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How to buy a bridge saw


You might think this is a simple thing, but it's not.  There are actually a lot of factors to consider.  Let's break it down a bit into the component parts:

Your Location

Some important factors to consider are if you have room enough for the saw you want to purchase.  In most cases, you need to leave some room around the saw for easy access, maintenance, and hook up considerations.  Be sure you know exactly how large your potential saw is, where access is especially needed, and if there are any doors (electrical box?) that need room to open.  Also, can a forklift loaded with stone easily access the saw's designated area for simple loading of slabs?

Your Power

In most cases, full-sized bridge saws require 3 phase power at 220 - 240 volts.  What kind of power do you have?  If you don't have 3 phase, will you get a generator (not optimal) or a rotary phase convertor $3,000 - $4,000)?  If you want to convert to 3 phase power, have you asked your power company about that possibility and what that cost would be (pretty pricy for sure $5,000 - $15,000 often).

Your Needs

How many slabs do you cut per day?  Per week?  Do you need to cut arcs (5 axis saw) or do you do a lot of mitering?  I often tell fabricators that to go to a full 5-axis CNC saw (prices typically start well north of $100K and go up a lot from there) without having a basic saw as back up might not be a good idea.  Do you have the work volume to substantiate the purchase of an expensive ($100K+) saw?  If you are a low-volume shop, can you get by with a basic saw that doesn't miter?  Do you realize the time savings that result from having a saw that can cut both the X axis and Y axis?  It saves substantial time (minimal table rotation) when you have a saw head that rotates.  Is a table that rotates and lifts automatically helpful or not critical?  Is the saw you are thinking of low maintenance?  Are the X and Y rails covered or exposed?  Is there automatic lubrication?  Do you want a mono-block style saw which is a once piece unit that keeps it's accuracy over time and is easy to move or are you OK with a saw that has separate steel walls, or concrete walls you have to build?  All of these are important questions that need to be addressed.

Your Employees

How equipped are your employees to run this new saw?  Are they already familiar with the operation of a bridge saw or would this be new to them?  Do some of them have good technical abilities both with fabrication and math?  Do any of them understand machinery, maintenance, and basic repair?  Do they want a saw that is simpler to run or do they want the complexity and capability of a CNC saw?  If so, do any of them have experience drawing and understand CAD/CAM programming?  Do you use physical templates or laser (digital) templates?  Some people are under the misunderstanding that a basic bridge saw cannot be programmed while a CNC saw can.  That's not entirely true.  Yes, there are super basic bridge saws that can only cut the X axis and have to have the table rotated for Y axis cuts and they don't miter.  Most of these type saws cannot be programmed in any way.  However, there are mid-range saws that, while they are not CNC saws, do have programmable features allowing you simply program in multiple cuts along one axis, say an initial cut to straighten out the slab edge, followed by a 4" backsplash cut, then a 24" countertop cut, another 24" cut, and a final 4" backsplash.  It's a great feature and allows you to cut with confidence knowing that the saw will cut those sizes precisely because you've programmed it that way.  Finally, a CNC saw requires a digital file (DXF) in order to cut.  This means you have to 1) send it a digital file from a templator or 2) the draw the file on the computer's screen OR 3) have someone draw it on a computer then import it into the saw.  Then, once the program is loaded - the operator has to define for the saw how to cut along that template, where to start, where to finish, etc.  

Used or New?

While it is often a possibility to find a used saw for sale, the great challenge is that in the stone industry (unlike the metal or wood working industries), saws have a tough life from the start.  The combination of stone dust and water is VERY hard on a metal saw and there is a lot of wear and corrosion that comes with it.  Buying a used saw is something that is challenging - you MUST go see the saw and hopefully you can see it in operation and not disassembled.  You must also get a sense for how much life is left in it and how meticulous the owners were about maintaining it, fixing it, lubricating it.  I often caution buyers about purchasing a saw that is more than 5-7 years old.  It's just a challenge and shouldn't be taken lightly.  You can often find used saws in the $15K - $30K range.  New saws, the most basic, usually start in the mid to upper $30K area and go up from there.  Mid-range saws are $45K - $75K and CNC saws start over $90K.  

Who to Buy From

(Of course Eagle Rock has a great range of saws and is your best option!)  

To me, when I purchase something, I don't want to be pushed or pressured.  I also want to feel as though the company I am dealing with isn't just trying to sell something to me but instead has listened to me, heard my business story, understood my budget, and really wants to help me find the best saw that fits my needs and budget.  Do they have a saw in your area that you can go see?  Will they provide you with references to talk to about their experience with a particular saw or company?  Do they invite you to visit their headquarters to see your operations and see bridges saws in action in a working shop?  Do they have technicians that are available in this country, both for service and phone support?  These are all important features and things to consider when purchasing a saw from a particular company.  

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