Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Adding a Manufacturing System to an Existing Cultured Marble Factory

I have visited a lot of cultured marble factories that have been in business for many years, and still do not have a Manufacturing System or conveyor equipment to move the molds through the manufacturing process. There is no reason not to have this equipment. Let me explain how a cultured marble conveyor and storage system will pay for itself in a short period of time, maybe a year or less.

Labor Savings:The equipment in the photo below (I’m showing only the storage racks) was installed a little over a year ago. The shop manager in this factory told me that immediately after they installed it, they finished on Wednesday what it was taking them till Friday to complete. That’s a huge 40% reduction in labor cost! If you produced the same amount of product with only one less employee, that itself would probably pay for the equipment in a year. If you had eight employees, six people would be capable of producing the same amount of cultured marble products per day.

Increased Production:This same factory is producing between 35% to 40% more marble today than they were prior to installing the equipment a little over a year ago. It’s not uncommon to find that a cultured marble shop that is no longer taking any new customers because their production capacity is maxed out. If they would simply install some mold storage and conveyor equipment, they could possibly double their output each day/week/month. If they increased their production only 20% per year, this would pay for the equipment in a year.

Space Savings:You can save an incredible amount of space with the equipment. Each level of each section of storage rack in the photo below is 96 square feet. As you can see, there are five levels in each one of these racks. That is 480 square feet of mold storage space per one, five-level rack. If you take this 480 total square feet per storage rack set, X the five sets of storage racks, you’re looking at a total of 2400 Square Feet of mold racks. That’s a lot of molds in 480 square feet. If this factory had these molds in their factory without the storage racks, they would have wall-to-wall chaos. It would not be possible to move them through the manufacturing process.

Cut Insurance Costs: When you install your equipment, one of the first calls you should make is to your insurance company. Your workman’s comp and liability insurance premiums should drop with the installation of your equipment. You and your employees will never have to lift a mold again. When you reduce your risks, you will reduce your insurance premiums.

Attitudes: The chaos in a factory without equipment is frustrating for everybody. With a cultured marble manufacturing system, your molds will follow a systematic path through the manufacturing process. You can see this flow at http://www.culturedmarblemolds.com/equipment.html. Keep in mind that with one hand, you can easily roll the molds through this manufacturing process. You and your employees will be amazed at how easy cultured marble manufacturing can be when you have the right tool (equipment) to do the job. You’ll see an immediate improvement in attitudes and few more smiles in your factory.

Whether you have a 3,000 square foot or a 20,000 square foot factory, I guarantee you that you will cut labor cost, increase production, save space, reduce your overhead, and have happier and more productive staff in your factory.

Give me a call or fax me a hand-drawn floor plan in your factory and I’ll send you the approximate cost of what a system would cost you. We will need to know the following:

a. width, length, and approximate height of building

b. location of door - both overhead and walk in (people) doors

c. location of columns or post (if any) in the work area

d. changes in the grade or irregularities in the floor (if any) of the work area: ramps, different levels, drains, etc…

e. location of office and rest room areas

f. location of your gel coat spray booth.

Pouring Your Cultured Marble Molds Four Times a Day

I am often asked if I can turn my cultured marble molds four times per day. Of course the molds are capable of being used four times per day but the question is, is it humanly possible or even likely. The answer is no, it’s not. Even if you could, it has nothing to do with the molds but everything to do with the raw materials and equipment you use in manufacturing. A mold’s lifespan is determined by how many cycles you turn the mold and how hot you pour them.Cultured marble is made using a polyester resin with a promoter, and various kind of fillers such as limestone, granite and onyx. A catalyst is added to the mixture which reacts with the promoter in the resin, making the cultured marble cure.Several factors determine how fast your cultured marble hardens and how many times per day you can turn your molds.Promoters: Promoters are generally added to the resins by the resin manufacturers. There are different kinds of promoters, so not only the amount of promoter but what type of promoter they add will affect the cure time. The more promoter that is added, the faster the cure time will be.

Catalyst: The more catalyst you add the faster your marble will cure. There are also several different brands of catalyst and some of these are designed to give you a faster cure time. There are some products, such as bathtubs, where you don’t want to catalyze too much because over calalyzing can generate too much heat.

Climate: Heat is your friend in manufacturing cultured marble. Your cure time can be shortened a great deal with some heat. The warmer your climate is the faster your cure time will be. The faster the cure time, the sooner you can get your part off the mold and start the process over. Under ideal conditions (like a hot summer day) you may be able to get a marble product cured sufficiently to demold in a couple hours but in the wintertime, you may have to let the product sit on the mold four hours or more to cure enough to remove it from the mold.

