StoneTalk Episode 15 – Joe Alva

In episode 15, Patrick speaks with Joe Alva, Chief Design Engineer at Poseidon Stone Equipment.

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Listen to this episode to learn:

  • What questions you should ask when purchasing machinery
  • The features that make high-end saws high-end
  • How/why to trade in your old equipment
  • History of stone extraction around the world
  • Difference between country of origin for steel vs servo motors

Be sure to subscribe to the podcast in iTunes… and please let us know what you think! You can leave comments for this show on the StoneTalk Facebook page or on this site.

If you have stories or insights that you’d like to share with other fabricators, please reach out to Patrick.

Transcript

[music]

Patrick: Welcome to Stone Talk, the podcast for countertop fabricators. Brought to you by Moraware, makers of JobTracker scheduling software and CounterGo estimating software for countertop fabricators. I’m your host, Patrick Foley.

[music stops]

Patrick: Today I’m speaking with Joe Alva, Chief Design Engineer at Poseidon Stone Equipment, let’s give him a call.

[phone ringing]

Joe: Hi, this is Joe.

Patrick: Hey, Joe, Patrick from Moraware, how you doing?

Joe: Hey, how are you?

Patrick: Good. So why don’t we just jump in? Why don’t you tell me about Poseidon? What do you guys do for countertop fabricators?

Joe: We pretty much are an American company that has a product line of machinery that we have designed here to our specifications, let’s say.

Patrick: Okay.

Joe: And we pretty much offer the same product line and machinery that Park Industries offers, with a little bit different, you know, other types of equipment that they don’t offer, even. You know, five axes C.N.C.s, even six axes C.N.C.s we can offer, as well as wire saws, which they don’t make, for example. We’re basically based out of Florida, here.

Patrick: Nice.

Joe: We’re on schedule to do about 100 machines this year.

Patrick: Okay, cool.

Joe: You know, we’re a real machine company just like they are. We’re not as big as they are, we’re still a young company, but I think that’s kind of a good thing in terms of service and what we can do for our customers and the value we can bring, you know.

Patrick: How many years have you guys been in business?

Joe: We’ve been in business with Poseidon about five years, and I’ve been in the industry about 16 years, just doing machinery.

Patrick: Nice. What did you do before?

Joe: I had a diamond tool company and also a machinery company called Spectra.

Patrick: Okay.

Joe: And so, Spectra, unfortunately we had to close that. When the crisis came about, we had some partners there that let’s just say, you know, everyone shows their true colors . . .

Patrick: [laughs]

Joe: . . . when the times are not so good, you know?

Patrick: Sure.

Joe: So we started over and basically did things a little better, because we were just, at that point, brokering machinery in the industry, but we did to a high volume of equipment too. So we have a large customer base here in Florida and in the southeast, and then we started branching out nationwide a couple years ago with buy-ins, and we sell all over the nation now.

Patrick: Very nice. So you said you manufacture according to your specs. Does that mean you focused on designing equipment first? That you know, doing things?

Joe: Well, we manufacture, for example, on the bridge saws, which are pretty much the most common type of machine somebody’s going to purchase. We do have the model that we make 100% here. The other models in our bridges saw lineup, for example, we import the bodies to our specifications out of cast iron, so they compete with, like, a G.M.M. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the machinery . . .

Patrick: I’m certainly not . . .

Joe: . . . in the industry.

Patrick: . . . but I suspect our listeners are, so I’m sure that’ll make sense.

Joe: So basically that machine, for example, a few machines, in order for us to produce faster, we do import some bodies from . . . we have partner factories in Asia as well as in Europe and Italy.

Patrick: Okay.

Joe: And so we make a lot of our equipment with our partners, mainly more with the Italian partners, and so we will build panels. For example, we build panels here in the United States, we also design the whole machine. So let’s say, for example, on our bridge saws, we do program the computers, we write the programs here, everything is based out of the U.S.A. and we use high-quality components. So our machinery, in general, is that the quality level of, you know, a piece of Italian equipment or I would say, a Part Industries, is in the level that we’re at. We don’t have really any economical machines because there is a level of economic equipment out there . . .

Patrick: Okay.

Joe: . . . where the construction is little bit lighter, it doesn’t have all the options that you would want. We try to make a very high-quality piece of equipment and everything, you know, ships out of our factory here in Punta Gorda, Florida.

