Today fabricators are being asked to fabricate a large variety of materials. These projects range from kitchen countertops, fireplaces and other residential use, to commercial flooring and wall cladding. These materials have a wide range of characteristics, challenging fabricators in production and material handling. Our shop used to anguish over handling 10-ton blocks. Now it is handling 6mm porcelain slabs.
New tooling is constantly being tested and brought to the market at an unprecedented rate. These days, it seems that saws blades and tooling are being updated faster than cell phones. All this information is quite a lot to manage in a small shop. Back in the day, we processed marble and granite. And while we may have grumbled about tooling or processes, they were simple and straight forward compared to fabrication parameters of today. Nowadays, digital rules the shop. Instead of machine repair, we are slaves to Teamviewer and software updates.
New surface finishes are becoming very prevalent in the market. This trend will continue, judging from the record sales of the GMM Sirio & the Sasso K Lux of late. Leather, caress, ice, satin, honed and many others are easily achievable with these new machines. These finishes used to require a skilled craftsman with hand tools. What was once sharpening chisels is now running the proper recipe with Tenax bricks.
Clients have always challenged fabricators with unique requests. As time marches on, expectation shrinks to NASA like tolerances — all with the hardest materials known to mankind. Think about working a porcelain slab that is 9 Mohs hardness to a tolerance of 1mm, with no chipping. At every evolution, the fabricating community has stepped up. We have educated ourselves. We have experimented and shared our results with each other. We have continued to support our clients with whatever technology has been required to produce the very best work possible. The advent of the SFA has made this sharing of information more readily available (www.stonefabricatorsalliance.com). Open communication has been key to industry growth, as well as fabricator knowledge, in general. We used to ask the crusty old carver to learn. Now we log into the SFA.
While things evolve and the information can be overwhelming at times, it is truly the golden age of stone fabrication. Five axis machines are well within the financial capabilities of small shops. These machines make the small shops just as capable of precision fabrication as the largest factory. Tooling is evolving at an exponential rate. Material handling, while often overlooked in favor of the old methods, has really evolved. Omni Cubed has changed the way the entire industry thinks about material handling. Changed to the extent that Omni is synonymous with material handling to everyone I speak with. The new NO Lift Cart is a more recent development, but certainly a game changer for those who invest in their people.
People are the most important part of our businesses and lives. We often spend more time with our co-workers than we do with our families. Invest in your people; technology will make them more productive and healthier. Vacuum lifters, carts, clamps, fork trucks and cranes all make production more efficient and are worth the investment. Look at your shop and office. Do you still have a ledger book to keep your financial records in order? I doubt most people have seen a ledger in decades. Now look at your shop. Bring your shop up to your office standards. We were taught to say “please” and “thank you” as children. Today, we use this same politeness to convey gratitude and respect to both clients and employees. The more things change, the more they remain the same.