Equipment: A heat tunnel (Equipment) is an important factor in turning your molds more times per day. You have to spray gel coat on your mold prior to pouring your cultured marble matrix on it. This gel coat has to be cured prior to pouring your cultured marble. Running this gel coated mold through a heat tunnel as you see in the photo below, drastically shortens this gel coat cure time. Heating this gel coat can cut the gel coat curing time by half or more, especially in a cold climate. In a cold climate, it is not uncommon to have a gel coat cure time of 45 minutes to one hour, and a heat tunnel can cut this time down by 50 to 60%. Having the mold warmed up during this process will also cut down your cultured marble gel and curing time considerably.

Now that you have learned some tips on how to ‘work towards’ turning your molds four times per day, let me say that it is unlikely that you will ever turn your molds four times per day regardless whose molds you use or how much experience you’ve gained working with the raw materials. It’s just not realistic to expect that in an eight hour day, you can setup a mold (divider bars), wax it, wipe off the wax, spray your gel coat, let the gel coat cure, pour your cultured marble, let the marble cure, de mold your part, and go through this process three more times in a regular eight hour day. Pouring your molds two times a day is feasible, so when you’re putting together your business plan, figure the maximum times you turn your molds will be two times per day. When you have all the facts and details, you will find that you can put together a very attractive P/L statement by planning on turning your molds only once per day, as most cultured marble factories do. If you have more questions on this, give me a call at (408) 230-3616 or e-mail me at doyle@culturedmarblemolds.com.
There is also a lot of facts on the Frequently Asked Questions (F.A.Q.) page at:http://www.culturedmarblemolds.com/cmmfaqs.html.

Using Templates for Installing Cultured Marble

The other day a new marble factory asked me the best way to go about making a rather complicated cultured granite bathroom countertop. It was going to be a large ‘L’ shaped, corner vanity top, and it would have a couple of inside and outside radius on each back wall. The customer wanted a 45 degree angle on the front inside corner, and they would have to use a Hexagon Floating Bowl on each side of the ‘L’.

The solution was simple enough and one that many take for granted and use every day. But, if you’ve never seen it done, this trick may never have occurred to you. I’ve seen cultured marble shops try to lay out parts on their wall panel mold using cardboard, paper, etc., with some pretty disastrous results.

I went through my files of photos and found a couple of reasonably clear photos of a template. I e-mailed that to him with directions on how I make a simple template and how to use it, and he found making that unilav countertop was a ‘piece of cake’.

To make the template, go to your local Home Depot kind of store and buy some ‘door skin’. It is a 1/8" thick veneer type of material that comes in sheets about 4' X 8'. Cut them into 3" or 4" wide strips on a table saw.

You will need to make a template on the job site where the actual part will be installed. I use a template most often when I need to pour an irregular shaped piece of cultured marble on the Wall Panel Mold and occasionally on the All Purpose Mold. The most common uses are probably going to be to produce irregular shaped bathroom vanity tops, bathtub decks, or pieces around a shower pan, but once you realize how much time you can save and how much more accurate you can produce your parts, you will start using them all the time.

For example, let’s say you need to make a fairly simple ‘L’ shaped corner unilav countertop like the picture here that I took at Angel Marble. When the cabinets are in place, lay a strip of your template material horizontally along the back, left wall, making sure it is fitting into the corner. Take another strip of your template material and lay it on the cabinet along the right hand wall. Where those two template pieces overlapped in the corner, staple them together.

I like to use a T-50 Arrow staple gun with 3/8" long T-50 Arrow Staples. The 3/8" long staples are perfect because the total thickness of the two overlapped veneer pieces will total of 2/8", and the extra 1/8" is long enough to enter into the cabinet to hold your template in place. And, only going into the cabinet 1/8" is not so deep and you can’t easily lift your template off the cabinet when you’re finished.

Follow the same steps around the cabinet. Make sure you make your templates to allow for the over-hang you will want on your finished edges. Add a few cross pieces to stabilize your template. Nothing is worse than getting your template back to the factory in two or more pieces. When you’ve finished making your template, make some notes on the template to show which sides are finished edges and which will fit against the wall. Whether you’ll be using floating bowls to make a unilav or making a hole to accommodate an undermount bowl or dropin bowl, make a mark on the template where the bowls will be located.

