By Guest Blogger Laurie Dunlop - Please forgive me if I don't use the proper vernacular for the stone industry...I am a layman after all. Think of me as your typical customer taking a shop tour.
Ozzy Yilmaz, vice president of operations for Marblex, recently gave a friend and I a personal tour of their stone fabrication factory. He and his team showed us how each piece of equipment worked and explained its benefits. I have to admit, he was so passionate about his work that I was completely fascinated. In fact, I got so immersed in stone fabrication and how this new equipment is revolutionizing the process of custom stone cutting that I came home and gushed about it over dinner that night with my family and was still going on the next morning when I went for a run with a friend. I thought if it was this exciting to me, it would certainly be of interest to others in the stone fabrication industry!
Marblex recently invested about $1.2 million in new equipment and expanded their factory. The company researched the equipment for a number of years before last summer's purchase of American-made equipment, and they have since spent countless hours training on it and learning to use it to its maximum potential.
(Ozzy and I in our hard hats. You can see in the background they've taken a stack of old Luan patterns and turned them into wall art as a reminder of how they used to create patterns! I thought it was a great way of recycling some of the old Luan!)
Reduction of environmental impact
Earlier I mentioned that Ozzy and his team no longer rely on Luan to template projects, using Luan on only about 10 percent of their projects. Instead, they use a digital templating tool. It's really pretty cool, not only for the poor Luan trees, but for the customer too! A Marblex employee simply carries a little briefcase into a customer's home and uses the tool's laser digitizing capacity to capture the exact measurement of space, ie. the cabinet or fireplace, then uploads the file to a CAD-design program back at the factory. The customer can later see their project on a computer back at the shop and tweak it on the spot. No tape measuring. No giant flats of wood. No sawdust. Pretty cool! Oh, and Ozzy pointed out how easy it is to make changes in the template. If the customer hems and haws and asks to see how a bump-out or curved edge would look, voila. The CAD drawing is altered as opposed to sawing a new section of Luan. Even better, the tool completely compatible with the new fabrication machinery.
Back at the shop, the team has been dutifully using a new machine to digitally photograph each and every slab of natural stone, including remnants, into their inventory. (As of my tour they were about 60 percent complete with their virtual inventory.) After photographing it, they attach a unique barcode specifically for that piece. This step is important for two reasons. First, the customer can now look at the high-resolution pictures of each slab stone they selected for their project with the CAD design superimposed on top. They can virtually move it around to get the veining just the way they want it, though the stone professionals will have already matched the veining, color blend and netting for excellent seaming.
First, here's what the machine looks like. I've also included a photo of a stone slab that shows the attached barcode.
The second reason for the barcode's importance comes into play when they move into production. The saw/waterjet that Marblex uses actually has two tables they call tank 1 and tank 2. This means that while the CNC saw/waterjet is cutting one slab of stone, they can set up a second. The CNC saw virtually eliminates human error, speeds up the cutting process, minimizes stone waste, and makes a perfect cut every time. It reads the customer's CAD drawing and will not even turn on unless the barcode on the stone slab matches the one programmed into the file. Pretty cool, right?!?
Next, the CNC saw cuts 80 percent of the straight cuts with a conventional diamond-tipped saw blade with robotic rapid moves. The remaining inner/outer precision radius cuts such as sink or faucet holes are made using the water jet. The water's force measures 52,000 psi (pounds per square inch) to cut. There is less stone wasted because of the way it cuts and the equipment operators simply pop it out like a puzzle piece when its done. The remaining stone is stacked with remnants if large enough for reuse or is crushed and sold to a local nursery for someone's garden! How's that for efficiency?
Pictured here is a perfect cut...which happens almost every time!
The CNC router finishes the job, creating a polished edge at the push of a button. It too uses the CAD file, ensuring the customer's order is completed to spec.
Innovation Leads to Conservation
Earlier, I mentioned that Marblex's new equipment allows them to make a lesser impact on the environment. I've saved the best for last, and what I found most exciting. The cutting and polishing equipment in the shop all use water. Water to cut, water to cool, water to clean. A series of drainage ditches in the flooring collects every drop of water and directs it to a 20-step filtration system. The filtration system cleans the water to be reused and pumps it into a 1500-pound water reserve tank to send back into the shop's closed loop system with no discharge. They also installed a reverse osmosis system specifically for the water jet, which the diamond orifice requires to be cleaned to .001 microns. That's cleaner than drinking water. It is then pumped into a 500-gallon reserve tank where it feeds the machinery all over again. For those of you who have no idea what .001 microns means (I certainly did not) then think of it this way. Drinking water must be cleaned to 1 micron to be potable. Because the equipment is so sensitive to particles, before the recycled water can enter the waterjet pump it is cleaned to .001. Incredible! Here is a shot of their water filtration system.
Ozzy pointed out that the sediment filtered from the water collects in the bottom tray of the filtration system. He suspects the high mineral content would make it a nice additive to soil. His next plan is to test it out in his own garden and if successful, offer it to local nurseries. I wish him well and applaud his efforts to reuse and recycle!
I know the folks at Marblex would be happy to talk to fellow Marble Institute members about their equipment and share their learning experiences. You should definitely give them a call! And if you decide to take a tour like I did, make sure to upload a photo of yourself wearing an attractive hardhat!
About the Author:
Laurie Dunlop recently took a factory tour at Marblex, a natural stone fabricator in Fairfax, Va. She was so impressed with their process that she contacted the Marble Institute about her experience.