Patrick: Okay. And you said something that triggered a memory for me. It’s interesting to me, and as a little bit of an outsider, I don’t fully understand this, maybe you can explain it to me. When people talk about saws in general, they often refer to the country. So the first thing you said is, “We’re an American company,” and then you just referred to, “The Italians,” which I’ve heard. I think I’ve heard, “The Germans.” Can you explain why people lump manufacturers from certain countries together? Are there characteristics, good or bad, that are associated with manufacturers from different countries?

Joe: Well, the truth is that from an industrial automation standpoint, which basically anything that’s industrial equipment, especially in construction related fields like glass, wood or stone, the whole marble industry came from Italy, okay. So the most popular marbles, you know, and we’re going to go back a little bit here, and I think I can bring you a lot of info on this and kind of simplify it too.

Patrick: Please.

Joe: For somebody that’s coming into the stone industry, you know, I don’t mind sharing all the knowledge I have. I was blessed to be able to, at a really young age, I worked for an American company here and my family lives in Italy, so I happened to be able to live there too while I was . . .

Patrick: Wow.

Joe: . . . attending an American university in Rome. And I was . . .

Patrick: Wow..

Joe: . . . very privileged to be able to Carrara and Verona on behalf of that American company, and check containers and material and learn about marble and granite, and learned a lot about the whole industry in general. I went to a lot of tradeshows all over Europe and Germany, Italy. And yeah, the reason why those countries are brought up is because in general, the Italians and the Germans, since Germany is so close by and Germany has much more of a manufacturing industrial type of mind, you know? Being that a lot of the best automotive car companies are out of Italy and Germany, you know, there’s a reason for that. And so there are inherently countries that just come from a long line of technology.

Patrick: Okay.

Joe: The Germans, and World War II, had some of the most advanced engineers. A lot of these engineers, as controversial as it might be, a lot of these old Nazi engineers, they kind of got a green light pass after the war. When they were supposed to be put on trial the government actually brought them over here and put them into NASA and some of our space programs. And actually one of them happened to develop one of the first rockets that helped launch us into having the first guy land on the moon. But the most popular stones in the marble industry were always the Bianco Carrara, which is that white marble that you see with the gray veins and that whole quarry. You know, I don’t know how many double-oh-seven fans there are but I think one of those last movies with Daniel Craig they had a scene where they were driving through quarries of Carrara.

Patrick: Very cool.

Joe: And travertine, which is a type of marble that’s actually made closer to the surface of the earth near usually hot springs, that’s why it has those little holes in it, and it’s white and it has a lot of calcium in it. You know, I learned all this stuff when I was over there checking containers in Italy, which is 20 minutes outside of Rome near a lot of Roman ruins. A lot of even ancient Romans were working with travertine and marble and sculpting them by hand, and they were actually cutting blocks of marble with an ancient method that were really advanced for the time. But a lot of the engineering for stone comes from, particularly this region in the world, for many, many hundreds and even thousands of years.

So what happened was, let’s say in the 1950s, when marble was really popular, the guys that were making the machinery for cutting marble and polishing it, were in Italy, obviously. You know, because the Italians had the demand because they were the ones with the quarries of the popular stone, let’s say. And marble is about 10 times softer than granite, okay. So it took a long time for granite to become affordable because it had such a high cost of cutting and polishing because not only was the technology not there, but it would take longer, in other words.

Patrick: Right, right.

Joe: So if you’re cutting with tooling for marble, then it’s going to take you twice or three times as long to cut something 10 times harder and to polish something 10 times harder. So the challenge was for Italians, how do we you know, make machinery that can deal with granite better? So the diamond tooling technology and the abrasive polishing technology, as it went to improving, so did the machinery. And the machinery, you know, obviously was coming out of these countries because it was cost-effective and logistically speaking, intelligent for engineers who you know, build machinery for marble and granite, focusing on the places they came out of.

Patrick: Right.

Joe: You know, which was mainly Italy and Carrara and Verona. Verona has a lot of quarries for Italian marbles, for example, Breccia Oniciata. And I know with a lot of fabricators that’ll understand all of the colors, you know. The Breccia Oniciatas, the Rosso Asiago, the Botticino. They were all coming out of Rome and very popular back in the day, you know, marble was the popular thing. Bianco Carrara stuff; [inaudible 00:09:46], Bianco Gioia, Calacatta Gold. All of these marbles were very nice, high-end marbles that were very popular. Till this day they’re very popular, and you know, the Bianco Carraras come back with the wing style kitchen to have the dark chocolate cabinets, and out of Spain as well. The Germans, I think, got involved because they said, “Hey, we’re engineers over here, let’s try our hand at making machinery.” So yeah, there is a lot of German machinery – Loffler, Beckert . . .

you know, there’s a lot of German names and companies that still make machinery. In Spain you have a lot of also machinery makers, and you hear a lot about Spain because Spain had Crema Marfil, Emperador Brown, Emperador Dark. Well as the marble world began to evolve and granite becomes popular, unfortunately Italy, its natural resources, they don’t have the beautiful granite in Italy. They just don’t exist in Italy. The most beautiful granite comes from Saudi Arabia, India, Africa, mostly from Brazil.

