Waterjet Technology Opens Up Opportunities

Artistic masterpieces with stone and tile can be created with this method

by Harri Aalto

Dimensional Stone - June 15, 1998

Brass Mill Center in Waterbury, Conn

The Brass Mill Center in Waterbury, Conn., is one of many commercial projects using waterjet designs.

residential installation's waterjet cutting

This residential installation's waterjet cutting and design was done by Creative Edge Corp., with installation system materials from Laticrete International.
Stone tiles were waterjet cut
Stone tiles were waterjet cut in this private residence. Waterjet cutting has allowed for a new kind of creativity of design for homes.

mentioned that waterjet technology is an environmentally sound process that does not discriminate between materials. If a designer wants to combine a material manufactured by "Company A" with another material manufactured by "Company B" along with another material quarried by "Company C" that's 100 percent do-able. Why should a great design be limited to using only one company's materials?

I started this article by stating that I am an artist. There was a reason for this. Artistic input is absolutely imperative from your waterjet fabricator. There are some things you can do, and some things that can be done even better if your source has a certain degree of aesthetic knowledge and implementation. With waterjet technology, now you have every reason to offer installations that are veritable, one-of-a-kind works of art.■

Harri Aalto, co-owner and creative director of Creative Edge Corp., was born in Finland. The "small waterjet fabrication shop" he and partner Jim Belilove purchased a few years ago has grown to become the world's largest, currently with 16 state-of-the-art waterjet cutting machines.

As an artist, I have worked with many different artistic materials. My preference has evolved to materials others in my profession thought too difficult to handle, and then putting them together in new and exciting ways. About 15 years ago, while working in Europe, I became hooked on working with marble, granite and ceramic tile. This affinity became so great that when I read about a new process known as waterjet technology, I knew this was my major calling. Waterjet technology allows floor and wall design to be just as creative as one's imagination can be. There are few, if any, limitations relative to design. (With the exception that waterjet cutting is a two-dimensional process.) Hard-to-cut materials that nobody would consider combining can now be easily put together in incredible combinations. And, unlike working with mosaics, which offer wide horizons of creativity limited solely by the fact that they generally are one-size only, with waterjet technology, small may be combined with large; skinny may be combined with fat. Marble may be combined with brass, stainless steel, granite, ceramic, wood, resilient and more. Anything that can be drawn can be cut.

In a nutshell, the process works like this: A client has an idea or a sketch. It can be as basic as a rough drawing sent over the fax. The idea is interpreted, suggestions made and then a blueprint is produced. Once this blueprint is approved by the client, a computer programmer digitizes the drawing, developing a production-ready blueprint ready to interface directly with the high-tech cutting machinery.

This technology is a simulation of nature. Water is shot through a nozzle at up to 55,000 psi. In some cases, such as when cutting through titanium or granite, a garnet abrasive is combined with the water traveling at two and a half times the speed of sound.

Waterjet equipment is very expensive. And frankly, it is not the logical adjunct for a tile or stone business unless it is willing to invest many thousands upon thousands upon thousands of dollars. For example, a company going into the waterjet business should budget, at minimum, about $60,000-$80,000 for one really good pump. A machine for efficient tile cutting will add another $175,000-$200,000. Maintenance, training and the like must be taken into account. This can be a costly business to maintain.

But creatively, it's a fantastic one. My company has worked on large shopping mall floors with porcelain tiles, created small and very expensive wall murals for private residences, done many projects for the public sector, and even crafted cartoon characters in stone for Disney. The entire waterjet business in this country is growing, because both the commercial and the residential marketplaces are demanding it. And, because the waterjet-cut part of any tile installation is invariably the focal part of that project.

But, how does all this effect you, the readers of DIMENSIONAL STONE? Well, to begin with, waterjet allows you to have more to offer to your clients. If you sell to a supermarket chain, why can't the floors have a representative graphic on the floor in every aisle? Whether ceramic, stone, resilient or terrazzo, waterjet can cut a poultry drawing, a produce illustration, or a great lobster. Floor logos in any size, shape, color, material and language are elementary work for the experienced waterjetter. And now that so many upscale homeowners are personalizing their interiors, think of the possibilities for kitchens, foyers, bathroom floors and more. It should be