Once a month, the International Solid Surface Fabricators Association (ISSFA) conducts its four-day Total Fabrication Training program near Las Vegas. These classes are so successful that they are booked up months in advance.
By far the most comprehensive hands-on training program now offered to the solid surface industry, Total Fabrication Training is offered at the ITEC, ISSFA’s Training and Education Center in Henderson, NV, a state-of-the-art facility that offers students a real-world shop environment furnished with tools and technology from leading industry suppliers.
My wife and I took a seminar on decorative inlay techniques at the ITEC shortly after it first opened, and we had the opportunity to tour the facility again recently, courtesy of ISSFA executive director Robert Oxley. The exciting announcement that motivated our latest visit was that every major manufacturer of solid surface materials now endorses the Total Fabrication Training program as an integral step in the training of solid surface fabricators and installers.
“This is a major step forward for ISSFA. Never before have all of the solid surface producers come together to endorse a single training curriculum for the industry,” said Oxley, an industry veteran who has helped revitalize ISSFA in the past couple of years.
Manufacturers that have signed on for the program include Avonite, DuPont Corian, Formica Solid Surface, Wilsonart Solid Surface, Samsung Staron, LG Hi-Macs, Centura, Dovae, Florenata, Harmony, Hudson Surfaces, Lion ChemTech and Royal Stone Industries. As a group, these manufacturers now acknowledge that the solid surface fabrication industry ought to operate under commonly accepted quality standards, and that the variations between brands are less important than the general principles that unite them, at least as far as fabrication quality goes. This refreshing display of unity among all major manufacturers is a welcome development and certainly a good omen for the future.
Back in the late 1980s, I was active in a now-defunct trade association called the Decorative Laminate Products Association (DLPA), which had a subgroup for solid surface fabricators. This was an early and only partially successful effort to build unity among solid surface fabricators, as well as to garner support for a national fabricators’ group.
A well-known and respected fabricator, Ron Biloff of Lincoln, NE, initiated this project, and I was proud to assist him as co-chair of the committee. Later, I became committee chair for a couple of years. As part of a DLPA conference held in Winston-Salem, NC, I conducted the first solid surface training seminar that gave equal treatment to the four major national brands on the market at that time. During my presentation, I completed some basic fabrication procedures on DuPont Corian, Formica 2000X, Nevamar Fountainhead and Avonite, and each company donated a sheet of material and some seam adhesive to the effort.
What ISSFA has now achieved with Total Fabrication Training is the realization of a vision shared by pioneering fabricators like Ron Biloff 20 years ago, and the result is most impressive.
Course of Action
ISSFA’s director of education and certification, Bill Wolle, is the key instructor for the Total Fabrication Training program. After studying DVDs of his presentations, I can tell you that he’s a natural teacher and a prepared instructor. He loves to communicate and educate, he understands the industry and he has worked with successful fabricators worldwide to develop effective instructional materials that can help turn a beginner into a professional fabricator. Oxley complements Wolle well, with his captivating presentations on the theory of management as applied to the solid surface industry.
ISSFA’s approach to management is based on five key words: “Plan,” “Organize,” “Implement,” “Execute” and “Evaluate.” Following through step-by-step on these essential concepts ensures the greatest chance of success in any venture. The ISSFA training philosophy combines theory, best practices and real-life experiences. Attentive students leave equipped with the tools for success.
The first day of Total Fabrication Training introduces the student to the fundamentals of solid surface materials and the basic principles of productivity. Safety gets a big emphasis from the beginning, as it should in every solid surface shop. Both physical and electronic techniques for templating of countertops are explained, and seaming and seam reinforcement procedures are introduced and demonstrated.
The students work in teams of two, and each team has a fully equipped workstation with the latest tools and technology. Over the four-day period, each team completes the fabrication and installation of a typical kitchen countertop.
On the second day, students are introduced to decorative edges, and the program covers both structural issues and design aspects of edges. Various types of countertop cutouts are explained, with a particular emphasis on the special requirements of cutouts for heat- generating appliances such as cooktops. Countertop support systems are demonstrated, including special provisions for cantilevered overhangs. Each team learns about sink installation options and installs a seam undermounted solid surface sink.
Day three covers major backsplash options, with particular attention to coved splashes. Thermoforming, decorative inlay techniques and an introduction to solid surface repair procedures are also covered.
The final day includes sanding and buffing techniques used to produce surface finishes ranging from matte to semi gloss to high gloss. Quality control is discussed, along with systematic installation procedures. The course closes with a summary of the course material and a rededication to profitability through efficiency and high-quality workmanship.
The shop facilities are neat, clean and very well organized. Working in teams, the students in the program use the sort of production power tools used every day in real fabrication shops, and fabricate actual countertops with donated solid surface materials. Companies I’ve written about for years, such as The Pinske Edge, Specialitytools.com, Monument Toolworks, Andreas Templates and ETemplate System, have donated equipment to the ITEC. Many other companies also offer support for the program.
Next year, ISSFA will celebrate its 10th anniversary. Now representing 878 companies worldwide, its dedicated staff and volunteers can be justifiably proud of its accomplishments.