What's Next for Waterjet?
Five Manufacturers Offer Insights on the Future
If you answered more porcelain to the question posed at the top, you're on the right track. It's not all about the big tile pieces, however, as we learned late this summer in talking with the following manufacturers:
Speaking generally, what direction do you see hard-surface-waterjet work going in the next few years?
BACA: In terms of cutting porcelain and ultra-compact, sawjets are going to become more and more normative in the business. In terms of flexibility, of cutting mitering angles, mitering corners, outlet cutouts, notching countertops, saving material by nesting regular shapes, the sawjet is a very useful tool. It also alleviates a lot of time on the installation because the parts fit better. BRETON: Miters, miters, miters. The trend from the last few years doesn’t appear to be going away and the new thin porcelain, ceramic, sintered and other unique materials in the market today require the best technology to complete accurate cuts. NORTHWOOD: We definitely see the demand for waterjets increasing because of the harder materials we’re dealing with, such as Dekton® and the porcelain materials. Cutting these materials really lends itself to a waterjet, or let’s call it a sawjet operation. The waterjet really lends itself to being able to cut the material very precisely and cutting it without breakage, as well as cutting it without the linear pressure on the material that causes it to move. PARK INDUSTRIES: There is a surge of new materials entering the market. The new materials have a variety of different property characteristics which can sometimes be challenging to fabricate without the right tool. A CNC sawjet, like the SABERjet™ XP, is attractive because of the HP-variable speed drives, and saw/waterjet combination. SASSO: I think you will see larger shops that are looking at processing lots of mitering, compact surfaces, porcelain and Dekton® will begin to look at sawjet technology as a potential solution. Five-axes-capable waterjets offer some advantages over using five-axes saws, mainly they can clear out the inside 90°s and reduce chipping.
What’s been the biggest motivation of hard-surface fabricators, in the past year, for adding or expanding waterjet cutting?
NORTHWOOD: There are still some materials out there that we still haven’t done too well in the tooling side being able to run the faster feed rates, as well as cut the material in a complete cut in one cut. That’s where the waterjet comes in, as well as doing miter cuts. And, it’s being assembled with the miters, so that’s why the waterjet portion is going to increase. SASSO: You will find some of the challenges with chipping that can occur using a milling tool or a finger bit to cut out a sink can be mitigated using a waterjet. BRETON: Newer materials and the demand for more complicated pieces are really driving investment in new equipment. Gone are the days where you have simple 2D countertops with 4" backsplash. The modern homeowner is more savvy when it comes to design and material choice. Fabricators need the right technology to successfully deliver these jobs and compete in the market. BACA: I don’t want to say that porcelain single-handedly is the biggest reason, but it certainly is a very big reason, along with very dense materials, like quartzite. One of the main questions we get is can this help cutting porcelain. A lot of guys are just gearing up for what they know is going to be a large portion of our industry. PARK: Material slab sizes continues to grow, and slab utilization is more important than ever. With a sawjet-cutting solution, fabricators can save 5% – 15% in material costs because of the sawjet’s nesting capabilities. This can be a significant savings for a fabricator not only in material utilization but also in shop efficiency and throughput. In addition, designer trends are evolving specifically in various types of miter work, which can be easily done on SABERjet™ CNC sawjet.
What’s a rough estimate of the split on what fabricators are cutting with waterjet – between natural stone, quartz surface and porcelain?
BRETON: Quartz is still king with many fabricators are doing 50%-75% quartz surfaces. Porcelain is growing but I’m hearing it is still only 5-10% of jobs. The balance is natural stone but every fabricator is different; that is why Breton offers an unparalleled product offering that can meet the demands of any fabricator, regardless of their unique breakdown of materials. You need a product that’s flexible as the market shifts. PARK: Porcelain continues to be a conversation with fabricators and designers and we believe new, emerging materials will continue to grow in popularity. Processing these new materials is easier to do with a sawjet, which is another reason why fabricators are choosing this solution over a bridge saw, for example. SASSO: That is going to vary greatly by region. In the Northwest, I would say around 75% quartz, 20% granite, and 5% other as an average. NORTHWOOD: The number varies in different regions with the percentage of granite compared to quartz and then compared to the porcelain materials. We’re seeing anywhere from a 50-50 split with natural stone and quartz, to maybe 40% quartz and 10%, at the moment, but we see that increasing. If you go into the Northeast, there’s a lot more porcelain. If you go into the Southeast and the Midwest, you’re not seeing as much of that at the moment, but it’s coming, and we’ve told our customers they’d better get geared up for it because it’s coming. BACA: It depends on the customer and their business model. Most of them seem to be 50-50 or 40-60 split between granite and quartz. There’s possibly 10% or even 15% porcelain work that’s out there, but porcelain will continue to find its place in the market and gain traction among builders and designers.
