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Customer Spotlight: Hatton Granite

May 24, 2016

Pushing productivity to the limit

(This article appeared in the Spring 2016 edition of Hypertherm's SPARK newsletter. View original article.)

Perhaps no state has felt the meteoric fall of oil prices greater than North Dakota. In 2009, as much of the country was in the midst of the Great Recession, North Dakota was thriving. Thousands of people were flowing into the state, chasing an oil boom many compared to the California Gold Rush of the mid-1800s.   

Small, rural communities exploded nearly overnight.  The influx was so great, Williston, a city in the middle of the Bakken shale formation, saw its population triple, unemployment drop to .07 percent, and the average yearly salary hit $71,000 a year. Then it all went bust. The rigs stopped pumping. The money stopped flowing. Most people moved on.

Not all is dire in North Dakota though. The same ground that holds its oil contains some of the country’s most fertile soil. Roughly 90 percent of North Dakotan land—39 million acres—is farmland. Beans, wheat, flaxseed, corn, honey, sugar beets—all originate in North Dakota.

Another part of the landscape is Hatton Granite, a fifth generation family business almost as old as the state itself. Founded in 1904, just 15 years after North Dakota gained statehood, Hatton Granite operates today as the state’s oldest producer of granite monuments. Its operations are run by Don Wamstad, great grandson of company founder Christian Ness, and his wife Nikki. A fifth generation of the family, great, great grandson Blake Wamstad, and his wife Jill operate the company’s countertop division.

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Blake & Jill Wamstad, of Hatton Granite, posing next to their FUSION CNC Saw/Waterjet

Like relatives before him, Blake is a very hands-on business owner who enjoys programming and operating the machines at Hatton Granite as well as interacting with customers. He designs, fabricates, delivers, and installs custom kitchen countertops and bathroom vanities throughout the area and into Canada, completing 350 residential kitchens last year and many more bathrooms and commercial jobs. 

Though each fabricator has a different way of doing things, Blake and his team at Hatton use sophisticated software to match each piece of granite to a particular job. An average kitchen takes a slab and a half of stone, a bathroom vanity much less. Cabinets are measured and templates created to makethe best use of a particular slab. Once the team has identified the slab or slabs needed for a job, it is time to cut and shape the stone.

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“We have four fabricators including me. If we continued to work like we did before the FUSION CNC Saw/Waterjet, we would need at least 20 people to do the same amount of work.”

Hatton uses a combination CNC machine equipped with both a saw and a precision waterjet system. The machine is the FUSION® CNC Saw/Waterjet from Park Industries®.

Blake first learned about Park at a tradeshow and since that introduction has purchased four Park Industries systems, consistently trading-in and trading-up. Park Industries explains that the FUSION CNC saws three times faster than conventional bridge saws. It’s also incredibly accurate making it easy for fabricators like Hatton Granite to produce precise edges. Hypertherm HyPrecision® pumps are the only waterjet systems Park Industries sells.

“When evaluating waterjet solutions, we were focused on two things,” comments Jim O’Connor, Park Industries’ Director of Engineering. “We wanted the waterjet solution to be the most reliable and most cost effective solution to run on the market. In addition, we wanted to partner with a company that mirrored our company philosophy of providing exceptional customer service. We continue to be impressed with Hypertherm’s HyPrecision pumps, continuous focus on product quality and innovation."

The FUSION CNC Saw/Waterjet that Blake is currently using is designed specifically for countertop fabrication. Blake and other Hatton Granite employees place the slab onto the FUSION and turn it on.

The saw cuts the slab down to size, and then the Hypertherm waterjet cuts out needed angles, rounded edges, and holes for the sink and faucet inserts. Hatton runs its table at least four days a week, cutting an average of 1,000 feet of stone in that time.

Since bringing the FUSION online four years ago, Blake says his productivity is up by 500 percent and yet his head-count is exactly the same.

“We have four fabricators including me. If we continued to work like we did before the FUSION CNC/Waterjet, we would need at least 20 people to do the same amount of work,” Blake says. “Before every thing had to be done by hand. This machine increased the number of jobs we can do by 500 percent, and it did this without increasing my labor costs.”

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Blake Wamstad, working on his FUSION CNC Saw/Waterjet 

In addition to saving Blake hundreds of hours in labor and helping him get countertops to his customers more quickly, the waterjet cutting process on the FUSION helps him use less granite, lowering his material costs.

He explains, “Because natural stone has fissures, the old method of grinding the stone to shape would often put too much pressure on these weaker spots which could chip or break the stone. Waterjet is an abrasion process. It doesn’t put any pressure on the stone so the stone is more likely to survive the shaping process without breaking.”

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Blake notes that with the introduction of the FUSION, he has become a material handler because the fabrication part is no longer necessary. The new machine does all the work and every countertop or vanity comes off the table ready for install. Plus the work is no longer back-breaking giving the team more time to enjoy that North Dakota land.

“Before everything had to be done by hand. The FUSION CNC Saw/Waterjet increased the number of jobs we can do by 500 percent, and it did this without increasing my labor costs.”

 

Listen to Blake Wamstad talk about how he changed his shop, one step at a time, at Park Industries Digital Stoneworking Expo | August 3rd | Bozeman, MT

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