Evolve Manufacturing LLC is investing $1.25 million in its Winchester, Va., facility to add floor space and a second production line to manufacture composite stone for the construction industry.
Founded in 2013, the company has been using a proprietary fiberglass-reinforced polymer (FRP) mix to create synthetic landscape features for theme parks and retailers like Busch Gardens, Sea World, Field & Stream and Cabela's.
Now Evolve Manufacturing is focusing on a stonelike product for the construction industry that it says installs 10 times faster than traditional stone veneer. The capacity increase for the new Evolve Stone product comes at a time mixed-material facades are popular and skilled labor is scarce.
"Evolve Stone is the first artificial stone in the world installed by face nailing. The nail drops below the stones' surface, making it virtually invisible," Evolve CEO Greg Fritz said in a phone interview. "It truly puts stonework in the hands of the homeowner or the siding installer while the construction industry is facing a problem with skilled labor."
Evolve Stone weighs only 2 pounds per square foot, which is five times lighter than traditional concrete-based stone veneer.
The composite stone is color infused throughout, UV stable and capable of handling freeze and thaw cycles.
Evolve products vary in depth from 3/8 inches up to 1 1/4 inches thick. They can be installed over OSB or plywood or a concrete foundation, around a fireplace, or as an accent wall or arched ceiling.
Fritz described Evolve Stone as "a specialty composite very unique in its nature and pretty versatile." He said the company has been on a long journey to get to this point.
"Our background is in very high-end residential construction in the [Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.,] area," Fritz said. "We ran across the product, fell in love with it and saw the large-scale opportunity. It solved problems current stone veneer had, so we branched off about a decade ago to pursue the venture."
The company found a 15,000-square-foot facility and had machinery customized for a production line as it further developed and protected the Evolve material.
"We figured out how to create a better mouse trap revolving around artificial rock. That's our bread and butter," Fritz said.
Many early customers were retailers and businesses. Evolve Manufacturing is the parent company of Evolve Play, which makes components for commercial playgrounds like Sky Zone trampoline parks and Createk Inc. in Southbridge, Ma., which builds themed environments with boulders, waterfalls and artificial trees.
The company expanded to more than 50,000 square feet of fabrication and manufacturing space while it worked on bringing Evolve Stone to the construction industry.
"It's a hard segment to enter, but as builders we saw the long-term potential," Fritz said. "We spent four years developing just the veneer. Now Evolve Stone is our newest and hottest operating company. We launched it in 2020, which wasn't the best year with the pandemic, but it's really rolling now."
The product is the only mortarless, color-throughout manufactured stone veneer that can be installed quickly with a standard finish 16-gauge nail gun over a rainscreen and weather-resistive barrier.
"To be able to have lesser-skilled labor install stone easily and intuitively is a big deal," Fritz said.
Also, the construction industry is moving in the direction of turnkey exteriors so one installer can come in and be responsible for all exterior cladding.
"With how much demand there is, the construction industry is trying to find any way to streamline its workforce problems while increasing its output," Fritz said.
Evolve Stone's growth has already created 24 jobs and expects to create 84 jobs total during the next few years.
"In anticipation of how everything was going, we proactively added a second line," Fritz said. "We are really starting to gain momentum."