Carlisle firm buys the first Sasso K900

Pictured (left to right) in front of the new Sasso K900 at Ian Lowes Stonemasonry in Carlisle are: Enrico D’Antonio, Ian Lowes, Pat Sharkey, Enzo Tossici and mason/sawyer Jason Green.

It was a big day for Ian Lowes Stonemasonry when it took delivery of its first heavyweight Sasso K900. It was a big day for Pat Sharkey and his son Neil of Pat Sharkey Engineering, too, as this was the first K900 they had sold to a UK company since taking over the Sasso agency for the UK and Ireland last year (2015). And the Italians who delivered it and stayed for a fortnight to commission the fully interpolated five axes saw with its 900mm blade and lathe were also delighted.

Ian Lowes Stonemasonry had to build a whole new saw shed at its site in Wigton, near Carlisle in Cumbria, to accommodate the new saw and the lathe that was an option the company had chosen to include.

The new building represented as much of an investment as the saw itself and, of course, included extending all the electricity, air and water management services into the new building.

In 2013 Ian Lowes had an OMEC water management system installed by New Stone Age. New Stone Age promote the fact that OMEC plants include two pumps, because a pump failure can bring production to a halt. Ian Lowes has reason to be grateful for that spare capacity, which kept him operating when a switch broke on one of the pumps. The OMEC has a filter press, and was deliberately installed with extra capacity in anticipation of a new saw being installed.

But Ian Lowes had not decided which saw he was going to buy when he visited the Natural Stone Show at ExCeL London last year (2015) to see what was on offer.

Sasso is better known in the UK for its edge polishers than its bridge saws, and that might have cost Sasso this sale.

Pat Sharkey Engineering was exhibiting at the Show and was showing a number of machines – but not Sassos, as it took on the agency too late to be able to arrange for a Sasso display. There were just a few brochures on the stand.

Ian Lowes says he nearly walked straight past the Pat Sharkey Engineering stand, but happened to see a brochure for the bridge saws and spoke to Pat Sharkey about it. Pat confides that he did sell a lot of machinery through the exhibition, including several Sassos. But there was only one heavyweight K900.

Ian Lowes admits the price helped him reach his decision – and Pat Sharkey says there are some exceptional introductory prices currently available from Sasso. But it was not just that. He liked the fact that Sasso is a family company and he was dealing with Mario Caroselli, son of the founder of the company, from the beginning.

He was also impressed when Mario jumped on a plane and came to see him the week after the ExCeL exhibition and was always available to answer any questions Ian had.

And now the machine is installed, Ian also likes the idea of it being permanently online to Italy for analysis and software updates, so if there are any problems the Italians can diagnose the cause and take over the controls remotely to rectify it.

The saw has its own operating system and built in profiles for everyday use, but it is designed to be operated in conjunction with  Alphacam software, which gives it greatly enhanced capabilities.

Sasso paid for Ian Lowes and Jason Green, Ian’s mason who will be operating the saw, to go on a course with Alphacam to learn how to use the software. Jason says the saw is simple enough to operate but, like most people, finds Alphacam requires a lot of concentration to get to grips with.

Ian Lowes Stonemasonry has an old (1976) Van Voorden 40 bridge saw that it bought second hand from Laing Stone Masonry in Carlisle. It has been updated so it can be operated by computer as well as manually and is a profiler, but clearly it is not in the same league as the Sasso.

The masonry company also has a double headed Carl Meyer bridge saw and a BM Super monoblade that it renews every five years from UK agent New Stone Age.

Ian Lowes says when he started in the stone business 28 years ago he bought a second-hand saw that kept breaking down. He learnt from that the value of having a reliable saw for slabbing block, which is why he now regularly replaces the BM.

The new K900 will help remove a processing bottleneck, although it is also to protect the masons from some of the hazards of working stone, notably dust and vibration injuries.

Ian has created a banker station next to the saw so the work from it can be finished without too much handling. With the banker in the same shed as the saw, an extensive dust extraction unit was delivered along with the Sasso. Dust extraction is particularly important because the bulk of Ian Lowes Stonemasonry’s work is in the high silica sandstones of the North of England and Scotland.

And to reduce the amount of lifting involved in loading and unloading the new saw, with the risk of muscular-skeletal injury that exposes the masons to, there is a 5.2tonne gantry in the new saw shed. Ian Lowes says he was concerned about the health and safety of himself and his four employees and is glad to have addressed these issues.

Because buying the new saw also involved building the shed, and getting planning permission to do so, there was a 10 month gap between the Natural Stone Show in London last April and installtion and commissioning of the Sasso this year. But everything progresssed steadily and methodically so that when the Sasso arrived at Ian Lowes’ premises (it weighs about 5tonnes and all fitted on one lorry along with the lathe and dust extraction unit) installation and comissioning went without a hitch. “Preparation. That’s the main thing,” said Pat Sharkey as Enzo Tossici and Enrico D’Antonio put the saw through its paces in its new home. “Fail to prepare; prepare to fail.”

The saw includes handy touches like the laser that shines through one of the supporting walls to check the wear on the tools being used, so it always cuts accurately. There is also a infrared remote the operator uses to set the start position of the cuts without having to return to the touch-screen control panel.

The 22kW motor operates by inverter from 450rpm to 9,000rpm to accomodate a variety of materials and tools and to save electricity. The head tilts through 90º and as well as holding saws it can carry a variety of routing, milling and engraving tools.

Even before the saw was installed it had gained Ian Lowes work the company would not have taken on before the Sasso was installed. And Ian is hoping his increased capacity will enable him to look for work from a wider geographical area, so anyone looking for someone to process sandstone might like to contact him. His details are on his website.

The first project on to the new Sasso was the 3.6m diameter decorative Lazonby sandstone, four step base for a new streetlamp for a private customer. Ian Lowes had already been commissioned to produce it but had told the customer if they waited until the saw was installed production would be a lot quicker and the price comensurately lower. They waited.

The stone company also has a reasonable business in fireplaces, normally taylor-made for customers. Previously they would have been produced by hand but now the Sasso will do most of the work, leaving a final rub down to be carried out by the masons.

Not that anyone will be losing their jobs. The Sasso might even lead to more jobs as it brings in more work that the company would not previously have been able to quote for or might not have won.

Ian started his business in buildings on the family farm when he left school and went to work for the county council mending stone bridges. He also did a bit of building work in his spare time and in that part of the country building work tends to involve stonework. So he bought himself an old saw to cut the stone. People got to know he had a saw and would ask him to cut stone for them.

It was not long before he stopped the building work and was just cutting stone for other builders. But his second-hand saw was unreliable, so he invested in a BM monoblade.

He says he has never regretted his move into stone processing and what he particularly likes about it is the variety. “One day we might be making windows, then the next day an arch, then perhaps a fireplace. We are supplying the stone for a restoration project at a church in Whitehaven – parapets, copings, finials. We’ve done about 1,000m2 of 60mm Lazonby paving for Lowther Castle and various pieces in Peak Moor for the military museum at Eaton Hall in Chester. It was all done by hand but now it could be done on the Sasso.”