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Emerald Coast Uses Robotics for Stone Fabrication, Marketing

By Joel Davis

Emerald Coast Fabrication, a premier provider of granite, marble, and quartz countertops in the Florida Panhandle, isn’t a novice in the use of sawjets. But when it came time to replace its existing Northwood sawjet, Emerald Coast followed its tradition of innovation with an eye towards the future and decided a state-of-the-art Robo SawJet from BACA Systems would save time, increase yield, and improve accuracy.

Moving Ahead with the Future in Mind 

Starting 24 years ago as a small Corian countertop shop, owners Jim and Wendy Tatanish have made a name for their business in the Florida Panhandle and continued to adopt new technology and innovations in the stone fabrication industry at every turn.

Because Tatanish believes in staying ahead of the curve, he could see that automation was the key to outperforming other similar operations. Still, there was more innovating in store for the business.

“Even though we started out small, I always wanted to have the best equipment,” he said. “We started automating in 2003 and by 2006 we were fully automated.”

“Even though we started out small, I always wanted to have the best equipment,” he said. “We started automating in 2003 and by 2006 we were fully automated.”

Robotics Changed the Trajectory of Emerald Coast

When Emerald Coast moved away from Corian, it was a purposeful move, following the trends within the industry and the vision Tatanish had for the business. As the company expanded and added employees and equipment, it found itself spending more and more time and money on simply maintaining its fabrication equipment.

When Emerald Coast opened a new, modern 25,000 square foot facility, Tatanish saw the need for new, more modern equipment, too. “Our existing Northwood gantry sawjet had done a great job over the 12 years we had it, but the operating costs and downtime involved made me think about a change.”

Because robotics technology was the future of stone fabrication, Tatanish decided to look into a BACA Robo SawJet. But it wasn’t a slam dunk. “We were long-time Northwood customers,” he said. “However, the recommendations from other fabricators is what sold us on the BACA robotics. I talked to one customer that had a Northwood and a BACA and told me without a doubt, buy BACA. I probably talked to 20 customers, and I got the same story from each and every one.”

A Robo SawJet is equipped with a high-pressure abrasive waterjet and a 26HP direct-drive saw and features a precision KUKA Robotics industrial robot. It’s lightning fast — able to cut a standard 40-square-foot kitchen countertop with sink hole from a slab within 15-18 minutes. This is half the time of other machines.

Virtually Maintenance-Free

The KUKA robot requires virtually no maintenance for 10,000 hours or 5 years. The Robo SawJet requires only simple maintenance on its sturdy H2O jet pump, which is designed to hold up in 24-hour per day automotive manufacturing environments. Its components are easier to install and cost less than those used in competing brands of waterjet pumps. It can also last about three times longer between rebuilds than Hypertherm pumps.

 “Overall, the cost of ownership of my brand-new BACA is equal to the annual repair cost of my old machine,” he said. “So basically, my Robo SawJet is free. All the productivity increases I’m getting are actually coming to me at no cost. The purchase is offset by zero maintenance and repair costs. All the efficiencies and productivity improvements go straight to my bottom line.”

“Overall, the cost of ownership of my brand-new BACA is equal to the annual repair cost of my old machine”

Jumping into Robotics Slowly was the Idea

Even though Emerald Coast was sold on the idea of a robotic sawjet, Tatanish planned to rely on his older sawjet to keep the business going until the switchover happened several months down the line.

“Well, it didn’t work out the way I had planned,” he said. “The old saw crashed and it would have taken a major repair to get it working again, which did not make sense.”

So, Tatanish called BACA and explained the situation and the company was able to complete the delivery, installation and training in just four weeks.  “I have never seen such amazing customer service from any company,” he said.

The BACA training went off without a hitch, Tatanish said. “The training and the software for the Robo SawJet is so user-friendly that even I am able to understand and use it. As an owner, I can operate the robot but, in the past, with the old machines, I could not operate them.”

After installation and training Emerald Coast was up and running in a short time. Even better, the advantages of the new robotic saw were evident right from the start.

“Once we implemented the BACA Robo SawJet, the biggest difference for us happened right away,” Tatanish said. “We probably saw a 10 percent increase in yield from the old machine to this new one immediately.”

Powerful on-board software allows the Robo SawJet to optimize cutting patterns. Coupled with the accuracy and efficiency of the combination of the waterjet and saw, this increases the yield from individual slabs. Customers can save an average of 20 percent on material costs annually.

All Sawjets are Not the Same

Even though Emerald Coast had been fully automated, using a traditional gantry sawjet required constant maintenance and several employees to babysit the saw while it cut materials, to make sure nothing went wrong or that the saw didn’t get jammed or stop in the middle of a cut.

Tatanish said the constant maintenance issues with the old sawjet and downtime really hurt the company’s bottom line.

“The old KMT waterjet pump also required a tremendous amount of downtime for maintenance,” he said. “The new waterjet pump has worked flawlessly up to this point. In fact, in two months it has had no issues.”

A major difference between the old sawjet and the new Robo SawJet is that the new one is now Tatanish’s star performer and marketing tool. “I don’t just use the machine as a manufacturing tool,” Tatanish said. “I also use the sawjet as a marketing and sales tool. Every customer who comes into my building gets a tour and we show off the Robo SawJet. It differentiates us from the rest of our competition.”

The Robo SawJet is Not Just a Pretty Face

A fancy new piece of equipment is nice but what makes it a good buy is the return on the investment. With the Robo SawJet, Tatanish said, “My cycle times are virtually cut in half. The BACA cuts twice as fast as my old machine and it cuts with better precision so that much less finishing work is needed after it comes off the Robo SawJet.”

In fact, with the Robo Sawjet, what used to take 2-3 hours to cut can be done in a fraction of the time. Difficult cuts like sink cutouts, faucet holes, arcs and radius cuts are simple and easily done through a proprietary software system that anyone can view on a large computer screen attached to the machine.

“We do a lot of very high-end exotic vein-type materials, so when we switched to the BACA machine, we went from stick templating to digitizing the programming,” Tatanish said. “Because of the vein match software, we no longer need the physical template to match up our veining. We do it right on the computer screen. The system actually let us replace a costly digitizing technician with the software.”

“My cycle times are virtually cut in half. The BACA cuts twice as fast as my old machine and it cuts with better precision…”

Working with Robotics Makes the Job Run Smoother and Faster

Emerald Coast Fabrication is completely on board with robotics. Tatanish even jokes about how robotics has changed his business. “My old machine ran all day, because it took us all day just to cut what we needed to cut. When I bought the Robo SawJet, I teased my guys that by noon or 1 p.m., they’d be done and now have nothing to do.”

“They laughed at me, but it’s true,” Tatanish said. “By noon or 1 p.m. the robot is done — he’s done his work for the day. My employees can finish the other work they need to do because the cutting is done.”