Back in 2005, the company began with just a handful of people. Director of Quality Control Bobby Finn has been there from the start. He’s watched Hard Rock rise from a small fabrication shop, servicing Home Depot and Lowe’s, to a company with national reach.
“Hard Rock just started becoming one of the future stars in fabrication,” he said. “We like to lead in innovation.”
The shop was an early adopter of digital templating. Then, in 2016, the owners of the company invested in a BACA Systems Robo SawJet, which integrates a high-pressure abrasive waterjet and a 20HP direct-drive saw with a precision KUKA Robotics industrial robot.
“The BACA Robo Sawjet solution is the key to our operations,” Finn said. “We had a gantry-style machine before getting the robot. We implemented the robot, and it immediately became our most important and reliable tool in our shop.”
Using the Robo SawJet has doubled the production rate for Hard Rock. “The travel speed on the robot is so much faster than any gantry sawjet would be,” he said. “If you start talking about the speed of using bridge saws and cutting by hand, the BACA Robo SawJet is 4-5 times that.”
The standard dual table Robo SawJet allows a granite fabricator to produce a fully cut slab on one table while the other table is being unloaded and reloaded. “The day that robot came into our shop, we became a more productive and reliable facility,” Finn said.
The robot reversed the usual production bottlenecks that stone fabrication shops face. “We are always focusing on getting stuff cut so we can get it to production,” Finn said. “All of a sudden we have a machine in the shop that is capable of doing more than we ever expected it to do. Now, our problem is keeping up with the robot by loading and unloading tables fast enough, so the robot can cut the next job.”
Hard Rock Stone Works can now pay attention to optimizing other cost-and-revenue metrics, Finn said.
“The speed at which we’re cutting is phenomenal,” Finn said. “The robot just works a lot faster than we could before. It’s a great model for us. Our commercial work keeps growing because of the new equipment. Now we have the ability to cut twice as fast as we ever have, and the cost of production is going down.”
The Robo SawJet is a dual-table system, allowing a slab to be loaded while another is being cut. “The actual problem we’re having is keeping up with the robot,” Finn said. “It never stops. The robot will go from one table to another. We’re able to unload the cut pieces and load the next slab while the robot is cutting on the second table.”
The increase in productivity has enabled Hard Rock to ramp up its commercial business. It fabricates everything at its Sterling Heights, Michigan, facility, then ships and installs it locations through the U. S. A recent coup for the company was fabricating and installing stone work at four athletic stadiums in Michigan and Indiana.
In 2017 alone, Hard Rock fabricated more than 60,000 square feet of stone for commercial projects:
Production is aided by the ease of programming the Robo SawJet. “I knew nothing about the robot,” Finn said. “I jumped on the saw for the first time, and I learned it within 15 minutes.”
The simplicity in programming means fewer interruptions in production and less dependence on having a dedicated operator for the saw. “With these stadiums that we do, it is important to be able to cut fast and accurately” Finn said. “I have a whole shop full of guys. They can set up the machine quickly and start cutting. They don’t have to be an operator. It gives us the ability to always be speeding things up. It’s the most reliable machine in the shop. The BACA software makes it easy, which is a huge difference as compared to other machines we have run.”
Digital templating has been a major factor in the success of Hard Rock Stone Works. “We’re doing a lot of commercial work and timelines are fast,” Finn said. “We have a 7- to 10-day turnaround from the day of templating. We have the ability to complete laser measurement and templating on site. When our guys are templating jobs, they are sending information to us in real-time — even from another state. Within 10 minutes of the templaters leaving a site, my saw operators can be cutting a job.”
Traditionally, there would be a significant lag between templating and being able to begin production, but integrating the Robo SawJet into the workflow has enabled Hard Rock Stone Works to eliminate that bottleneck, Finn said. “We’re eliminating as many delays as we can. So, we are using the tools that are available to us, our templating and the Robo SawJet, to make our speed to market as fast as possible.”
Adding the BACA Robo SawJet also allowed Finn to rethink the workflow in Hard Rock’s fabrication shop. The increased cutting speed and two-table design of the Robo SawJet, which allows technicians to unload one table while the robot continues to cut on the other, let him shift mitering to a dedicated, single axis miter saw. This meant quicker, higher-quality mitering without any net loss of production time.
“Mitering slowed down the entire process,” Finn said. “The biggest problems we ran into were No. 1, set-up time, No. 2 speed, and No. 3, quality. The sheer time of cutting a miter with a gantry sawjet was holding up production.”
Because of the time required for set-up and the slower cut speeds required for a quality miter job, an average 40-square-foot kitchen job could end up taking up to two hours to miter using a gantry sawjet alone. When the shop is cranking out 10- to 15,000 square feet of material each week, any production delay is costly.
For miter jobs, it is extremely important that the job is cut very accurately. On a gantry sawjet, the backing material that supports the slab degrades over time. If the material is not replaced before miter cuts are made, the position of the slab relative to the cut position can change.
Even being off by 1/8-inch can ruin an entire piece of stone or force technicians to burn valuable production time by grinding it back to a straight line by hand. By eliminating the downtime needed to unload cut slabs, the Robo SawJet allows Hard Rock technicians the flexibility to use a dedicated miter saw to eliminate those potential problems.
“When you’re running that kind of square footage, time is money,” Finn said. “How much does it cost to have that sawjet tied up doing miters? We believe it’s best to use dedicated equipment for superior quality and productivity.”
The BACA Robo SawJet uses waterjet technology designed to hold up in 24-hour per day automotive manufacturing environments. Using a H2O jet pump, the cost to operate the H2O jet pump is less than half of the Hypertherm pump used by the shop’s gantry sawjet. It is also quicker to rebuild the pump.
“My saw guys have the ability to redo all the seals and rebuild the pump when it’s ready. In addition, BACA offers a service — They’ll rebuild the high-pressure assembly and send it right back. We don’t have any water jet issues with the Robo SawJet. On our gantry sawjet machine, we have a lot. At least a couple of times a day, we’re hopping up on the bridge and fixing something.”
The BACA RoboSawJet utilizes an IDE Diamond Cutting Head, which ensures easy and consistent alignment. The Hard Rock Stone Works crew aligns the waterjet nozzle and the saw blade on their Robo SawJet each morning. “The Robo SawJet pretty much does the job for you,” Finn said. “The robot walks you through the alignment automatically.”
The ease of calibrating the Robo SawJet is quite the contrast from other tools in the shop. “There is a lot more entailed in calibrating a gantry sawjet machine as far as the user is concerned and a lot of moving parts,” he said.
The ongoing support from BACA Systems has meant continual improvements to the Robo SawJet over the years. “BACA Systems always looks forward to what the customer will want in the future,” he said. “They keep constantly following up with their customers, ‘How is the machine running? What would you like to see?’ They are constantly figuring out different and faster ways to do things. The speed of the saw has doubled during the past five years.”
Looking ahead, Finn said if his shop purchases another saw, it will be another BACA Systems product. “It’s just amazing what these guys are doing and how innovative they are. They have our business for a long time to come, I’ll tell you that.”