The Fox Marble factory, with the company name emblazoned in 7m high black lettering on the yellow walls, stands prominently on a hillside slightly above the surrounding farmland in the village of Magurë, Lipjan, some 10km SW of the capital of Kosovo, Prishtina and 5km from Pristina International Airport. This location was chosen for its excellent road and rail connectivity to all the company quarry sites in Kosovo and North Macedonia, to the wider Balkan region and beyond.
The factory is just a few km from the new motorway which connects Kosovo and Albania and enables easy road access to Fox Marble's main export port, Durrës. It is also close to the new Mitrovica to Han e Elazit motorway through Kosovo which more than halved the journey time between Prishtina and Kosovo when it opened in May 2019. The short motorway link to the border within Macedonia is still under tender but when completed Kosovo will have a rapid road link not only to the company's second main export port, Thessaloniki in Greece, but to the rest of Europe via the now nearly completed N-S motorway through Serbia.
It is also close to the main north south railway through Kosovo. This is receiving substantial international investment and will eventually give Fox Marble a modern rail freight link, via Skopje in North Macedonia, to both Thessaloniki and the rest of Europe.
Between the end of 2016 and late summer 2017 the company was able to transfer its entire slab production from Carrara, Italy, to Kosovo as the various stone processing units in the factory were commissioned under the watchful eye of an expert Italian factory manager.
Two Italian 80 blade gang saws were the first processing unit to become operational. These cut stone blocks into slabs in thicknesses from 1cm upwards. The slabs then need to be finished. Some of Fox Marble's stone (mainly the Alexandrian, which is brought to Kosovo for processing from the quarry in North Macedonia ) can be sent straight from the gang saws to the polishing line but the rest usually requires an intermediate stage - resining. The resin line, like all the machinery in the factory except the cranes Italian, where epoxy resin is applied to individual slabs to fill any natural imperfections and then cured in giant ovens, became operational during summer 2017. The final stage of slab processing is polishing. Fox Marble's 19 head polishing line was commissioned in parallel with the resin line. From September 2017 it has been producing polished and honed (smooth but matt) slabs at up to 7m a minute.
The gang saws and the polishing line use large amounts of water for lubrication. This is provided in a closed reticulation system topped up from a borehole. The lubrication water picks up stone particles as it is used and so has to be constantly cleaned. This takes place in water filtration plant outside the SW corner of the factory. Built to an Italian design, much of this was fabricated locally. In addition to producing clean water, the plant, with its Italian built filter press, produces a compressed marble sludge. The company is currently examining options for selling this bi-product to tile fixative manufacturers.
Two further processing units were added in March/April 2018. The first of these was a block resining facility. Some blocks need to be strengthened on the outside before they go to the gang saws in order to ensure an even cut. This is achieved by vacuum sealing resin and fibreglass onto the surface of a block. The block resining facility was designed and built locally.
The second was the company's first cut to size processing line. This is a state of the art Italian CNC bridge cutter capable of producing high volumes of stone tiles and larger polygonal shapes. At the time of installation it was the most sophisticated machine of its type in the Balkans (including Greece) and was already producing tiles for export to the UK and Italy in its first week of operation.
Increasing demand for cut to size stone has led to the installation of three further bridge saws - two large (non CNC) and one small manual machine for small and simple shape orders. One cut stone edge shaper and polishers were operational by the end of April 2019, the same time as the company’s dedicated tile polishing line and its column maker.
With its growing cut to size capacity, Fox is able to satisfy three distinct marble market segments - block, slab and, of course, cut to size. The block market is primarily in countries which have their own stone processing industries such as India, China and Turkey. Finished slab is the preferred product for Fox Marble's US customers whilst the local and wider European market more usually demands cut to size.
During the course of 2018 and into 2019 the company has welcomed a number of VIP visitors to the factory. The first was Martin Vickers MP, the Joint Chairman of the British All party Parliamentary Group for Kosovo who visited in February. British Ambassador Ruairi O’Connell visited for the first time in April while Kosovo Prime Minister, Ramush Haradinaj, together with the local press corps, visited in January 2019. The PM’s visit got widerspread media coverage in print, online and on TV raising local awareness of the company and its operations. The PM heralded the company’s contribution to local employment and to Kosovo exports. But perhaps the most important visitor was the UK’s Europe Trade Commissioner, Andrew Mitchell, who visited as part of a Western Balkans fact finding mission in May 2019. We were delighted he chose to visit us and to give us the opportunity to explain the opportunities and challenges of operating in Kosovo and North Macedonia.
Whether it is block from the quarries or processed stone from the factory, Fox Marble is proud to be realising its strategic corporate vision of delivering its exclusive high quality marble and marble-grade limestone to the world market at the most competitive prices possible.