Patrick: Okay.

Joe: But what happened was, back in the day, and this is a little history lesson too . . .

Patrick: Yes, interesting.

Joe: . . . you had all of these extremely rich Italian companies now, because they were the Mecca for marble for so many hundreds and thousands of years. So the guys that owned the big marble factories in Carrara and Verona, they were very smart, and they did similar to what the U.S. did, because a lot of people, and you know, this is a little off-topic but it’s kind of all related. If you think about, you know, a lot of people, they get upset that we’re getting gas from Saudi Arabia or some of these Middle Eastern countries. Everybody’s, like, “Oh my god, the Sultan of Brunei.” Brunei is in a little island.

Well what happened was, in the 20s, the U.S. said, “Why are we going to exploit the drilling in the US when that means we have to pay U.S. wages to quarry it out, basically?” oil from the U.S. So a lot of gas companies, and people don’t know this, they went in the 1920s and 30s, they went to the Middle East and they found the gentleman and that owned the land, he was very poor, and he owned, you know, who knows? Thousands of acres that were sitting on top of oil reserves, and they said to him, “Hey, we will rent your lands from you if you let us extract the oil from here and we’ll pay you X amount per barrel.”

Patrick: Okay.

Joe: Which they were paying, probably a lot less. The same thing happened in the granite industry – that guy became rich. Well, they went to India, they went to Brazil, and they went in the 60s, let’s say, and they said, “We want to rent this mountain of granite that you own, which yields this very beautiful, yellow granite,” called Giallo Veneziallo, Santa Cecilia, or Giallo Fiorito. These are popular colors nowadays.

Patrick: Yep.

Joe: “And we’ll rent it from you and pay you $50,000 a year for 25 years, and here’s the contract. All you’ve got to do is sign.” In the meantime, this gentleman owns a mountain, but he probably lives in a small little house on the side of the mountain . . .

Patrick: Right.

Joe: . . . right? Because it’s just a mountain, what’s he going to do with it? So he signed the paperwork, the Italians, it was a win-win. Those contracts ended, and that’s why in the 90s the Brazilians got a little smarter and they said, “We’ve got to start getting our own machinery,” and they began to use the Italian equipment and bring it over to Brazil, because the Italians were taking the blocks out of Brazil. And when you ship blocks on a huge container ship, you don’t have to put them in containers, you can just put them on the bow of the ship, and it’s very, very cheap to start shipping these huge blocks . . .

Patrick: Got it.

Joe: . . . into Italy. And so a lot of Brazilians, Saudi Arabians, and all of these places, India, the Italians had contracts, and they still do till this day on certain quarries. You know, they bring in a lot of material, still, from all of those countries and they cut and polish them in Italy, and the best materials are going to come out of Italy, hands down, just because they’ve perfected and mastered the quality of cutting slabs and polishing them, and the calibration’s perfect too.

And to hear a lot about calibration issues and thickness in the material, that’s usually because the material’s out of a country that probably doesn’t have the ability to be able to have the nice saw equipment, so they bought used equipment or they’re getting, you know, prototype Chinese equipment to cut blocks and polish slabs. And so that’s the historical explanation on all your Italian and German. You know, the truth is also, if you take Northwood, I’m sure you’ve heard, let’s mention the companies in America that make high-quality machines that are also American brand . . .

Patrick: Right, right.

Joe: . . . right? They’re Park Industries and they’re Northwood, okay? Northwood has a little bit of a limited product line for stone because they’re really a C.N.C. maker that came from metal and wood. And then they started making C.N.C. for stone and for glass, and so they really, what I’ve seen, the only sell C.N.C. machine centers and they sell a version of a sawset. Which is a machine that has a waterjet attached to it, but it’s really just a C.N.C. bridge saw with a waterjet function – which Park makes as well. If you take, for example, a Northwood C.N.C. machine and you take a Park Industries C.N.C. machine . . .

Patrick: Mm-hmm.

