status of tasks are all replaced by JobTracker,” said Pliml. “Production workers can see a list of their assigned activities and mark them as started and complete. Salespeople can track prospective customer activities’ like called, visited showroom or requested a quote, using JobTracker’s CRM functionality. Dealers can see the status of their customers’ jobs in real-time. In short, communication is direct and timely.”

How to get started

For Moraware, there is nothing to install and it’s easy to set up. “Once you’re live, you can jump on any device, login and get work done,” said Pliml. “Plus you’re always running the latest version of our products, no updates to install. Our sales staff and support staff are the same people. We are all heavily invested in knowing the unique needs of the fabrication industry and it is reflected in our products and the way we can quickly understand the nuances of your specific business processes and configure our software to fit your business processes.”

With Slabsmith, Elliott recommends that before installing the software, the shop use digital templating. “The one caveat to using Slabsmith is that you have to be using a Proliner, a laser or something that does digital templating,” said Elliott. “One way or another, you need a very accurate representation of the kitchen to do the layout. That’s sort of the prerequisite. On the backside, there is a way to use the software with manual saws, but I would say the vast majority of our customers are using it on CNC-controlled saws and either do digital templating, or are about to do digital templating.”

The upfront cost of running a program like Slabsmith is that fabricators have to have photos of each and every one of their slabs. “That takes time,” said Elliott. “There is no way around it, but it will save the fabricator much more time in the long run. That time is well spent because you can do much more with that slab and touch it much less.”

For Laser Products, their goal has always been to make the lives of their customers easier. “This is evident by the software we write,” said Brian Stoiber, director of marketing and support for Laser Products Industries. “When originally developing our software for the LT-55XL, and now the LT-2D3D Laser Templator, we knew there was a wide span in fabrication methods and computer expertise levels. We have taken this into consideration for every addition, enhancement, or change we have made since the beginning.” Some of the things they do to help their customers is the elimination of CAD symbols and replacing them with words that have been translated into 13 different languages. They built in email capabilities so templators can send job files to the office to avoid drive backs with physical templates, reducing downtime between templating and fabrication.

The future of software

With these different software programs out there that help customers, and much more, what does the future hold for all of them? For Slabsmith, they are now working with companies, such as Cosentino, to take the photo of the slab before the fabricator has it and sending the fabricator the digital slab information, making less work for the fabricator. Elliott is working with other companies now to join Cosentino in the process of taking photos for fabricators before they are shipped, making the life of a fabricator easier.

While there are several different software programs out there, the future of them is to have them all work together. “What we are noticing is the integration of pieces,” said Elliott. “All the pieces are out there for a complete product, but they haven’t been integrated yet. Our software does what it does well, but there are other areas it does ‘okay.’ Moraware does scheduling well, but they don’t do what we do. The future will be when more third-party companies figure out ways to integrate all the programs into one to run smoothly.”

Laser Products’ software is continually being developed to include more robus integration with industry leading software through partnerships they have cultivated over the years. “We have been partners with Moraware for years and allow customers the ability to quickly and easily upload files directly into their JobTracker application,” said Stoiber. “Once uploaded, shop workers can pull those files and begin fabrication. In September, Laser Products partnered with Slabsmith to provide customers the ability to easily manage slab inventory and efficiently lay out slabs and remnants. Slabsmith users can go a step farther with an elegant fabrication experience where templated job files from our Laser Templators can be brought into Slabsmith, laid out with the slabs of their choosing, and see 3D renderings of what their countertops will look like before fabrication.” At StonExpo 2017, Laser Products is announcing an integrated camera option for their LT-2D3D Laser Templator. According to Stoiber, this feature solves the issue of human eyes not being able to see as far as the distance the Laser Templators can measure to.

For Moraware, while they only announce features once they are thoroughly tested and ready for release, they closely listen to the thousands of people using their software every day and make sure they keep improving the software to deliver value and ease of use. “As a platform technology, several partner companies continue to release new integrations and add-ons,” said Pliml. “These include barcode inventory reconciliation, field services and management apps, plus integrations with Laser Products, Slabsmith, Home Depot IConX and more.”