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podsumowanie eng 1Our to be or not to be will mostly depend on our cooperation with universities and scientific research institutes. This is an ambitious strategy, but we have to do it if we want to develop stone business.

At the end of 2012 the Undersecretary of State in the Ministry of Economy, during her speech, strongly emphasised the fact that our national industry is and must be even a bigger carrier of innovation. When referring to the trends that can be observed on the Asian market, she also discussed the activities undertaken by the Ministry of Economy.

- In the new financial perspective, we are relying on research and development. There will be finally the possibility to finance innovation-related projects. This is what we also want to get from our cooperation with scientific research institutes. I may assert you – there will be funds for supporting research centres – emphasised Ms. Grażyna Henclewska.

We could hear those words at the 7th Conference of the Association of Suppliers and Manufacturers of Automotive Parts, but it is worth recalling the speech of the Minister in the context of challenges that every sector of national economy is ahead of. Stone sector, too! The time horizon of the new policy of the state is right now limited only by the 2014-2020 financial perspective. In that period, the expenditure on research and development in Poland is supposed to amount to 1.7 per cent of GDP. A new operational programme – Intelligent Development – will aim to increase innovation of Polish economy.   

When recalling this event from automotive branch, we have to pay attention to one fact. Modern cars are manufactured by automotive concerns, but the producers usually just put together parts and components produced by tens of leading, hundreds of important and thousands of small production plants. To put it simply, 80 per cent of a modern car is a creation of an independent market. Here we can see an interesting analogy to stone branch, because we should officially say that the companies which used to deal mainly with trade have no chance to survive on the market now.  

Dear Sir and Madam, today the sale of stone products will be done by mines (exploitation of deposits), which would enjoy a good, international reputation of trading companies (stone wholesales) and ... that would be it. We can observe this trend in selling imported tombstones from Asia.

- The time of great prosperity has finished. Concentration of the market and unprecedented price competition used up the patience of companies competing against one another with the product quality – summarises the situation on the market Marek Szwaj, the director of VERICO from Gdynia.  

- I have been in business for many years, but nowadays the absolute minimum margin was reached. We have already reached the break-even point and, what is worse, nothing can be done with it. I don’t believe that somebody is offering an incredibly cheap stone because he reduced his prime costs. It may happen only if we buy a low quality product. We will not do that. The rule “to buy it for a low price and sell it for a higher one” is outdated. With extremely low margins, it is hardly possible to earn something on tombstones from China, and the companies compensate for this by means of other, less popular products.

This comment is even more interesting due to the fact that it comes from the company which deals with foreign trade in a comprehensive way, that is it matches both parties (the manufacturer and the buyer), transacts import on behalf of the customer, and after the contract is completed the company gets its pay (that is earlier agreed on by the parties) like a concierge. Nowadays, looking for the so-called “bargains”, that is extremely cheap tombstones from Asia, is getting less and less common.

High quality products must be expensive. Therefore, resin tapping is more and more often a way to manage a low quality stone. It is also symptomatic that many companies are presenting more and more modern machines for resin tapping. The system of hiding stone defects works if we speak about a temporary aesthetic effect, but this method is said to be controversial when we use stone “outside” in our climate. This is a subject for a separate article, but also this time it is worth recalling the opinion of a stone wholesale expert.

- A product with original design, high quality, processed as highly as possible and at a good price as compared to offers from the West of Europe should be a driving force of our branch. If the situation in the branch of rock minerals is a barometer on the national market of stone production, the repetitive, run-of-the-mill, dull tombstone from China, or a resin-tapped, low quality granite slab from India will be getting less and less attractive – says Tomasz Staniszewski, Inbra.

- This is also a chance for Polish stone entrepreneurs who invest in machine parks and can surprise the market with a new product at a reasonable price. The horizons of using stone are limited not only to tombstones or building. Recently I have received a question from a manufacturer working for ... automotive branch. Production of precise car parts requires using test benches. It would be an order for table tops made of stone with a great precision. It would be a lucrative order if we compare it with prices of such tables on German market.

podsumowanie eng 2Stonemasons should follow modern design trends and here we can see first effects of their cooperation with industrial design specialists. Furniture, luxury goods – why should we limit ourselves to traditional forms if we are perceived as those who successfully improved our machine park? For sure Polish machine manufacturers do not have to worry – there are no signs that they should be afraid of foreign competition.

- To prove that prices of our stone machines are unbeatable, I will recall fruitless attempts to establish cooperation with sub-suppliers from Asia. A selected (by us) group of several manufacturers of supports and frames could not reach the quality level of our products. We assumed that the price would be low enough to import this type of components. Besides, we would have to be more careful with quality of such supplies.  Finally, we stopped thinking about cooperating with companies which are famous for producing high quality components at reasonable prices – reveals Wiesław Berezicki, ZPU PROMASZ.

Once again, let me come back to challenges waiting for the Polish industry in the context of 2014-2020 financial perspective. The pressure to reduce energy consumption is increasingly affecting our companies. It can be observed best in case of stone industry in Scandinavia, where labour costs are high, so investing in CNC machines is more rational.  

- CNC and division of labour – this is how Norwegian stone branch is working. Norway is famous for processed slabs. It was impressive to see how fully automatic production in Eide is. The company owner, alone, operates a 30-metre long polishing line and 2 machines for cutting blocks – describes Łukasz Jekel, a technical sales advisor, MC DIAM.
- A one-man company got specialised in producing 5-cm thick slabs and now the material is supplied to nine other companies, which, of course, also specialise in a specific type of production, for example table tops, stairs, etc. What is more, instead of competing against one another, Norwegians created a cooperative and they are buying consumables together, because it is simply cheaper!

The above mentioned agreement brings cluster structures to my mind. There, the cooperation overrides the destructive price competition. Geographic concentration of competitive companies would surely favour reducing costs related with running businesses, both big and small ones. When being in a group, it would be also easier to put pressure on media providers. Energy consumption of our production plants is huge, and, according to specialists, the interest in technical solutions which aim at raising efficiency of drive units will be crucial to increase competitiveness of stone branch. It is important that the EU directive, which entered into force in 2011, has obliged engine manufacturers to produce their goods in accordance with new standards of energy efficiency. The price of electric energy is constantly rising (price forecasts can be found in the table) leading to higher costs of running a business. By applying modern drives (inverter drives) and highly efficient engines (induction), it would be possible to reduce electric energy consumption which means lower energy bills.  

Is the next step going to be about recycling of consumable tools? It seems so. We know that one can make money on waste. Stone waste, slurry for sure, as a product? For sure it is worth having a closer look at this issue. But first we should inspire scientists working in the field of exploitation of minerals with this. Here we should mention the EU research project on the development of efficient extraction technology (we were writing about Hydrasplit system in our September issue).


Ok then, but how can we summarise the previous year in stone industry? For sure the consolidation of stone branch as well as promotion of natural stone in Poland and abroad is now a reality. The publication by WONASA (World Natural Stone Association) entitled “Do you know” was announced at Marmomacc 2013. They are 10 arguments for choosing natural stone as a material. Another premiere was the publication “Hard Floor Coverings”, which comprehensively discusses advantages of using stone as compared to competitive building materials (for example glass, wood, ceramic tiles). The guarantee of using best natural materials and high quality of stone craft are to be leitmotifs of the new programme concept of EUROROC members (branch organisations). At the meeting in Verona they agreed that this year the logo NATURAL STONE will have a European character. Following initiatives of German stone branch, Polish representatives of stone industry also started to put bigger pressure on Polish authorities to make those that create records of acts favour Polish and, for sure, European stones in tenders.     
Rafał Dobrowolski  


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