When you get it back to the shop, place your template ‘upside down’ on your mold, staple points facing ‘up’. You can use some double sided tape to hold it in place, and using double sided tape again, tape your divider bars on the mold, against the template.

Another great use for a template is when you’re installing a shower surround. I like the idea of sellingthe inside corner trim molding for shower surrounds for two reasons. You make money selling the trim,plus, it makes installations much easier and faster. But for the time being, let’s say the customer doesn’t want the inside corner trim.

I always say ‘there is no such thing as a square wall’, (but don’t ask a framer) so the marble wall panel will have to be cut to fit the un-square wall. (This is why you’ll always make the wall panel an inch oversize, and expect to cut it to fit.) Since in this case your customer doesn’t want to use an inside corner trim mold, you’ll want no more than 1/8" gap in the corners, and the template is a perfect way to achieve that.

Let’s say you’re installing wall panels for a simple bathtub shower surround. Since the back wall should go on first, let’s do that wall. Take one piece of template and place it vertically in the corner, flat against the back wall. Put a staple in it to hold it to the wall. Place another piece of template across the bottom, resting it on the top of the bathtub. Where these two templates overlap, put in 4 or 5 staples to staple them together. Do the same on all four sides, and you’ll end up with a square template frame. Now, do the same thing to the other two ends of the bathtub where the wall paneling will be installed. When you are making the templates make sure you use a leveling tool to assure they are perfectly horizontal on the top, and make sure the end panels they are going to be exactly the same height as the back panel as well. Also, use the leveling tool to make sure the finished edges of the end wall panels are vertical. Again, put a couple extra pieces of template material across the middle of your rectangle shaped template to give them more strength and assure they won’t come apart.

Hopefully, you’ll be installing a recessed soap dish or soap/shampoo combo in the shower surround too.

You can use your templates to locate where you will cut the hole in the wall panel as well. First, make the cutout in the wall where the soap dish or soap/shampoo combo will go. Then, staple one piece of template horizontally across your template frame at the top edge of this cutout. Staple another one at the bottom of this cutout. Now, staple a template strip vertically on each side of the soap dish cutout, to the two horizontal pieces you just installed prior. You should now have the exact location where your soap dish or soap/shampoo combo will go. Make sure you identify which side of your shower surround requires the finished edge and which side will go in the corner. Obviously you will be cutting on the side that will fit into the corner and not your finished edge. (Ouch!)

Lay your wall panel on a saw horse, unfinished side ‘up’. Lay your template on top the panel making sure your staples are point ‘up’. Align your template on the edge of your two finished edges. Take a pencil and draw a line on the other two edges. These two sides are where you will cut your cultured marble wall panel to fit Mr. Framer’s un-square wall. Follow the same steps whether you’re installing a shower surround over a bathtub or on a shower pan.

When it comes to tools, I’m picky. The best saw you can buy (my opinion) to cut cultured marble or onyx or granite, is the Skil Brand Model HD77, which is a 7” Worm Drive Circular Saw like the one you see in the picture. Using a carborundum blade like the one you see on the Skil saw, cut both ends off that you marked with your pencil. A really good installer can cut the panel perfectly along the pencil line and slap the panel on the wall. I don’t pretend to be a installer, so I’d make my cut about 1/16th from the line, then take a sander with a 36 grit disc, and sand up to the pencil line. I’d rather take the extra time and sand off that 1/16th of an inch all the way up the panel than to try to make a perfect cut with the circular saw and cut in past that line. That would be a bummer.

Anyway, I hope you got the gist of it. I thought I was going to do a short couple of paragraphs here, but that didn’t happen.

If anybody has any other template ideas, let me know. This is the best and most simple way to make a template that I have found.

Cultured Marble Textured Flooring

Seamless cultured marble flooring can put the finishing touches in a bathroom where you’ve installed other matching cultured marble products. There are no seams or grout lines that collect dirt, and there is nothing easier to keep clean.

I’ve changed my tune a little bit about using cultured marble for flooring. I used to discourage it, but after seeing some cultured marble flooring installations by some customers who purchased the large 5' X 10' textured flooring molds, I see there is a place for cultured marble, onyx, or granite flooring after all. One of the reasons I was never enthused about cultured marble flooring is because cultured marble isn’t as hard as ceramic tile or natural marble. But, if a textured finish (non-slip) cultured marble floor is installed in a low traffic area like a bathroom and not in an foyer where sand and dirt is tracked in from outside, it holds up quite well and compliments the other cultured marble products in the bathroom.

