Computerized Workflow: Templating

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   MADISON, Wis. – Any job is only as good as its template, and most natural stone fabricators struggle with finding a method – but now some Midwestern U.S. shops are leaving the job to somebody else.
   The father-and-son duo of Lenard and Jason Nottestad is now offering fabricators in Wisconsin and northern Illinois a different way to handle templates. Since November, their Midwest Template Services Inc. has been creating templates for the company’s fabricator-clients utilizing ETemplate Systems equipment.
   Jason Nottestad, who began working in the industry about seven years ago, says he’d been toying with the idea of a company just to do templating for a couple years.
   “At that time, it didn’t seem feasible,” he says. “Technology wasn’t there to go the extra mile to make a template that was more accurate than what other people were doing.”
   However, he decided to rethink his idea after seeing how templating technology had improved while at last year’s Coverings show in Orlando, Fla.
   “We talked with the people at ETemplate and decided if we took their technology then the idea of having a company that subcontracted templating was feasible,” the younger Nottestad says. “We felt we could go the extra mile and make better templates than what were being done in-house by other people.”
   Nottestad says he doesn’t discount other methods of templating. In his own experience he’s made cardboard, plywood and stick templates. By going to an electronic system, though, he felt he could eliminate what he calls, “the gray areas” associated with other templates.
   “With those other methods, you can’t make a template that a customer can look at and know exactly what they’re going to get,. With our method, you can show the client an exact corner radius and put a DXF file in to show them their sink cut out,” he says.
   The Nottestads began by marketing their services directly to fabricators, builders and kitchen and bath shops. One of the things the pair has learned is that many fabricators never figured out the cost of templating in-house.
   “We’ll give them a price list (based on the square footage of a job) and show them how much it is for our services, and they don’t even have an idea of how to crunch the numbers,” says Jason Nottestad. “It’s been educational for them and they have to sit down and take a couple days to figure out their own costs. This is an issue they’ve never really explored before.”
   Time is also money, but the Nottestads don’t believe that a fabricator bringing Midwest in as a subcontractor is going to add a lot of extra time to the fabrication process. Typically, their clients have a two-to-three-week lead-time on projects, and by working closely with the fabricators, Lenard Nottestad says they can respond to a job quickly.
   “We try to have the fabricator give us as much advanced notice as possible,” the senior Nottestad says. “Once we have the order, we contact the builder to make sure the cabinets are in place before we set the date to template. It takes about the same amount of time whether the fabricator is doing the template or we go out and do the work.”
   At the same time, the two men believe their clients also gain time in the process because of the quality of the templates they create.
   “When we’re done templating we have full Mylar® templates that we’ve made on-site, and they’re all marked with all the pertinent information,” explains Jason Nottestad. “We also go back and do an architectural drawing in CAD and save it as a DXF file, so if they’re using CNC equipment they don’t have to take a cardboard template and digitize it.”
   The Nottestads add that their business isn’t just for fabricators operating CNC machines. They estimate that about half their clients utilize the computer files they produce, but the other half cuts from the Mylar.
   The Mylar template – the Nottestads travel with a plotter in their van and cut out the templates before they leave a jobsite – also eliminates the gray areas that Jason Nottestad feels are a problem with other templating methods.
   ‘We’re getting the customer involved in the process,” says Lenard Nottestad. “They find out what the coutnertop will look like once it’s installed. When we put our Mylar templates on the cabinets, we’ve already ‘manufactured’ the countertop. If the fabricator builts it to our template, when it comes to installation it’s going to fit; the overhang and the corner radii are correct, and the customer doesn’t get any surprises.
   “The customer really likes that,” he adds.
   Having that correct fit is critical to the Nottestads. Not only do they also do installations – and enjoy installing the countertops they’ve templated – but they guarantee that if there’s a need for a remake on any job where they supply the templates, they’ll buy the piece.
   The duo has never had a remake or rework of more than 4,000 ft² of marble, granite, soapstone, natural quartz and Corian® jobs templated electronically.
   “This is also something our clients look at,” says Lenard Nottestad. “That can get to be a big cost. By doing the template at the customer’s house, we know it’s going to fit and it’s going to install and the customer is going to be happy. Our clients know there’s not going to be a scrap factor.”
   That’s even more impressive, given that the two men aren’t the exclusive template makers for any fabricator. Jason Nottestad readily admits that there are many jobs, such as a typical “L” or an island, where their service might be overkill. Instead, they are finding they often get called in to template the really tough jobs.
   “We’ve certainly done all kinds of jobs, but probably 75 percent of them are the bigger jobs with a lot more complexity,” he says. “Some projects are relatively straightforward, but we’ve definitely been called in on a number of them where there are a lot of things going on and they need more technology to get accurate templates.”
   The two men admit they’ve also been somewhat surprised by their client list, and how far from the Madison-Milwaukee corridor their work has taken them. They also find themselves doing work for fabricators selling outside their immediate area.
   For instance, they do templates for Cambrian Granite, a Cedar Falls, Iowa-based fabricator who sells jobs in the Madison market. They also recently had their first call directly from a property owner.
   “It was a big, two-kitchen house,” Jason Nottestad explains. “He was working with a fabricator in California. A family member got him a better deal than he could get here, so we walked through the whole house with him, made our DXF files and templates, and sent them to California.”
   With an expanding customer base, the two men aren’t certain how far they can take Midwest Template, but they’re confident it will keep growing.
   “We’ve talked about expanding into the Chicago market or the Minneapolis market,” says Jason Nottestad. “We’ve talked about the advantages of opening other offices or creating a franchise, but we’re definitely going to expand. It’s working well in our immediate area, and we’re certain it would work in other areas, as well.”

This article first appeared in the September 2004 print edition of Stone Business. ©2004 Western Business Media Inc.