Orphans of the Stone

Think there’s anything worse than having a car without a company, such as a Pontiac or Plymouth, in your garage? Try dealing with a bridge saw or CNC or any other machine for fabricating stone when the manufacturer just … disappears.

The prolonged recession makes it tough on just about everyone in the stone trade, but machine manufacturers and representatives continue to get smacked from all sides. With tight credit and a drop in retail sales of stone jobs, there’s thin demand for new equipment. And, with failures of fabrication shops around the country, used equipment – some of it in next-to-new condition – gluts the market at outrageously cheap prices.

Most manufacturers will hold on until conditions brighten. Some machine builders, along with U.S.-based reps of foreign companies, won’t, leaving owners with that dreaded piece of equipment in the backshop … the orphan.

The recent forced bankruptcy liquidation action against Advanced Industrial Machinery Inc. (AIM) means yet another brand of equipment without an active manufacturer – and, of key importance to machine owners, direct means of support. And, right now, shops need to keep current equipment going in the attempt to hang on for better times.

Fortunately, some of these machines are finding a new network of support. It’s not a stretch to say that some of these orphans are finding some interesting godparents to fix problems and supply parts, but there’s service nonetheless.

Probably the biggest population of orphan machines in the United States resulted when Matrix Stone Products Inc. closed its doors late last year in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., and filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy liquidation. With no buyer for the company – in fact, there were no assets in bankruptcy, aside from some office equipment – support looked a bit grim.

However, at least two companies offer support with maintenance, repair and replacement parts. Brian Peterson, son of Matrix co-founder Dennis Peterson, opened Machine Techs last November in Orange, Calif., to support the former company’s saws, edgers and CNC machines. In January of this year, Joe Harari – the other Matrix co-founder – opened Apex Machinery in Rancho Cucamonga with former Matrix department manager Kevin West for servicing Matrix products.

The closing of Calypso Water Jet Systems Inc. also left an indeterminate number of orphan machines in the stone industry. Unlike Matrix, the owners of Dallas-based Calypso didn’t even file bankruptcy papers; sometime in January, phones went unanswered and machine owners received no notification whatsoever.

This put shops with Calypso machines in a particularly bad spot. The abrasive-waterjet company licensed its operating system from Winter City Software in Edmonton, Alberta; to inhibit piracy of the software, the system needed a new license code if the machine suffered a major disruption – such as a shutdown of its computer network.

In the past, Calypso owners called the manufacturer to generate a new code number. With the company closed and the phones off the hook, however ….

Luckily, Calypso owners don’t need to be facing the prospect of a multi-ton paperweight. Dallas-based MultiCam Inc., which hired some of Calypso’s staff announced that it will generate a new working code at no charge. And Hi-Line Industrial’s Bill Johnston worked a deal with Winter City, with guaranteed direct code support for a $50 annual fee.

Other individuals familiar with Calypso machines – such as Al Ansel, who worked on pump systems – are offering support on a per-job basis. MultiCam is offering a full line of parts and support. And other waterjet companies are focusing on MultiCam; TECHI Waterjet also hired former Calypso staff for support.

We’ll likely see other companies and individuals offer their services to deal with other equipment. In time, these machines will be less-cost-effective, and better market conditions will allow fabricators to replace the ol’ reliables with new and improved models.

For now, though, the orphans are still valuable members of the backshop family. And, hopefully, they’ll get the support they need.

Emerson Schwartzkopf

You can read up-to-the-minute news on the dimensional-stone trade and search the archives at Stone Business Online, where you can also find this blog at the Main Menu under the clever title of “Editor’s Blog.”

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