The traditions and the processes of quarries have not materially changed in generations. The raw materials and the end products are the same today as they were for the ancient Greeks. The only difference is the time it takes to accomplish the task. In addition, the focus of development is to refine existing systems, make them more autonomous and save a few seconds per cycle, but in the end the quest remains the same, turn big rocks into little rocks.
Or does it?
The maturity of an industry can be measured by what I call its stability of design. That is, the ability of an industry to plan processes or design equipment well in advance and feel reasonably certain that the end users will be able to integrate them into existing manufacturing systems. This certainly can be said about the natural stone industry, it is after all the oldest industry after wood gathering.
Lets look at some of the basic industry dives. Fabricators call for the biggest slabs they can get, the processors respond by building bigger saws and calling for bigger blocks from the quarries, the quarry invest in larger equipment which they use to provide bigger block which requires bigger saws and in the end inform the fabricator that bigger slabs can be had……
Now assuming that the initial requirement is reasonable, why does this inevitably have lead to more massive blocks and the expense of extracting and transporting them?
It is my contention that it does not. Indeed, the quest is not the same.
The fulfillment of the stated goal of large slab production can be accomplished without the need to transport large masses long distances. With the simple placement of processing equipment as close to the quarry floor as possible. The scale and therefore the cost of transport can be greatly downsized.
With the development of a horizontal cutting technique New World Stone Company in Virginia has started down this road. The blocks that are being fed to this saw weigh less than 6000 lbs. or 33.3 cu. ft. The potential slab size from this blank is a very respectable 52”x 90”. These blanks are currently cut from larger blocks already on site or easily accessible. In the future these blanks will come directly from the quarry wall using diamond wire saws. In a traditional environment the extraction would be accomplished using a wheel loader or forklift with a capacity of twenty plus tons, supported by trucks and cranes of similar capacities. The operating costs of equipment at this scale are huge, never mind the cost of transportation or duplication between quarries.
The NWSC approach calls for ten thousand pound capacity all terrain forklifts with integrated tool carriers for doing other work in the quarries as necessary. These will load the blanks on to trucks for transport to the plant. For the price of one high capacity loader one can purchase several small forklifts. These can be easily transported from quarry to quarry as needed, in their case they can be driven.
These are just a few examples of the unrecognized opportunities hidden in the “the way it’s done” mindset.