The sixth annual solid surface trade show was held at the Mandalay Bay resort in Las Vegas this past February. The show displayed the maturity of the solid surface fabrication industry as well as the increasing visibility of the engineered stone segment.
An amazing 20 manufacturers of solid surface materials displayed their wares, all hoping to capture a segment of the multi-billion dollar market. Six companies, ranging from small start-ups to one of the world's largest multi-national corporations, displayed engineered stone products.
Along with the range of engineered stone products on display were a wide variety of machine tools designed to fabricate engineered stone. Many of these machines have been around for a long time, and are common in the stone fabrication industry.
One distinctive machine stood out, though. My old friends at Auto V-grooving, Inc. have introduced a remarkable innovation the ST-SS-2-FT, a single machine capable of
V-grooving natural stone, engineered stone and solid surface materials, all without water and with excellent dust collection capabilities. The V-grooving concept involves precise cutting of the backside of the sheet, allowing a mitered edge piece to be folded into place, hinged by a piece of plastic strapping tape, for rapid and accurate edge fabrication. Significant labor savings are possible.
I first wrote about V-grooving technology in 1994, and the procedure has proven to be an effective technique for rapid processing of solid surface materials. For information, visit www.vgrooving.com.
Two well-known brand names in the solid surface industry, Fountainhead and Surell, are being phased out, though they will live on under another name. The Formica Corporation has owned both brands in recent years.
Formica plans to market both product offerings under the name of Formica Solid Surfacing. Manufactured in the former Fountainhead factory in Odenton, MD, the product features a reformulated resin mix that Formica says will improve its performance.
Fabricators interested in thermoforming solid surface materials now have the option of purchasing a sophisticated press made in Spain for that purpose. The Global membrane press utilizes a silicone rubber blanket and a vacuum pump to form the heated solid surface material precisely and rapidly. This press can also be used for laminating curved and layered architectural wood components. The company points out that many solid surface fabricators also do architectural woodwork, and may find such a dual use machine worthwhile. Global Ecotherm preheating tables are also available from the manufacturer, Nabuurs Developing S.L., which is located in Valencia, Spain. More information is available at www.nabuurs.com.
One trade association representing some companies in the solid surface industry is reorganizing. What was once the International Cast Polymer Association (ICPA) is now called the International Cast Polymer Alliance, and is affiliated with the Composite Fabricators Association (CFA), a large trade group representing businesses involved with fiberglass and related products.
I remember the ICPA when it was called the Cultured Marble Institute. I spoke at the association's convention in New Orleans quite a few years ago, when some of its members began manufacturing solid surface materials, and were in need of fabrication advice. George Bush was president back then, and the United States was preparing to go to war with Iraq. It seems that some things never change.
The ICPA held a first ever joint meeting with the International Solid Surface Fabricators Association in Florida last November, presaging more communication and cooperation between the two most significant trade associations serving the solid surface industry. For more information on ICPA, visit www.icpa-hq.org. For more information on CFA, go to www.cfa-hq.org.
Art Betterley Enterprises has offered specialized router systems to countertop fabricators for decades. The venerable Betterley Coving Router, which came on the market almost 20 years ago, was the first practical method for creating coved backsplashes on solid surface countertops.
Using joint adhesive, the fabricator assembles three pieces of solid surface material into a stair step detail at the intersection of the backsplash and the countertop deck. The angled base plate allows the router to machine a smooth cove into the stepped area.
In its original design, this router used a core box router bit with a very long shank. Betterley now provides an improved router bit for this application. Instead of a bit with a spherical head, the new bit has a modified cone shape that creates a cleaner machined surface in the coved area. The top edges of the flutes are rounded slightly to prevent tiny steps in the deck or splash.
Another Betterley innovation is the sink hole cutout tool. This is a router attachment used when trimming around the sink cutout of a solid surface sink that has been undermounted beneath a solid surface countertop. The innovation is that the guide bearing is not connected to the router bit. Instead, it is mounted on a side arm attached to the router base plate. This arm is attached to a large ball bearing that allows the entire assembly to rotate freely about the base plate as the router travels around the sink cutout. The benefit is that there is no chance of the guide bearing failing at high RPMs, since it is not attached to the router bit and does not rotate on its own. Accordingly, the risk of damage to the sink is minimized.
Betterley is an old fashioned company that still doesn't have a Web site. For more information, call Betterley at 1-800-871-7516.
I have a Web site, though. If you have any comments or suggestions about my columns, go to www.heaphy.com, and send me an email. Your thoughts are always welcomed.