Joe: . . . the part that’s really American is the steel of the welded structure. Because all turbo motors, and what turbo motors are, they’re a special type of motor that’s used only on C.N.C. machines, and what those turbo motors are, they’re all European . . .

Patrick: Really?

Joe: . . . or foreign. Absolutely. And I can tell you this because something that made us very successful as a young company growing, and even, you know, the past 15 years, I, myself, I’m 36 years old. I started when I was 20 or 21, I think, I sold my first machine. And the way that I was able to gain confidence with my customer or push the deal to go through, is do things that nobody else was willing to do. And one of those things was take their old equipment in on trade, and basically be able to offer them something that nobody else could, which is, hey, you’ve got a machine sitting there. Yeah, I know, it’s not the same brand, because some companies will take machine on trade if it’s their own brand . . .

Patrick: Right.

Joe: . . . but if they don’t even know where to start because it somebody else’s machine, they will never take that in on trade. You know, so I said, “Hey, I don’t care what the brand is, I’ll take it and on trade.”

Patrick: Did you recycle that stuff? I mean, did you use the steel?

Joe: Well . . .

Patrick: What did you do with it?

Joe: . . . I had to because my profit was in that used piece of equipment. So we didn’t know how were going to do it, my team and I, but we just went ahead and that’s how we forced ourselves to learn how to fix anything, because I truly believe if you’re a machine guy, it doesn’t matter which machine. You know, if you’re a great car mechanic, it doesn’t matter . . .

Patrick: Right.

Joe: . . . which car it is, right?

Patrick: Sure, sure.

Joe: If you can fix the B.M.W., you should be able to fix the Mercedes or you should be able to fix the Honda. Now granted, there are those things like electronics which you run into, which we do too when we’re renovating a machine, but then, you know, we do speak with our competing factories, and we pretty much have an open relationship with everybody, you know. We’ve got Breton about half an hour away from us, and we know all the technicians there. I really don’t associate or really you know, kind of talk too much with salespeople and other companies, but we definitely know at least one technician from every single company that’s out there, you know, that makes machines, because we’ve been doing this so long. So we’ve fixed everybody else’s machines and we’ve kind of seen where people have problems and where they don’t, and we integrate the positive things that we learn into our machinery so that we don’t have those problems going . . .

Patrick: Is that . . .

Joe: . . . down the road.

Patrick: . . . still a service you offer? I mean, is fixing other companies’ machinery something that you do today?

Joe: No, we don’t, for example, have a service department that goes out and fixes other people’s machines.

Patrick: Okay.

Joe: But we do offer customers that want to be a Poseidon customer, we do offer them the opportunity to get rid of their Park or their Northwood or their Breton or whatever machine it is, if they want to buy a new Poseidon machine. And there’s a specific kind of protocol to it as well, where we just won’t take poor old guy’s machine if he wants to buy one. Some customers, they don’t even want to treat a machine in. Maybe they’re not happy with service on other equipment, and if they buy a Poseidon machine, we’ll definitely help them with our knowledge to assess their other pieces of equipment while we’re installing the new one. And we’ll give them pointers and tips on how to fix the things that they had issues with, even if the machines are not, you know, made by us, because we really do know almost all of the machines in the industry.

Patrick: Well that’s cool. So given that you know all the other machines and the way you describe yourself at the beginning of this conversation was kind of the scrappy upstart, how specifically if I were . . . this is your chance to give a little bit of a commercial. If I were going to buy new machinery today, why issue is yours better? Why should I buy it from you?

Joe: I was say that we’re the only company in the United States that can really say with confidence, and it can be backed up by lot of people in the industry, that we are the only company where our engineers have physically worked on almost 95% of all major stone machinery brands. We’ve dealt with almost every model that’s out there, and so we know what makes a machine efficient, what is the correct way to build a machine, what are things to not do with a machine, and I think that that gives us a unique type of knowledge. You know, we get a lot of customers that call in, I’ve had, also, the opportunity to be at one of my own technicians – I enjoy machinery. So if I’m speaking to somebody about a machine, I don’t just say, “Our machine is the best because it’s the best.

Look how nice it looks,” or you know, “My machine is a Poseidon, so because it’s a Poseidon, it’s going to be awesome.” I always like to kind of explain things. Like, the things that I’m explaining to you, they make sense, correct? They have a lot of logic in them . . .

Patrick: Sure.

