By Joe Duszka, ISFA President
In a recent issue of Countertops & Architectural Surfaces magazine, featured was some innovative fabrication equipment designed to address the challenges we face as fabricators and to improve the quality of our products. While investing in new technology can be very exciting, it can be nerve-wracking. Some of this equipment costs more than a house, and with so many great options on the market today, how do you know what’s right for your business?
Careful and thorough planning is critical to the decision-making process. Start by asking yourself, “What problem am I trying to solve?” and “What capability am I trying to add to my business that I do not have today?” Some answers might be increasing capacity, improving quality and consistency of the product, improving the shop workflow with smarter solutions, solving for labor challenges through automation, or reducing downtime by replacing outdated equipment. These are all great reasons to consider an upgrade.
Once you begin to narrow the equipment options, there are other factors to take into consideration. Do I have enough electrical power (amperage) in my shop? Do I have the proper voltage (208V, 240V, 480V) or will I need a transformer? Do I have the power in the location where the new equipment will be installed? Having to upgrade or add electrical service, or even switchgear and conduit in your shop to accommodate the new equipment can be costly, and you want to make sure to budget for it.
Do I have enough water flow (GPM) or pressure (PSI) for the new equipment? What size is my water supply line? Can it accommodate the new equipment? Will I need an accumulation tank to store water or a booster pump to raise the pressure? What will I do with the water after it comes off the machine? Can I balance the volume of water if I have a closed water system? What will the added water volume cost annually? Do I need a wastewater discharge permit If I do not have a closed loop system or if I cannot balance the water? Do I have enough air volume (CFM) or pressure (PSI) to accommodate the new equipment? Often newer equipment will not allow you to start a cycle if there isn’t sufficient air pressure or volume to operate the equipment.
Will the new equipment need internet and network connectivity? If so, do I have the wired infrastructure in the shop to support that? Wi-Fi is not always an option. Much of the equipment today requires internet connectivity so that the equipment supplier can access the machine remotely to help with troubleshooting when necessary.
How will I load and unload the new equipment? Determine the logistics for moving the new piece of equipment through the shop and into its final position. Doorways might not accommodate these large machines, and maybe you’ll need a crane or additional crew to help install it. Make sure your shop foundation is sound enough to support it.
How long will it take to install and will I have to be down during that time? What impact will this piece of equipment have on my shop safety, both during the installation and when it’s online? Who will operate it? Do they have the right skill set? Your best hand fabricator may not be the right person. Be intentional with matching the skill set required with the skill set available to ensure a successful integration. There is nothing worse than investing in a new piece of equipment only to have a team member try to prove to you it was a bad decision.
In addition to the machine-specific requirements, consider a few points regarding the manufacturer or distributor of the equipment. Can they connect you with other fabricators who have the equipment so that you can see it in a shop setting before you commit? Do they provide training? Can I train my staff in advance at their facility before I implement to minimize downtime in my shop? Do they offer a 24/7 support services? Can they remote-access my machine so that they can help me troubleshoot issues without having to be onsite? Do they have service technicians who can travel to my shop on short notice if a breakdown cannot be resolved remotely? Do they inventory all the machine parts so they can expedite parts to me when needed? Can they provide an estimated annual cost of operation?
While this list of questions is certainly not comprehensive, it will help steer you down the path of identifying the correct equipment and business partner for your needs. Additionally, one of the best ways that I have found to validate my decision is to share my findings with a fellow fabricator and solicit feedback. The International Surface Fabricators Association was founded on the principle of “members helping members.” If you are working through this process and are looking for further guidance, please reach out and let us help. We will be happy to connect you to someone who has walked a mile in your shoes.
About the Author
Joe Duszka is the owner and president of Carolina Custom Surfaces. With a degree in industrial engineering and an MBA, Joe’s strong interest in the relationship between machinery, people and processes has served him well in various positions, including plant engineer, production manager and plant manager for two manufacturing companies. He began working for Carolina Custom Surfaces in 2004, and he purchased the company the following year.
A big believer in the importance of creating a customer-centered company culture, continuing education and business development, Joe has been a member of ISFA since 2017; he was the vice president of the association in 2021 and he served as president in 2022. Joe is also a member of the Natural Stone Institute, the International Cast Polymer Association, the Rockheads Group and a Park Industries Business Group. Joe has been a presenter and panelist at several industry education events. He attributes his success to a thirst for knowledge and a passion for improving the decorative surface industry.
Joe lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with his wife and three children. In his spare time, he appreciates spending time outdoors and any activity that involves being on the water with his family. Joe also devotes his time as a leader in the Boys Scouts, helping to develop future leaders.