Cutting-Edge Fairfield Firm Makes Floors into Works of Art

Fairfield Ledger - Friday, August 27, 2004

By ERIK GABLE
Ledger assistant news editor

 

Robert Sawyer

ENGRAVING — Robert Sawyer, vice president and a partner in Creative Edge, looks up from a series of floor tiles bearing the logo of the Union Pacific Federal Credit Union, soon to be shipped out and installed in the credit union's office. The tiles were carved with waterjet technology, which uses a mixture of water and garnet sand shot out of a special nozzle at high speed to cut very hard materials such as granite and marble. Creative Edge's work can be seen in airports, schools, hotels, restaurants, hospitals and even high-end private residences across the country and around the world.

"One thing led to another, the company started expanding, and six or seven years ago Bob walked through the door," said Aalto. At the time, Creative Edge needed somebody with expertise in installation, and Sawyer, with years of experience in the floor covering industry, fit the bill perfectly.

Creative Edge, which Aalto estimates has been growing at a rate of 20 percent to 25 percent per year, is the largest waterjet company in the world. With 12 waterjet machines in a 100,000-square foot plant, the firm is able to create products and get them out the door faster than most other waterjet companies, which typically only have one or two machines.

But what really sets Creative Edge apart from other companies using waterjet technology, Aalto believes, is that its services start from the very beginning, with the creative, artistic part of the job: design.

"We go from design to manufacturing to installation," said Aalto.

The process of designing a Creative Edge floor begins with a drawing, often done by Aalto using a huge tablet and stylus attached to a Macintosh computer. Then the design needs to be programmed, meaning one of Creative Edge's computer experts uses a program called AutoCAD to create an extremely precise drawing, which can then be read by the computers that control the waterjet machines on the factory floor.

Continued

Biology students at the University of Iowa walk to class across a floor inscribed with strands of DNA by Creative Edge, a Fairfield company.

Travelers passing through Chicago O'Hare International Airport walk across a Creative Edge floor too.

Patients at the Children's Hospital of California have their stays brightened by a colorful floor decorated with seashells and starfish.

Universal Studios, Sea World, the Las Vegas Hilton, the Caesar's Palace casino, the Federal Reserve Bank — Creative Edge's work can be seen in these places and more, both across the United States and elsewhere in the world. Locally, Iowa State Bank and SunnyBrook Assisted Living are among the companies that have made their facilities more attractive with Creative Edge products. And it's not just floors: Creative Edge carved the panels on the astro­nauts' memorial in Florida, and also is working on a project to memorialize members of the United States Armed Forces who have been killed since Sept. 11, 2001.

Creative Edge, located at 601 S. 23rd St. in Fairfield's industrial park, began about 15 years ago when artist Harri Aalto and entre­preneur Jim Belilove bought a struggling manufacturer of waterjet machinery.

At the time, the company was known as Creative Glassworks International and owned by an insurance company. The company was having a hard time staying afloat, but Aalto's background in art and design allowed him to see an opportunity.

"I walked in the door, and to make a long story short, Jim and I offered to buy the business," Aalto said.

No money was exchanged — the former owners were happy just to have Aalto and Belilove take on the company's debts and liabilities.

Aalto saw the company's waterjets, which are a very powerful, precise tool for cutting hard objects like marble and granite as more than just a line of machines to manufacture; he saw them as a means to create works of art — like custom engraved floors.

Aalto and Belilove were the sole partners in the business for a num ber of years, but later Robert Sawyer would join their venture.