One of your big selling points as a cultured marble manufacturer is being able to provide your customers with ’seamless’ products. Your cultured marble vanity tops, with the built-in bowl and back splash have no seams, therefore there is no place for dirt to hide. Your cultured marble shower surround wall panels are an easy sell for the very same reason since there are no grout lines that stain and breed mold and mildew.

If I am promoting my products as ’seamless’ and I intend to sell flooring, I also want to introduce my customers to ’seamless’ flooring as well. I can make large seamless slate finished textured flooring up to 5 foot by 10 foot using the large 5' X 10' textured flooring mold. Not only is it easy to keep clean, it matches the other cultured marble items I’ve installed in that same bathroom such as the bathtub, shower pan, shower wall panels, vanity top, and other accessories.

All of your molds will have a radius. The radius is needed to allow you to de-mold your products more easily when they are cured. The 12" X 12" Textured Floor Tile mold is no exception. When you remove the 12? floor tiles from the mold, each piece will have this radius around the edges. Therefore, when you place the floor tiles side-by-side, your joint line will be about 1/4 inch wide which is unacceptable for any tile installation. So, not only do you have a room full of ’seams’, you have wide and gaping seams in your installation making it quite busy and unattractive.

So, if you plan on making bathroom flooring in your cultured marble factory, make it seamless for a nice clean installation rather than producing 12" X 12" floor tiles.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Cultured Marble means “Custom”

One of the greatest things about your cultured marble products is that you can make about any shape, size, or design for a bathroom, kitchen, or other custom installation.

I had been speaking for a couple weeks, to someone who wanted to start a new cultured marble factory. After all this conversing and answering questions, he said one of the reservations he had about this business is that everything had to be made in standard sizes and that in his country, there was no such thing as ’standard sizes’. He was worried that he would not be able to market his product since all the molds come with pretty numbers; 22", 25", 10 foot, etc., and he assumed that he would have to make his products using the same perfect numbers. Nothing could be further from the truth.

As a manufacturer of cultured marble, being able to custom fit your products to fit into any space is a huge selling point for you and I can’t believe I hadn’t stressed this fact more in the website. I guess I hinted this point in the earlier Blog article I wrote about using templates, but I didn’t address it directly.

For example, many vanity tops are installed between two walls. Whether that vanity top needs to be a standard size 37 inch or a custom 96 inch, you can make it on your 12 foot All Purpose Mold with your floating bowls. You can also increase or decrease the depth, and locate the sink in that countertop anywhere you want. The framers (carpenters) will determine where the walls are located and how square or un-square they are, and you will make the piece to fit.

Whether you’re making odd shaped flat products such as bathtub decks, coverings for coved window ledges, caps for room dividers, shelving, wall paneling with special requirements, ‘L’ shaped, ‘Z’ shaped, or half round countertop, no problem. You can make it.

If your customer needs an odd shaped shower pan size, you can make it.

If the framer squeezed that 72" bathtub opening that now won’t fit a standard size tub, no problem, you can make it.

Many times, you will get a job because you ‘can’ custom fit your products for the situation. As the manufacturer, you will be the problem-solver for your customer, and you will get paid handsomely for it.

Cultured Marble Supplies

I recently returned from a trip to a cultured marble factory where I wasted so much of my time. It was unbelievable! A group who bought a package of molds from another company wanted me to come to their factory to train their employees. Sure- be glad to.

I arrived, went out in the factory, and basically all I saw were some molds and a blender. It seems they were sold a computer without the power cord. I guess they weren’t made to realize the importance of the various tools and supplies that are required to manufacture cultured marble. They said they were told they could buy most of those items locally.

Things like a clay extruding machine, air vibrators, gel coat spray gun, fillet tool, matrix knives, polycollars, knockouts, double sided tape, catalyst dispensers and some of the other items on the Supply list are not things you pick up at your local Home Depot, even if you ‘have’ a Home Depot. In this case, we didn’t even have an Ace! We spent more time shopping for some useable items than we did training them and their employees.

Okay, so don’t buy the conveyor system, tilting gel coat cart, storage rack and the scissor lift, but you will need a vibrating table, gel coat spray booth, pigments, overflow hoses, resin drum spouts, resin drum cradles, sandpaper, etc.

The easiest solution is to include a Supply package. Even if you order the minimum quantities, and especially if you’re outside the U.S. At least if you have one ‘knockout’ for example, the employees will be able to improvise if they know what it is and what its used for.

Anyway, we’ll probably have to ship some items, then I’ll probably have to go back.