Mainland Stoneworks Charts a New Course Using Robotics
By Joel Davis
Mainland Stoneworks isn’t afraid to try something new. After charting a new course to survive the crash of the housing market in 2006, the business is again reinventing itself through the latest robotic automation technology available for the stone industry.
Beginning life as a small cultured marble operation with three employees and a few pieces of equipment, Mainland grew into one of the leading producers in Houston. In 2006, that began to change after Mainland President Kevin Bertelsman and his wife, Kristi, acquired the company.
Granite countertops quickly became the mainstay of the shop’s production. In 2013, the Bertelsmans shut down the cultured marble operation in favor of more lucrative natural stone, engineered stone, and solid surface countertops.
“When the housing market crashed, we had to do something different to survive and started doing granite with one table and a rail saw,”
Success Brings Challenges
The shop became a victim of its own success, and Bertelsman began looking for a technological way out. “We had gotten to where we were maxed out with 25 percent overtime and turning down work,” he said. “If we wanted to move forward, we needed to do something more efficient. We began to look for a digital solution and came across BACA.”
A Robo SawJet was installed at the Mainland’s 20,000-square-foot facility in Alvin, Texas, on July 31, 2017. The investment has significantly increased the company’s profitability, Bertelsman said. “Once we did the cost analysis, it was a no-brainer. More production, less overtime, and increased accuracy and efficiency in the field. More yields from slabs. It has saved us money across the board. We can go out and sell.”
Through the years, Mainland had moved to the use of bridge saws in the shop but they simply could not keep up with production demand, he said. “The bridge saws were slow. We were always having to repair them. You can’t nest. If you wanted to nest something, you’ve have to almost cut it by hand. Now, we’re not having to. With multiple holes and cut angles, it comes in and fits like a glove.
Dual Table Advantages
The heart of the Robo SawJet is durable KUKA Robotics industrial robot, equipped with a high-pressure abrasive waterjet and a 26HP direct-drive saw. It is dual-table system, allowing a slab to be cut on one table while another is being loaded. “Once it was installed, we were producing that very same week,” Bertelsman said. “It is efficient.”
The Robo SawJet had another advantage over competing technologies. It could actually fit in the Mainland facility. Other machines required too much room to be feasible.
“The ultimate decision was the footprint required by the other machines,” Bertelsman said. “The footprint of the Robo SawJet was ideal, and we felt like it was the latest and greatest technology that was the most efficient.”
“What it does is allow us to keep up with our schedule”
A Robo SawJet can cut a standard 40-square-foot kitchen countertop with sink hole from a slab in half the time of other machines. It can finish a job within 15-18 minutes. The cutting speed is paying dividends for the shop. “Our installers are more productive,” Bertelsman said. “The capacity of our shop doubled. Overtime went away. It allowed us to go back and sell. We were turning down work.”
BACA Systems also offers its own Vein Match software, allowing shops to match veins from different parts of the same slab, preventing waste. “Vein matching and the nesting of parts being cut on the slab really increases our yield,” Bertelsman said.
Mainland technicians were still resorting to the use of paper templates in the field before the company transitioned to the Robo SawJet. Now it runs a completely digital operation. “With laser templating, we’re much more accurate with our measurements,” Bertelsman said. “We do all of our cutout design in shop now. It saves us money and time.”
“More production, less overtime, and increased accuracy and efficiency in the field”
The BACA RoboSawJet’s IDE Diamond Cutting Head offers consistent alignment. The accuracy of the Robo SawJet allows customers to save an average of 25 percent on material cost annually.
The accuracy means work that once had to be done in the field stays in the shop, Bertelsman said. “Our biggest customers are cafeterias. One big cafeteria countertop area might have 60 different holes being cut out. We used to have to drill and cut all those in the field. One of the nicest changes is we can now cut it to match in the shop, and it works perfectly. It saves a tremendous amount of time during installation.”
Mainland depends on the Robo SawJet for consistent production. “What it does is allow us to keep up with our schedule,” he said. “Right now, we’re doing about 500 square feet per day. We’re more constrained by the back end of our shop and the installation, not the cutting.”
The Robo SawJet’s simple, intuitive PC-based operating software is designed to lower barriers to use by employees. Instead of having to depend on one or two experienced operators, other workers can step in to run the machine as needed.
“It’s very, very easy to use and user-friendly,” Bertelsman said. “It can be programmed in the office or at the machine. You have flexibility. You’re not depending on just one person to do it all.”
Maintenance and Customer Service
The KUKA robot itself is practically indestructible, needing almost no maintenance for 10,000 hours or five years. The Robo SawJet uses a durable H2O jet pump, designed to last under grueling 24-hour per day automotive manufacturing conditions. The pump, which can last up to three times longer between rebuilds than Hypertherm pumps, costs less than half to operate than the KMT pumps used in other brands of sawjets.
If there are problems encountered during the operation of Robo Sawjet, BACA technicians can remotely log on to the onboard computer to diagnose the problems.
“They have great customer service with their responsiveness and interest in helping us with issues that come up”
In 2016, Mainland opened a state-of-the-art 45,000 -square-foot natural stone and solid surface fabrication facility in Winston Salem, North Carolina, to expand its reach into the eastern U.S. Bertelsman said he is considering purchasing a Robo SawJet for the next facility.
Meanwhile, Mainland continues to depend on the Robo SawJet to drive production at its Texas plant. “We’ve been really happy it,” Bertelsman said. “It changed the way we do business.”
“We’ve been really happy it. It changed the way we do business.”