Joe: . . . apart for me just telling you, “Hey, this is how it worked,” you know, or, “This is what happened.” It’s because it’s fact, it’s reality. So what I’m able to do, and this is something that I tell a lot of people, because I’ve had people call me and say, “You know, the salesman from this company said this and that and this and that and this and that.” Well, you know, if you’re ready to sit down with us and speak and compare apples to apples, I can truthfully tell you the reasons why our machinery might be a better value for the money. Like I said, we don’t have any economical models, really for any category of machinery. We’re not in that market, unfortunately because you can’t be geared up to do high quality . . .

Patrick: Right.

Joe: . . . and then also be geared up to do . . .

Patrick: The budgets.

Joe: . . . economical.

Patrick: By economical you mean . . .

Joe: Yeah . . .

Patrick: . . . low price.

Joe: . . . for example, all of our machines have pretty much everything motorized. So on our bridge saws, for example, most people’s standard models have what we call a manual hand crank in order to turn their blades to a 45 degree position for doing inclined to cut. Which everybody calls mitre, which is the new thing, it’s the mitre seam, because they’re doing this very futuristic, very modern looking kind of apron, they call it. Which is basically just a really thick, flat looking, polished edge on a bathroom vanity or a kitchen counter. And that is nothing else than cutting the material at a 45 degree position so that you can glue or buildup, as they say, with the Akemi , which is a type of stone glue, and you make it look like you did the edge and the edge is really that thick. But in reality all you’re really doing is taking two pieces and making them perpendicular at a 45 degree angle seam.

Patrick: So you have a motorized version of that?

Joe: Well, as a standard, it’s not like it’s an option. Most of the people have it as an option, and that’s a standard on all of our mitering machinery, except for, I believe, one. And the other thing is, we have, I would say, probably the largest selection of bridge saws out of anybody. Period. We have about six models, and out of those six models, five of them do the mitre feature and four out of the five have a motorized standard mitre feature. The one model that does not have that as a standardized feature, is because it has a head that rotates from zero to 90, and so it’s kind of overkill to put an extra motor on that machine because it already has so many automatic movements. It’s the highest you can get before into a seam with your bridge saw.

Patrick: Got it.

Joe: But you know, we offer a lot of things as a standard, where other companies would call them optional features on the machine. For example, automatic water shut off and on with the motor blade. That’s not a standard feature for most companies; that’s something that must be added to the machine if you want the machine to be able to automatically start putting water out through the water nozzles when you turn on the motor for the machine. A lot of companies have a hand valve when you have to open that and close that for example.

Patrick: Right. I know a lot of people go to trade shows to learn about big purchases like buying a saw, and there’s a couple of tradeshows going to be attending later this month, in fact. Again, let’s say I’m a new fabricator, just thought getting successful and I’m to be upgrading my equipment, and I’m walking around one of these tradeshows seeing all these saw manufacturers, what questions should I be asking? If I’m looking at my options, looking at the various companies, what do you think are the questions that a customer should ask a company like yours or your competitors?

Joe: The first thing I would look at if I was purchasing a bridge saw, is I would ask myself, “What’s the customer service like?” and try to get a list of referrals or references, you know? That’s something that I don’t have a problem giving out to people anytime, and I actually enjoy it when people do call of references, because you can only ask so many to do you a favor, and you can also, you know, pretty much tell if somebody’s got some kind of hesitance in giving you a response over the phone. And many, many times I’ve had people asking for referrals and it’s very, very high percentage has resulted in a positive outcome. That’s the first thing I would say, ask for four to five referrals.

Patrick: Okay.

Joe: The other thing I would say, you want to take a look at basic things like, what is the system like mechanically? Because a lot of people don’t really study that and don’t know. Some machines are made in a way that if a mechanical part wears out because the mechanical parts are not protected from the environment, because most granite shops are dusty. You want to ask yourselves, “How is the mechanical system made? Because if it wears, then what are my options on replacing parts that wear?” Because there are some machines that are made in a way that bearings are used to keep the machine straight while cutting, and those bearings pressed against just directly upon the steel of the bridge. And when that happens, your bridge will wear, but your bearings will also wear. You can replace the bearings, but after a few years you can’t replace the bridge.

Patrick: Okay.

Joe: So that’s something to take a look at – the mechanics of the machine. And then also, is the company doing anything to protect the mechanical system on the machine? Because if you see a machine with cam followers, which a cam follower basically looks like a yo-yo. It’s a huge bearing wheel, that looks like a butterfly and it’s usually traveling to what we call a V-guide. That – if it’s not protected from the elements and it’s completely out in the open, and so is the gear rack, then they’re going to get worn down as time goes on because no matter what there’s some dust that’s going to exist in the granite shop. And that dust will land on the gear rack and those metal parts, and they’re going to act as an abrasive to wear down the mechanical system. So another very important think is, are the mechanical parts protected?

