A Few Words on Waterjet
Stone - March 15, 2001
By Randy Stertmeyer
business. In addition to the large-format (some as large as 24" x 24") stone tiles which are being offered, more and more decorative medallions, listellis and accent tiles are being specified. Unlike saw-cutting, which can only elicit straight cuts, the waterjet offers swirls, ogees, or virtually any two dimensional design which can be drawn. Now listellis and accent tiles need not be limited to designs with only straight lines. We believe more and more waterjet-cut accent tiles, listellis and medallions will be seen because of this.
The waterjet business has changed. Ten years ago, it was entrepreneurial. Those with the foresight to get into the business had to put up with machines breaking down, waiting for new parts to be delivered which were actually still on the drawing board and most bothersome of all, was the fact that both the stone industry as well as the A & D biz, really didn't know much about the incredible design solutions offered by the waterjet.
Nowadays, most people in the stone and A & D communities are aware of waterjet technology. They know that the most precise cutting imaginable in stone design can easily be accomplished with this process. They also know that because the waterjet is a computer-driven process, one of the most attractive features it brings to the table is repeatability. For example, a floor logo design which was made for a store in a Chicago mall can quickly and inexpensively be perfectly repeated for new stores in Minneapolis, New York, and Dallas.
Many companies in the last few years jumped on the waterjet bandwagon because the waterjet proved to the industry it was here to stay. Subsequently, the number of waterjet-cutting firms tripled and quadrupled because these new owners believed they could make some quick money by embracing this wonderful cutting phenomenon. Not surprisingly, much like the recent "Dot-Corn"' craze, as of today, many of those firms have either vanished or have merged with larger, more experienced waterjet firms.
The reason for that is very simple. Waterjet cutting is more than just a way of cutting stone material with high-tech, computer-driven machinery. It has evolved into a very stratified business. In addition to design and cutting, which are what the layman thinks waterjet is, there is also complex programming and the need to know all about both stone materials and installation systems. A true waterjet pro must be a quasi-expert relative to stone floor and wall maintenance. For example, he or she must be able to discern when dissimilar stones are used in a floor mural, that certain cleaning agents may work well on one material, but be injurious to another.
Another very important point to consider when selecting a waterjet source (or when you're thinking about becoming one) is the fact that a top-flight, ultra-professional shipping department is compulsory. What happens if an intricate stone map is being cut out of many different stones? After the final cutting and pre-assembly is done, the shipping department doesn't package the material correctly and... palates of waterjet-cut stone show up at the jobsite broken? Whereas breakage is inherent to the stone biz, broken waterjet-cut stone pieces can result in a job that was needed yesterday going right back to the cutting board.
That's why the most successful, most professional waterjet companies should take as much pride in their shipping as they do in their cutting.
One of the most in-demand areas of the stone industry today comes from the tile sector of the