"From there it either goes to another fabricator, and they fabricate it, or it goes into our fabrication operation," explained Steve. "We do all of our cutting with a Multi-Cam CNC, and then we get into the manual side of things, where we do end caps and all the customizing with manual labor. We've managed to cut out a huge chunk of labor.
"With this product we decided that it was important that it be easy to install," he continued. "When you have to get trained and certified solid surface installers, it adds quite a bit of cost. So we designed this whole program to be installed, just like a laminate top, by a carpenter, a countertop installer or do-it-yourselfer."
While Sta-Care doesn't offer a lot of the options available from most solid surface fabrication companies, those options can still be done by other fabricators buying slabs from the company.
"You can take our Visioneer product and you can do hard seams, inlays, integral sinks and coved backsplashes, but then we feel you're adding too much cost and you lose the advantage of the product," said Travis. "But it can physically be done. We have customers who do hard seams and integral undermounted sinks, but we don't offer that with our customized countertops."
And the company doesn't seem to be facing any of the problems other products of this nature have been subject to.
Pouring Your Own Product
While the company started mixing and pouring solid surface in a batch production that included open molds and curing ovens, it has recently re-engineered its production line to operate on more of a continuous process. However, it isn't what you would call typical. Rather than buying equipment for continuous casting, Travis engineered a system that worked on a continuous curing platform.
The company still batch-mixes their solid surface product, but now there is a sophisticated belt-operated system which flattens the product and runs it through a lengthy curing oven until it comes out the opposite side fully cured and ready for fabrication after cooling (see Figure 4).
Sta-Care is currently offering 52 solid surface colors and pouring about 3,700 lbs. a day. "With our new process, we can go up to about 9,000 lbs. a day [approximately 72 standard ½-in. sheets]," said Travis. "It depends on if you're talking a lot of one color. With this machine, if we have to run 200 sheets of one color, we can run the machine and keep pouring batches of material into it without ever stopping."
Of course, manufacturing solid surface isn't for everyone. There are some intricacies and disadvantages to making the product in-house. "We were told by some experts that what we were trying to do wasn't possible when we first came up with the idea," said Travis. So we built a ¼-scale prototype and proved that it is indeed possible. It took a lot of time and effort, but that's kind of how the whole thing started."