Friday, 7 May 2010

Microshop” CNC production

At a recent Stone Fabricators Alliance (SFA) Workshop, two veteran stone fabricators presented both sides of the CNC spectrum. Scott McGourley from Kasco Stone of Tampa, FL, represented smaller “microshop” CNC/digital production, while Miles Crowe of Crowe Custom Countertops of Acworth, GA, discussed large-volume production using CNC technology.

McGourley began his presentation on microshop production with an explanation of how many shops are initially formed. “Most people start with a rail saw or a bridge saw and then figure it out,” he said. “We started manual, and I was never able to do enough to make the profit that I wanted while also not doing hack work. Then I read about a producer in Norway who was cutting slabs on a four-axis machine. He was a one-machine shop, and he was making it work.”

According to McGourley, a microshop is small in terms of size as well as production rate, but it is equipped with CNC and digital technology. “I consider a microshop to have 5,000 square feet of space or less, to have two to four employees and to produce 500 square feet or less per week. I personally do two slabs a day to make 400 square feet per week,” he said. “You need a digital cutting solution and digital renderings, and you are bringing everything down to the minimum. Just having a CNC router without a separate bridge saw is not a digital cutting solution. You still would need a saw man, so you are still dependent on manual labor. If you’re a small manual shop with three workers, it can be crippling if one guy doesn’t show up for work. Meanwhile, a machine is steady in its performance and the time to complete a task, so the level of quality and costs are maintained.”

At the presentation, Scott McGourley from Kasco Stone of Tampa, FL (left), represented smaller “microshop” CNC/digital production, while Miles Crowe of Crowe Custom Countertops of Acworth, GA, discussed large-volume production using CNC technology.
At Kasco Stone, employees include Scott McGourley — who does the templating and programming, and his wife, who runs the showroom. He also has two employees, both of whom can run the machine, which is a Breton Fabcenter, and one of whom can program if needed. “We also have contract installers and a commissioned salesperson,” he said.

Addressing the investment and costs of CNC technology, McGourley explained how a microshop can actually lower its monthly outlay. “Looking at tooling costs, we all know that CNC equipment is costly, but my tooling costs went through the floor,” he said. “We only purchase CNC tooling and a new saw blade once in awhile. A set of CNC tools is $3,000 or even a little less, but they last forever when you’re only doing 400 square feet per week. Our electricity costs have gone up, but our monthly outlay has gone down overall. A CNC is a lot of money on the initial investment, but when you look at our monthly outlay, it begins to make sense. You also have growth options. You cannot seriously do volume in a manual operation, but going from a microshop to a volume shop is possible with the addition of a digital cutting solution. Of course, a breakdown is very bad when you’re completely relying on one machine, so this is why finding a company with good service is key. You also have to pick the right machine for the right situation. This [Breton Fabcenter] is my solution.”

Kasco Stone utilizes a Breton Fabcenter for its routing and cutting operations, and it averages 400 square feet of production per week.
photo courtesy of Breton
When operating a microshop, McGourley said that maintaining a proper image is critical. “People come to my 3,500-square-foot shop and 400-square-foot-showroom, and it may not look like much, but then they see the machinery, the digital renderings and the imaging, and their
image goes up,” he said. “The digital inventory and showroom help narrow things down. We are able to quickly go through the different materials and edge details.”

The process at Kasco Stone also allows McGourley to work directly with his customers. “In a microshop, the owner controls the quality. I am the templater right now, and that allows me to control the process,” he explained. “Digital renderings allow you to show the kitchen to the customer before cutting. It is also a way to check for errors. The customer might say that the sink is wrong, or that there are three faucet holes instead of two, or something like that. You cannot let the customer sit down and ‘design’ the kitchen, however, because they will sit there all day tweaking everything. If they want that, we offer the design option for $25 an hour.”

Extract from an article on Stone's World May 1, 2010

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