So for example, the reason I mentioned this too is because on virtually all of our bridge saws, for example, all of our equipment in general, our C.N.C.s and our bridge saws, they all have fellow covers or some type of vinyl protective cover, that will cover the mechanical parts of the rails on a bridge, when the bridge saw’s moving its bridge front to back. And also when you’re cutting left to right, the mechanical parts on the actual gantry are all protected as well, which means that you’re going to have a lot more life out of your mechanical part.

Patrick: That makes a lot of sense, yeah.

Joe: And if you have less dust, you’re going to have less wear and tear on your mechanical parts, as well as less resistance or less mechanical resistance, and thus more longevity on your motors as well.

Patrick: Very cool. So I’m a software guy so I naturally want to ask about software. How important is software to your machines, and how different are the software offerings between various saw manufacturers?

Joe: Oh, you have three levels of machinery. What we call, for example, very basic, okay? And very basic means that you have control switches on a panel that control machine movement – you know, up, down, left, right. And that’s what we call very basic, which means that if you open up the electrical panel, it’s comprised of probably one or two frequency drives. Which of frequency drives, what they do is they control the speed, in other words, they allow you to regulate the speed with a knob.

Patrick: Okay.

Joe: When you’re cutting left to right, they enable you control the motor that moves the cutting carriage from left to right, so that you can regulate your speed going left to right. So you’ll see a couple of frequency drives and then you’ll see what we call relays. What relays do is they basically open and close an electronical signal to activate those motors or deactivate those motors, and that’s just made with switches, with toggle switches up and down, okay? We don’t have any machines that fits in that basic category. For example, all of our bridge saws, they’re the next step, which is what we call a P.L.C. type of saw. A P.L.C. is a computer that works with E.S.L. statement. Since you’re a programmer, I’ll speak to you in programming language. It basically has what they call ladder logic, which is logic, which is its P’s and Q’s, you know.

Patrick: Okay.

Joe: So does limit switches and then there’s motors, and then you can program that P.L.C. to interact with an interface so that the user can operate, let’s say, in a manual mode. So our machine can operate very basically with switches up and down, left or right, but we also integrate it with what we call the P.L.C. We attach a touchscreen so that the touchscreen is connected to the P.L.C. The P.L.C. is set in the control panel through a power supply of 24 volts BC, and that is basically what tells the machine, you know, that gives it condition for your safety as well. So machines that have a P.L.C. tend to be much safer as well in their use. So for example, on our programs you can’t tip the table up unless the sensor all the way in the back is triggered by the bridge saw being all the way to the back.

On the bridge in the back, we have what we call a proximity sensor, and when it goes over a plate that will only activate it that’s all the way in the back of the rail, then it will tell the P.L.C., “Okay, this condition is set so that you can tilt the table up.” Otherwise if you try to activate the switch to tilt the table up, it will not allow you to turn on the hydraulic pump.

Patrick: So is C.N.C. the next level after P.L.C., then?

Joe: Yeah, after P.L.C., there is the C.N.C. Most guys can cut and produce a phenomenal amount of kitchens with just the P.L.C. saw, though. The P.L.C. has a touchscreen which is very easy to use, also.

Patrick: Okay.

Joe: So for example we have a feature where you can say, let’s say, I was doing a cut in manual towards the back of the table, and I raise the blade. And now I want the bridge to come forward 24 inches, I can put, “Twenty-four inches,” enter “Go to,” and the bridge will jog the 24 inches so you don’t have to be using tape measure on the table. And a lot of people love to use that type of machine – that’s probably the most common seller – but yet, the C.N.C. machine will be the next level where you would use D.X.F. type files and drawings to run that machine. But then you would just download your file into the machine, and you would literally hit “Start Cycle,” and the machine will do everything automatically on its own.

Patrick: Okay, so the difference between the P.L.C. and the C.N.C. is ultimately that the C.N.C. is like a tape recorder that lines up a bunch of those commands in order? Is that a reasonable simplification?

