Streamlining stone production with robotic technology
With the assistance of robots and other high-tech systems, Hard Rock Stone Works runs a lean high-volume stone fabrication operation
For Hard Rock Stone Works in Sterling Heights, MI, robotic technology has led to a formula for success. Owned by partners Randy Frantz, chief executive officer, and Steve Amodeo, chief operating officer, the fabrication business has rapidly expanded in recent years and continues to invest in its operation through technology. With a staff of 163 employees, the company outputs 15,000 square feet of material weekly – making it the largest fabrication shop in southern Michigan.
“I saw the value here,” said Bobby Finn, director of operations, when explaining he returned to the company three years ago, but had first started working for the owners years prior. “Hard Rock has grown tremendously. We make sure our customers are taken care of.”
Investing in robots
And what does Hard Rock Stone Works attribute its boost in production to? According to Finn, it’s the company’s investment in robotic technology.
When the company first broke into the fabrication business, the shop was equipped with three bridge saws and then soon invested in a bridge saw/waterjet machine. “There were constant struggles,” explained Finn. “It was a good machine at first, but we pumped a lot of money into repairs.”
In search of a solution, Hard Rock Stone Works started talking to Baca Systems about its Robo SawJet. “I asked what happens when it goes down, and they said, ‘It doesn’t,’” said Finn. “We ran both the robot and bridge saw/waterjet for a couple of years and tracked the cost. We then got rid of the bridge saw/waterjet and made the decision to get a [Robo SawJet] 2.0.
Finn explained that Hard Rock Stone Works has gotten very involved in the lean manufacturing process. The company works to streamline processes to make its overall operation run as smoothly and efficiently as possible. “We are at a seven-day turnaround time per job,” said Finn. “It’s a fabulous thing. The guys have started living outside the ‘chaos’ — instead of in it. When you eliminate the bottleneck of a shop, you can focus on other things.”
While the robots have proven their significance to shop production, Hard Rock Stone Works also maintains a full line of automated equipment that assists in the fabrication process. Among the machinery are two Titan CNC stoneworking centers – equipped with vacuum pods from Better Vacuum Cups (BVC) — a Fastback backsplash machine and a Velocity line polisher — all from Park Industries, as well as a Marmo Meccanica bridge saw.
The shop also relies on its Baca Miter Excel for accurate cuts. “We produce 2,000 to 3,000 linear feet a week,” said Finn. “I don’t know what we would do without it. We charge for a miter, and now it’s our fastest edge.” The machine is equipped with Terminator blades.
“Baca is working with us on tool management,” explained Finn. “We are putting in a Zares II to help maintain the life of our tools.” At the time of Stone World’svisit, the company also had plans to put in a Baca’s new Edge polishing line.
The benefits of digital systems
In addition to its fabrication facility, Hard Rock Stone Works has a sales showroom in Troy, MI. It also has a newly built warehouse adjacent to its shop, which houses an inventory of 4,700 slabs. The company services a diverse market, including kitchen and bath dealers, retailers, commercial builders and big box stores. “Commercial will edge out a little by about 10% this year,” said Finn, adding that the company has done work for Little Caesars Stadium, Ford Field and Notre Dame Field, as well as recently signing a contract for a 76-story high-rise in Chicago. “We go all over the U.S. – California, Texas, Seattle. You name it, we’ve been there.” The majority of its slabs are supplied by Cosentino, and Hard Rock also is a certified Dekton fabricator.
To offer its customers top-notch service, Hard Rock Stone Works uses Slabsmith to illustrate what a job will look like. It also invested in Stoneapp, which tracks inventory and allowed Finn, along with a co-worker, to create their own platforms for each department in the company.
“We created capacities for each guy,” explained Finn. “We can click on each person and see what jobs they have done. I know what every single shift can cut and what every guy did for the day. Everything is in real-time. This system surpasses anything else out there. The whole system runs off of tablets – every installer has one. The installers take pictures of everything.”
Hard Rock Stone Works employs 15 two-person installation crews and recently built an install training facility, which allows them to teach proper techniques. “We bring people in and teach them how to put brackets in or we have things messed up and have them problem solve,” explained Finn. At the start, each person is given a binder that includes different topics relating to installation. Additional topics covered are how to cut a cooktop, how to level and shimm. “It’s been a huge value for us,” said Finn, adding that overall, Hard Rock Stone Works believes educating themselves first is the best way to grow and benefit its business.
Hard Rock Stone Work
Sterling Heights, MI
Type of Work: residential and commercial, including big box stores