The evolution of stone masonry: How things have changed

The end of the industrial revolution and the rise of technology and instantaneous communications are two factors that many people mistakenly believe work conversely.

As the UK moved away from secondary industry towards tertiary pursuits and office-based commerce, many of our most traditional production warehouses saw business dwindle.

However, stone masonry is an example of an industry that has very much worked with automation and technological advances – using them to progress and offer a better service for customers.

This has led to a great deal of change for the firms who operate in this area, but it has been a demonstration of just how great an ability they have to react and adapt with every new development.

To gain a better insight, we chatted to Production Director at J Rotherham stone masons Richard Huntingdon. Although the company has been operating at the top of the market since 1927, Richard’s career with them started 15 years ago. Even since then, the production operations at J Rotherham have undergone some huge changes.

Richard explains: “It has basically allowed us to automate a bespoke product. Everything we do is very similar, but very different.

“The primary driver is the customer. But our ability to respond and react to the needs of customers has definitely been helped by technology.”

He went on to discuss how the busy nature of modern life and the improved communication networks that have come from technology mean that customers’ expectations are very different.

J Rotherham specialises in fixtures for the home such as fireplaces and kitchen worktops, which use a mixture of automated machinery and hand finishing to produce. This is a process that Richard says would once have taken a matter of weeks to get from design to delivery, but now customers are simply not, and should not, be prepared to wait for this amount of time.

When he came to the company, there would have been no problem in Richard assuring a buyer that a granite worktop would be “finished in three weeks”. However, now that couldn’t be further from the truth. “They would wonder what planet you were on”, he adds.

Only the cost will fall

Customers’ expectations regarding price have also altered considerably in this time, meaning efficiency is absolutely key. Advances in technology have meant that J Rotherham has been able to use these to bring down the cost and ultimately offer greater value to the customer.

But there is one golden rule, this must never come at the expense of quality. “Anyone can lower their costs, but if quality decreases you’re on a road to nowhere,” explains Richard.

This is a sentiment that has been echoed right the way through the firm as it has grown together with the technology that is at its fingertips. The Director admits that efficiencies have also been made in terms of communications, with the firm having developed its own software platform to keep everyone on the same page.

Richard comments: “Over the last three years we have been developing our own software system. It basically means we can carry out every part of the process on that one system. This means we can start the manufacturing process much more quickly.”

This not only helps delivery lead times, but also creates links between workers that were not there before. Every member of the team is now more closely connected to the people who carry out the previous and next phases of a project.

We haven’t lost the human touch

Above all, however, Richard points to the rich history J Rotherham has and reiterates that this will never be diminished. Technology is an undoubted helping hand that has transformed the industry, but craftsmanship is still the heart of J Rotherham’s work.

“There will be some jobs that need to be done by hand. That is the basic skill that this company has had since it was set up in 1927. It’s still there. The traditional masonry industry will still be there for years to come.”