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How to Increase Production at Your Fabrication Shop

By Kate Tyndall

July 11, 2020

When it comes to productivity, it’s all about the front office, says G.K. Naquin, owner of Stone Interiors, and a fabricator with almost 50-years’ experience in the industry.

For a good company to operate efficiently, the key is fine-tuning and managing the process, Naquin says. For him, that means digital management of the process, which he believes is essential to Stone Interiors’ success.

He doesn’t discount shop organization. As a young man, Naquin worked on an assembly line for a barrel maker in New Orleans, and saw then how shops needed to be organized for a smooth process from beginning to end. For a fabrication operation, Naquin says slabs should move in a straight line from cutting machines out to the loading dock and onto the truck. “You don’t want to be moving a slab across the shop several times. But many people don’t set their shops up in a manner to be organized.

“Once you set up the back shop right, then that becomes a black and white issue,” he says. “You cut it right, or not; you use this kind of saw or a different one. If you get the instructions wrong, that’s where the problems come from,” he says.

Most companies, when they get a job, get this information on paper, Naquin says. “Doing it with paper is a lot more time consuming, and that paper file grows as the job proceeds through the shop. “I recommend companies go to digital, or at least go as much digital as they can.”

Shops that use paper to track jobs from beginning to end are more liable to run into problems when the paper trail takes a wrong turn or disappears. A digitally managed process can eliminate miscommunication—and the attendant stress and breakdown of the process—that miscommunication can bring.

Naquin, whose company uses the Stone Profit Systems ERP software—one of a number of systems created for the stone industry—explains how the system works at Stone Interiors:

“Let’s assume a new order. The customer agrees to a price and what they want. Now it needs to go to the controller to get the deposit, and to other multiple folks to make the order—inventory, the scheduler, then the measurer.” As the order moves along the line, once a specific task is accomplished, like ordering the material, the person in charge of ordering checks off that task as complete, Naquin explains. The system then populates the appropriate screen, and sends that order down to the next stop along the way, down through CAD operation, the sawyer and CNC for milling. From there it goes to the fabricators for touch-up and quality control, then out to the loading platform. 

“This is a digital trail that mimics a paper trail, but if anything is misunderstood, no one has to track a piece of paper. The system is always populating the correct trail, and it eliminates a lot of headaches,” Naquin says.

For example, the digital process cuts way down on what this industry veteran calls “go-backs,” where a problem arises from a job that has to be corrected. A go-back means that somewhere down the line, incorrect information was gathered. 

“There is no revenue coming from a go back,” Naquin says. “That’s the No. 1 killer in the shop. The objective is to have 1%-2% go-backs.”

He feels strongly that managing the process digitally not only boosts productivity, it reduces the percentage of go-backs, enhances the bottom line, and helps a company maintain good customer relations.

Like the construction industry as a whole, finding skilled labor is an ongoing problem in the stone industry, which has the additional burden of trying to attract workers to a job that requires hard manual labor. “Nobody really wants to physically break a sweat today,” he says. “It takes a year before a fabricator learns to get a good edge and produce a good product.”

For these reasons, Naquin is also a big proponent of automation even in a small shop. “They should have some automation, like a CNC or a line machine. They need some machinery to keep production going when someone gets sick.”

The capital expenditure for automated equipment can take a big bite out of small shop’s operating budget, but Naquin suggests owners look at refurbished machines, which come at a much lower price point.