What new features have you added to your waterjet model(s) in the past year to address hard-surface fabrication?
PARK: We have launched a number of new features on our SABERjet CNC sawjet, including our true 5-Axes capability for such things as 90° inside mitered corners. In addition, we have made several advancements in programming. The SABERjet™ XP comes standard with automated, pre-determined programming specifically designed to cut ultra-compact, and porcelain materials with increased speed, precision and reliability. Park Industries® will soon be expanding its SABERjet™ CNC sawjet to also include a dual tank option, specifically designed for high-production facilities. NORTHWOOD: The Raptor sawjet is a very heavily built machine. We built it that way because of the accuracy. You have to have accuracy in mitering; if you’re making very precise cuts and your machine is not accurate, your parts are going to be out-of-square. We built a very robust, heavy machine, and we’re using five-axis controls on the machine, plus a function called TCP – tool-centering point – positioning. That allows us to use the waterjet, which we’ve put on a tilting axis. BACA: We’ve just released the Robolution Pro robotic five-axes sawjet. It allows the jet to miter to create the ability to wrap a shower, create a fireplace surround, cut an inside miter corner or cut curved miters. It will follow the surface edge and create a 45° cut. It’s a dual-table system to increase production, but if someone needs just a single table right now, they can upgrade to a second table as the business grows. We’re also offering a hyper option for high-volume customers. The hyper pressure is at 90,000 psi, as opposed to 60,000 psi, which allows for faster cutting of porcelain or other materials while using less garnet. SASSO: Five-axis waterjetting; automatic tool changing with the ability to cut, jet and mill; milling is important as we have developed millable composite surface that creates a dead-flat-surfaced need for best miter results. BRETON: We have redesigned our Combicut to be more accessible to the market by changing the structure to a monoblock design. This gives customers the ability to quickly add a machine without a costly foundation and ensures rigidity and accuracy. Our Miterwave technology is the first in the market to use a laser to measure the surface of the material and then self-correct during the cutting process to ensure the most-accurate miters in the market. To help increase production further, we added vacuum cups to the system to enable pick-and-place when using the blade. To keep better organization and reduce mistakes, we have the Label Pro to automatically attach labels to cut pieces.
What do you see as the market trends for hard-surface waterjet in post-COVID-19 recovery?
SASSO: At Sasso, we have not seen a change in our business model since the onset of COVID (with the exception of a three-week lockdown in March). Orders have been consistent and strong. I think we can expect this trend to continue for at least another year. BACA: I think fabricators are going to be using porcelain more around the house where they may not have before, which means there are more opportunities for hard surfaces within the same home, ultimately increasing their sales and providing their customers with more options. PARK: Fabricators will continue to transform their shop and integrate digital solutions for four reasons: 1) Reduce their reliance on labor; 2) Efficiently and effectively process new materials; 3) Reduce fabrication costs; 4) Seize the market opportunities presented (do more with less). BRETON: I believe the residential market will continue to be strong as North Americans spend more and more time at home. NORTHWOOD: Even prior to the COVID, we’ve seen sales skyrocket, and we’ve had a record year with the Raptor. The industry has actually increased during COVID and our customers that we’ve talked to have been busier than they’ve ever been. Families are staying home more and they’re looking at their kitchens and saying, “Man, we could be jazzing up our kitchen.” Things should be good for us in the next couple years.
Research and compilation of responses by K. Schipper.