In today’s economic environment it is more important than ever to evaluate all aspects of the fabrication process to see if there are areas to cut costs, thus improving the bottom line. One area to examine should be backsplash production. This may provide an opportunity to not only cut costs, but actually add capacity and improve quality at the same time.
Backsplash production is viewed by many fabricators as a cost center, not a profit center. Most companies sell their jobs by the square foot and naturally there isn’t much square footage in a job’s backsplash. Nonetheless, producing backsplash may be costing more than most shops may recognize. Evaluating backsplash production often gets overlooked because it is a relatively simple manual process requiring less skilled labor. Most people don’t realize there can be significant cost savings when automating this process. How much does a fabricator get paid to polish backsplash including benefits? How much can he actually produce in a day? How much backsplash does a shop have to fabricate each day? What about quality?
Even though this part of the production process requires less skilled labor, it might be surprising to see the bottom-line costs of automating backsplash production. At a typical price of approximately $8 per hour (assuming one eight-hour shift per day, 21 days per month), a backsplash machine may be able to produce up to 10 times the output compared to hand work, and chances are the labor cost for a worker is more than $8 an hour. The labor savings alone, not to mention the quality assurance benefits, makes the decision to automate backsplash production very attractive and profitable. Of course, any major shop decision should be properly evaluated and any equipment purchase well researched in advance of making changes.
If a move to automated backsplash production looks promising, then comes the task of reviewing the available equipment and features. The following are a few key points to consider when shopping for a backsplash machine.
VERTICAL PROCESSING VS. HORIZONTAL PROCESSING
A horizontal machine will handle larger pieces easier. However, a machine with a vertical orientation for piece processing will take up less physical space within a facility. Also, because a backsplash is prone to breakage, a vertical process keeps the stone in its strongest orientation. With some process refinement, most vertical machines also allow for the processing of larger countertop pieces.
NUMBER OF POLISHING HEADS
The more polishing heads a backsplash machine has, the faster the production. Although a good polish can be achieved with a lower number of polishing heads, process speed will be compromised. Also, generally speaking, with fewer polishing heads, fabricators will find themselves spending more time making machine adjustments to account for the varying types of stone.
MICRO-OSCILLATION OF THE SPINDLES
A flat polish is typically the most challenging profile to automate. Without micro oscillation it is common to end up with a haze throughout the center of the edge, especially on darker stones. The micro-oscillation feature moves the tools back and forth on the edge approximately 1 to 3 degrees from the center. This feature creates a washing effect of the tool across the edge of the stone similar to the motion a fabricator produces manually. This eliminates the potential for haze on the edge because it varies the position of the diamonds and the pad’s center water feed hole on the edge face.
PROGRAMMABLE SPINDLE ENGAGEMENT AND DISENGAGEMENT
With a standard spindle setup, as the spindles engage and disengage a piece of stone, swirl marks or scratches may be left on the ends from each tool hitting the stone at the same spot. As a result, the leading and trailing edges may have to be cut off to produce a high-quality finished product. However, with a programmable spindle, the operator can program when each spindle engages and disengages the piece, allowing a fabricator to blend the scratches so leading and trailing edges are polished to the same quality as the rest of the piece. As a result, there is no need for sacrificial stone on the ends. In addition, tool wear will be more consistent, prolonging the tool life.
Not all shops will find automating backsplash production to be cost-effective, nor will they all find that every feature is within their affordable price range when compared to their work situation. So, before purchasing an automated backsplash system, ask for time studies from the equipment manufacturer or distributor. These time studies can help evaluate your shop’s specific production requirements to help determine bottom-line cost savings by automating backsplash production. And as with any major purchase, talking to other fabricators who are using a particular system can be very helpful in identifying potential problems and setting proper expectations for that system.
Today, more than ever, fabricators need to squeeze every penny out of production costs in order to thrive in this economic environment. Do the math. The savings you could reap by automating backsplash production can be surprising.
About the author: Paul Tomczik is a sales consultant for Park Industries, 6600 Saukview Drive, St. Cloud, MN 56303; email@example.com; www.parkindustries.com. Tomczik has worked in the wood and stone industries for more than 13 years. He has a vast knowledge of and experience with fabrication equipment and currently supports and services the East Coast.