Joe: Yeah, another way to look at it, sofa using the camcorder kind of thing, is a printing machine, you know. Because at the end of the day, kitchen countertops are pretty much rectangles and L-shaped mostly, and then sometimes they’re curves or they’re 45 degree angle cuts and whatnot. But let’s just say if you had a machine, a bridge saw would be similar to, you know, let’s say you wanted to draw a layout of a drawing and you can tell the bridge saw, you can program it basically and say, “The distance between these lines, you’ve got to make me five lines that are 10 inches apart,” let’s say.

Patrick: Right.

Joe: But the C.N.C. machine is exactly like you scanning a picture of something and hitting “Start,” and it just printing that picture.

Patrick: Got it.

Joe: Except for obviously in color, but . . .

Patrick: Sure.

Joe: . . . you know . . .

Patrick: [laughs]

Joe: . . . the same concept. You can walk away and do something else and come back, and it’s all done, and you don’t have to check the measurements. They’re going to be reliable.

Patrick: Cool. Last two questions, here. One, I want to go back to something that you said earlier in our discussion, where you talked about shipping large chunks of stone. You know, not just cut slabs, but you said the Italians used to pull huge chunks from Brazil, take it back to Italy and cut them. It seems like it will be more efficient to cut closer to the country of usage, or am I thinking about that wrong? Does anybody bring big chunks of material into the U.S. and then slice them up and turn them into usable countertop slabs here? Or is that not something that anybody really does in the U.S.?

Joe: Not that I know of to . . .

Patrick: Interesting.

Joe: . . . be completely honest with you. Because back in the day I had, you know, a similar idea, and I was thinking of Mexico, actually.

Patrick: Okay.

Joe: Just logistically anytime somebody needs a container it takes time to ship it from Brazil, and then it takes time to ship it from Italy, and then it takes an enormous amount of time to ship it from China or from India.

Patrick: Right.

Joe: And so basically what I’ve seen is that there are some granite colors that are quarried here in the U.S. or in Canada. Like, there’s a Silver Cloud, I think it’s called, and I think it’s from a quarry in Vermont. The other thing is, there is another couple of materials that I think are out of Canada as well. Those materials, from my understanding, they do cut and polish them, but I’m not sure what their methods are because I don’t think that they ever . . . they never really became so popular that people bought, in containers, of these things, so I don’t know how they set up near those locations. But I know, for example, in Georgia there is a region called Elberton, and that’s where, I think, 90% of all tombstone come from that are made out of granite.

Patrick: Okay.

Joe: So they have huge tombstone manufacturing plants and I think the granite is American, but obviously that’s not countertop slabs, you know.

Patrick: Right, right.

Joe: I don’t know how popular those colors are, so the problem and the challenge that I would see about opening up a slab factory in the U.S. would be the cost of labor, obviously.

Patrick: Ah, that’s the other piece. Okay, yeah.

Joe: Right, because if you set up these machines in a huge plant, first of all, the real estate is way more expensive in the U.S. than it is in other Third World countries, you know, obviously.

Patrick: No, that makes a lot of sense.

Joe: You’d have Workmen’s Comp. and you’d have labor laws and whatnot that are pretty much nonexistent, so how can you compete with that here in the US, you know? You’d have to have a much higher technology, which at the end of the day, technologies for cutting blocks of granite and polishing them are pretty standardized nowadays. Unless you have some alien technology . . .

Patrick: [laughs]

Joe: . . . to cut up your slabs and polish them that nobody knew about, because it does take a fairly good amount of time to cut through one of those big blocks that you’re going to get slabs out of, even with the new technology.

Patrick: But that’s part of what they use a wire saw for, right? You said you guys sell the wire saw? Isn’t that what they use to cut through those?

Joe: Yeah, absolutely. Well, not traditionally. That’s actually become a new function, because the wire saws have been around for a while, but what’s happened now is that they have multi-wire saws. Because the challenge with the wires I was making it a multi-wire and having many, many pulleys work together side-by-side, because it works pretty much like a band saw. I’m not sure if you’ve ever seen a band saw.

Patrick: Yep.

Joe: It works in the same way. You know, there’s two rotating pulleys on one side of the other, and then that’s one wire, you know.

Patrick: Okay.

Joe: And then now they have machines that have 60 of these pulleys in a series, so there’s 60 wire saws because the typical average amount of slabs you can get out of a block, whether it’s two C.M. or three C.M., is about a 45 to 60 slabs. Depending on whether you’re cutting it up into an inch and a quarter or three quarters of an inch.

Patrick: That’s like a big egg slicer that they are cutting through multiple times.

