I had the opportunity to attend the joint meeting of the ICPA and ISSFA recently. The program included a demonstration of pouring your own solid surface bowls and sheets at Gruber Systems East.
Attending this event were solid surface fabricators who have come to this business from two different backgrounds. The typical "pour your own" guy comes from the cultured marble industry and is already familiar with the processes, permits, and understanding of what is involved in casting solid surface shapes and sheets. Mainstream fabricators, on the other hand, have never been exposed to catalyzing anything larger than a two-part joint adhesive.
As we stood there watching the process it became obvious to those of us who have come from a mainstream fabrication background that it would be very difficult to apply this manufacturing technique to our existing businesses. I envisioned having to order several pieces of equipment and needing to stock many new materials for each sheet. That is in contrast to calling my distributor and receiving a sheet the next day that includes a ten year warranty.
With the amount of material used on a daily basis, a national brand-oriented fabricator would have a hard time changing to a self cast material supply. On the other hand, solid surface fabricators who have entered and grown their business casting their own materials have found a niche with their smaller markets by providing quality products with unlimited custom color and pattern possibilities.
It was apparent that fabricators who choose this self-casting route must have a very good understanding of the process in order to control the quality of their materials. I was impressed with the quality of the products we saw being produced by this method, but I was surprised by the amount of time and labor required to manufacture a single sheet or bowl.
With the cost of solid surface materials coming down, the economics of casting your own sheets and shapes seems to make less sense. If I were to choose to add a cultured marble line to my existing countertop offering, pouring my own sheets or bowls might be something I would consider for some applications. But at this point in time, having built our business on fabricating nationally produced solid surface products, adding solid surface casting to our existing manufacturing process seems like a step backward.