As a fabricator of both natural and engineered stone for more than 20 years, when it comes to working with large and heavy slabs of materials I have learned that the more efficiently and safely I can manage my inventory, the fewer headaches I will have in the long run.
With a background in tile, when I got started in the slab side of the business I was only worried about the "now" of fabrication -- i.e., what am I handling now for the job that's due next Monday?
As I started getting busy and more and more jobs came my way, I realized my "now" method wasn't quite suitable when it came to large slab fabrication. As the steady stream of orders came in, I had to be able to keep track of those many orders. I not only had to remember where everything was, but I also had to convey the information to the shop's work force that assisted in the day-to-day fabrication of Mrs. Smith's and Mr. Jones' orders.
As the workload grew, I continued to fabricate the hard surfaces. While keeping track of the incoming orders was a big project, I also had to find a way to store all of my materials. Because I never fabricated solid surface or laminates, vertical vs. flat storage was not an option -- vertical was the ONLY way to store granite slabs if I didn't want the stone to break before getting a chance to put it up on a bridge saw.
A lot has changed over the last two and a half decades that I have been working with natural stone slabs. For example, engineered stone has grown in popularity and we now work with the material daily. The introduction of "green" products has also been on the horizon for quite some time with a number of new materials having already arrived. This is especially important, because with the cost of gas at an all-time high and other renewable energy initiatives abounding, I would expect this culture to become much more "green" conscious.
With so much changing in the world of materials, expect just as much to change when it comes to the inside of your shop, especially where storage and handling of your many hard surfaces are concerned. Here is my list of the top five slab storage and handling trends to be aware of in the industry.
1. Safety First
Mishandling slabs can INJURE and/or KILL you, your employees and/or your customers. Ensuring the safety of the people who move the slabs at your facility is more important than anything else. As long as you keep that mind-set, people will not get hurt; they'll go home to their families and kids and come back to fabricate another day.
There is no substitute for a safe working environment for your employees. Besides -- it's the law! You are required to ensure the equipment that handles slabs meets OSHA safety requirements and that your employees moving the slabs around are properly trained and are keeping focused when swinging a slab from a boom or crane. One wrong move from your crane operator and it can be a very bad day!
Just as important as safety, organization separates the beginners from the pros. Regardless of whether or not you are a "mom and pop" shop, a "mega-factory" or any size in between, you must be organized when it comes to slab storage. If you can't find the slabs you have to fabricate today, you not only look like a putz, but you will lose time and money while you hunt them down.
In my shop, we use a simple log-in file that lists when the slabs were received and which storage area they are being held in prior to the fabrication date. To assist this process, I set up storage slips where slabs are held (the slip number is painted on the pavement), and when a slab needs to be located, we just pull the ticket that came with the slab, look to see where the slab was stored and go get it. A day before cutting, the slabs are moved into the shop's saw area, where the layout guy knows how each slab is to be cut.