Joe: That’s exactly what it is. So what happened was, and here’s the interesting part, those multi-wires, they didn’t become popular until 2005, 2006. And so before that they had to what were called, I think they call them game saws or block cutters. If you could imagine, like, a 10 foot diameter wheel spinning in the center of it. It’s spinning via 100 horse power or 150 horse power motor. And attached to the outer spoke at some point on that wheel, was a pivot point for an arm, and that arm, at the end of it, had a hand. And at the end of the hand it would go down like a wire cutter cheese, but it would saw back and forth, and then it had water coming down with what we call slag that have some pieces of carbon.

And that abrasive water would be flowing constantly over the top of this arm or hand that would be going back and forth, and inside of the hand is a block of granite. And that’s pretty much how they used to cut. I forgot what they call them in English, I know what they call them in Italian, but basically those machines would take it, I believe, about 24 hours to cut one block . . .

Patrick: Oh my gosh.

Joe: . . . of granite, yep, going back and forth. So it’s an extreme expense of energy resources and time, you know, and slag.

Patrick: I didn’t realize that.

Joe: So what happened was that the wire saws came along, and I think they cut that time down in four. I think it takes a six to eight hours to cut one block with a 50 wire saw – a 50 wire, you know, multi-wire saw. And so now everybody’s been shifting over to buying the wire saws to cut big blocks of granite, and these machines are sawing a lot in these countries that manufacture slabs. They’ll go for about E800,000, you know, something like that, but it’s definitely worth it with the time savings if you’re invoicing millions of dollars of worth in containers every year, you know.

Patrick: Oh, that makes perfect sense. Thank you, I didn’t know the details, so I appreciate that. Well I’ve kept you a good, long time, but thanks for sharing your stories of history and telling us about your company. That’s good stuff.

Joe: Yeah, and no problem. We’re very generous with whatever we can help people with, with our knowledge, you know, with what we’ve learned over the years. We’ve had a lot of customers also tell us, “We decided to go with you guys because, you know, you got educated us a lot. In the beginning when we were calling for information, where we saw other people are a little sparse or a little selfish with their knowledge.” You know, they don’t want to give too much information, and that something else that we try to train . . . when we try to train an operator on a machine, we try to train them as if we were training a technician. How to maintain the machine, how it works . . .

Patrick: Okay, cool.

Joe: . . . so they can troubleshoot. If we show them the bare minimum to run a machine, we’re creating too much dependency on us . . .

Patrick: Sure.

Joe: . . . which is a traditional way of kind of doing equipment. You know, where they’re very dependent on us that we’ve got to charge them for service, and service calls, and time on the phone and whatever, but we don’t see it that way. We try to educate people as best as possible.

Patrick: Very nice. So Poseidon Machinery dot com for more information, right?

Joe: Yep, Poseidon Machinery dot com. We also have YouTube dot com forward slash Poseidon Machinery. And we have a very active Facebook too; Facebook dot com forward slash Poseidon Machine.

Patrick: Sweet. Well thanks so much for your time today, and I look forward to seeing you in person at some point.

Joe: Yeah, we will be at the show . . .

Patrick: Oh, good.

Joe: . . . in Las Vegas. We will be exhibiting one of our new edging machines, the MitreSplash, which was a tremendous success – we launched it last year. And it’s the only machine on the market that will polish four inch backsplash, you run it right through the machine, on a horizontal flat surface type, as opposed to a vertical type, which is pretty much how everybody else’s backsplash is made.

Patrick: Okay.

Joe: And we can also handle large countertop pieces. It runs at about two linear feet per minute – done per an inch and a quarter of thickness. And it’s also a mitre cutting machine in one.

Patrick: Very cool.

Joe: Hence the name MitreSplash.

Patrick: All right.

Joe: Thank you very much.

Patrick: You bet. I will see you in Las Vegas, then. I’ll look you up and say hello.

Joe: All right, thank you so much. Have a wonderful week. Bye-bye.

Patrick: You too. Bye.

[music]

Patrick: Thanks for listening to Stone Talk, the podcast for countertop fabricators. If you liked this episode, be sure to visit Stone Talk dot org, or subscribe to Stone Talk in iTunes for more. Visit the Stone Talk Show Facebook page to join in the conversation and follow, at Stone Talk Show, on Twitter. Stone Talk is brought to you by Moraware, makers of JobTracker scheduling software and CounterGo estimating software for countertop fabricators. I’m your host, Patrick Foley, and I look forward to spending time with you again the next episode of Stone Talk.

[music stops]

One thought on “StoneTalk Episode 15 – Joe Alva

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