Production Machinery for Solid Surfacing Fabrication

      Thoughts and advice for a solid-surfacing shop owner on investing in equipment such as panel saws or CNC routers. October 2, 2005

I am having difficulties fabricating solid surface. We have too many orders, too many jobs… and our biggest problem is that all work is hand made. Our workshop consists of 20 workers - two for installation, seven for fabrication, and the others are ordinary workers and sanders. What can be introduced to the workshop to make our lives easier (today we stress on a project and work overtime, the next day nobody comes to work or everybody is tired). We use the traditional steps cutting on the table saw, then we do the edge cleaning on a router fixed on a table, then the adhesive, then sanding. Do you think a spindler will make things easier?

Forum Responses
(Laminate and Solid Surface Forum)
I recommend a Striebig vertical panel immediately. After you get that, start looking at a CNC machine and cut down the number of employees (headaches) you have and replace them with headaches you create (CNC). You won't go wrong with a Striebig machine. And then I would seriously consider a CNC.

If you are doing a lot of straight, flat work, like countertops, an Aout v-groover or other dedicated miter folding machinery will make a huge difference in the quality and productivity of your shop. You will have to assess whether your dollar volume justifies the investment of a lot of capital in machinery, but with 18 shop hands, it sounds like it might pay off.

From the original questioner:
Absolutely true - "headache" is the right term. Workers are headaches. Vertical panel sounds good because, first of all, it doesn't require space, and second, it's a one man job. The only thing you need is someone to transport the sheet to it (if I am not mistaken). Other than this, I don't know how it can help. I need something that gives me pieces ready for adhesive, thus eliminating steps... cleaning, calibrating and stuff. What about the spindler? Most of my work consists of kitchen tops. Maybe the v grooving machine would help, too.

We use an old HolzHer, and it's great for just cutting. But if I had the option to choose one machine (as affordable as a good vertical), it would have to be a small CNC like the ShopBot. For about $12K, it'll cut the top and build-up strips to virtually any shape, up to 4' X 8', make inlays a breeze, sink/cooktop cutouts, etc. Some day :)

Get a Striebig Optisaw 2. The hp and capacity is primed for SS. Even with a v-groover, doing any quantity of SS will require precutting. Doing that on a table saw is not just difficult from a quality point, but the fatigue your labor is suffering is probably due to the acrobatics it takes to maneuver these sheets on it. We have a Striebig. We got it used and it is great. We are not high volume, so we can v-groove on it with an attachment. Oh, and the cuts are seamable off the saw with an 80t SS blade. Please research this purchase or any before you buy a Holzher or other brand. You'll find out the money you save will only be on the front end.

Although we are not in the ss fabrication business, we do from time to time cut ss using our CNC routers for specific projects. Our experience using the product is limited; however, our results were excellent cutting with a CNC. There is no doubt that the decision to purchase a CNC for over 100k versus a saw for 10k is cause for much investigation. We are currently setting up our fourth router in our shop. It's interesting to note that most routers are sold to companies that already own one. You become a believer rather quickly.

With regard to your business, there are several things we discovered when fabricating the solid surface material with a CNC. Perhaps, I should say we uncovered a few tricks we were able to do with the CNC. They are as follows:

1. Universal interlocking 1/8 plywood templates were cut to lay just inside the countertop to be measured. A score line was made at 4" intervals around the perimeter of the template. After assembling the template, measurements could be taken from the template to cabinet edge or the wall. Using the CAD drawings of the template, you can now plot points to represent the finished geometry of the countertop. It's sort of a poor man's digitizer, but the results are extremely accurate.

2. When cutting the edge or build up strips, we would drill for dowels at the perimeter so that we could stack the edge without concern of movement.

3. Creating joints is a breeze. They always fit when cut with the router.

4. We would often cut the tops slightly oversized, say about 1/8". After glue up, we would turn the top upside down and reposition it on the CNC. We would then cut the top to desired size, thus cleaning up the edge and associated glue squeeze out.

5. Drainboards and other similar millwork is easily accomplished.

6. We experimented with cutting artwork etched in the face of the material. The cut lines were then filled with the glue material above the surface of the material. After hardening, we milled the surface flat to reveal a clean inlay of our artwork.

These are just a few things we learned in dabbling at the crossroads of where the material meets the machine. It's hard to imagine the tricks, shortcuts and ideas that people like yourself who are in the trenches everyday with the product could come up with. My vote - go with CNC. You won't regret it.

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