Marble has always been a valuable material with unique and attractive characteristics. Innovative visions of architecture and interior design have given marble a new lease of life and it is now the protagonist of details, furnishing accessories, surfaces and objects of various kinds.

The know-how of Italian companies in the sector is very high and highly appreciated, as Simone Raimondi, co-owner of O.&G., explains. Raimondi. The Varese-based company is an expert in the design, prototyping and customised production of objects in marble, granite and natural stone from slabs and solid wood: "Marble is a very special material to work with. Origin, composition, hardness, colour and veining give each block such unique characteristics that only the expert eye of a marble worker can recognise them. It is enough to insert even a slightly incorrect parameter in the machine's programming and you risk breaking the block, with obvious waste of money". 

In this market too, Italy is at the forefront in the development of advanced technological solutions for block processing. Exports from Italy of machines and plants for marble and stone processing moved a turnover of around 780 million euros in 2018, a sign of the very high level of the national marble industry, which successfully combines technology and craftsmanship.

The special nature of the material has long inhibited the technological development of the sector, which relied rather on a "craft" approach based solely on experience. However, the evolution of design and the latest trends in the use of marble for interior architecture are pursuing increasingly complex geometries, for which the use of a CNC machine is essential.

There are also some specific problems associated with working with marble. In order to cut marble and prevent the tool from overheating and breaking, it is necessary to use a cooling liquid, usually water. This leads to very strong corrosion; for this reason, the machines are treated with special paints to preserve their integrity.

An avant-garde choice

ABM Benelli Macchine is well aware of this, as it designs and builds special "turnkey" systems and machines to meet the needs of every company.

Benelli has always used FANUC controls for its machines. In the past, the company had already mounted a CNC from the Japanese manufacturer on a 5-axis milling machine for Raimondi Marmi. This was the FANUC 18i-MB5 series numerical control, released in the early 2000s and developed specifically for standard 5-axis vertical machining centres. Even then, the system was equipped with dynamic cutter compensation and tool length offset within the control itself.

"In 11 years of activity, we have been able to confirm with facts that when people say that FANUC controls are the most reliable in the world, it is all true," says Alberto Benelli, director of Benelli Macchine.

Given the harsh conditions in which the machine is forced to work, the chassis has suffered the wear and tear of time and corrosive agents and required maintenance, but the control has shown no signs of failure.

Today, the sophistication of a marble processing machine is absolutely comparable to the complexity of a machine tool; the requirements are the same in terms of electronics and rigidity, and the number of tools to be managed is increasingly high. This opens up new scenarios for the use of CNCs.

"Our vision was to create a machine with a simple approach to the operator," notes Benelli. In fact, the FANUC controls make it possible to switch easily from one type of machining to another, while maintaining high speed and managing different numbers of marble blocks. This saves time and wastes less material. 

While everything worked perfectly from a technological point of view, the market was not mature. "10 years ago, the marble sector was not yet ready for a sophisticated technological solution such as the FANUC controls," explains Benelli. "Talking then about CAD/CAM, high-speed 5-axis machining and centre point was considered pioneering. The requirements were more limited. Raimondi already had an evolved vision that was out of the ordinary for the sector".

On the wave of innovation with FANUC

In recent years, however, the marble sector has been completely transformed. Innovation, advanced technologies and non-standard functionalities have spread, driven by the need to produce pieces and perform processes that, in the past, were not even considered possible in an automated way. 

Jeco - this is the name of the machine - is a modern, compact 5-axis CNC machining centre "all in one" that allows roughing, finishing and various engraving operations to be carried out on the same machine, equipped with a FANUC 31i-B5 numerical control.

Valuable assistance

FANUC has an extensive service network all over the world. An advantage of strategic importance for machine builders. In Italy, the FANUC service network is able to get the machine back up and running within 24 hours of the fault being reported. FANUC is also the only company to guarantee the availability of spare parts for 25 years, or at least the repair of the part that has failed.

Also from the point of view of support, Benelli points out that the presence of FANUC technicians has been constant, both in the design and development phases. Raimondi was able to benefit from assistance from FANUC for CAD/CAM management (drawing of the part and post processing to create the part program).