In 2000, after spending 12 years as an engineer, Dan Hickey saw a chance to start his own granite fabrication company, known today as Natural Stone Creations, Inc. of Franklin, IN.
“I knew little about the business, other than it was high-end material for countertops,” he said.
“I figured that if I could design a fuel injector for a diesel engine, I could cut rocks. In 2007, I went to Coverings in search of a CNC machine to cut sinks more quickly and accurately. I did not find a machine that I liked and during the drive home remembered a study that I had done at Purdue in 1986 about waterjet cutting. It seemed clear to me then that I find one. I found a local distributor and, along with a business partner, I bought a new Techni waterjet.”
In 2009, Water Jet Solutions, Inc. was officially formed in addition to Hickey’s granite business.
The waterjet, which is used to cut templates and is responsible for 30% of the company’s fabrication, sits in a 19,000-square-foot building that houses both Hickey’s granite fabrication and waterjet cutting businesses. Other uses for the waterjet include the cutting of under-mount sink holes, custom island designs and all other curved designs. Additionally, when backed up on the bridge saw, the team can put a full slab on the waterjetbed and cut jobs at night.
Both companies mainly handle residential and small commercial granite, quartz and marble countertops. The waterjet was placed in the same building as the granite business to assist in the cutting of under-mount sink holes and special-shaped tops, and is mainly used to cut specialty parts for the automotive industry. Additional equipment on the granite side includes a bridge saw, a Pro Edge and a Wizard, all from Park Industries.
“We use the Pro Edge for all in-line polishing and air polishers for curved parts and touch ups,” said Hickey. “The first bridge saw I used was one that I designed, fabricated and built personally. It was totally manual. Everything else was done manually. The automated Cougar bridge saw, Pro Edge edge polisher and Wizard radial arm work station — [all from Park Industries of St. Cloud, MN] — all helped to improve the productivity and quality of the product. With sink fabrication still being the hold up, the purchase of the Techni waterjet made a huge difference. Not only were we able to increase production, I could also get more creative with customer countertop shapes. I use 3-inch-wide plastic strips that are cut out of 4- x 8-foot sheets using the waterjet. I staple the strips around the parameter of the cabinet and use a plastic weld to secure them. My saw operator can lay these templates directly onto the slab to start the fabrication. I do not have a CNC work center, so using a laser method doesn’t make sense. With slabs that have a lot of movement, I have the ability to create CAD drawings from templates and can show customers exactly how the job will look by importing digital photographs of the actual slabs.”
The company has nine employees who are all trained in various areas. They are currently completing around seven kitchens per week, however, those at times require staff members to work on Saturdays. Hickey has found, with regard to hiring new workers, that word-of-mouth is most reliable. He prefers workers with at least five years of prior experience. His client base is approximately 60% builders, designers, kitchen and bath stores and 40% showroom walk-ins and word-of-mouth. The service area is about a 50-mile radius around downtown Indianapolis, IN.
Like any other business, Hickey and his team have faced their share of obstacles. “The popularity of granite in the last three years has returned to levels higher than the early 2000 time frame,” he explained. “Our biggest challenge is to not over commit and under deliver. As an engineer that prides myself on precision, I still manually create all of the templates. As a business owner, I want to please all of my customers with a speedy install date. The amount of work has made scheduling a challenge. People say that is a good problem to have. I always say if I had a dollar for every time someone said that, I would be rich. At the end of the day, our main goal is a happy customer and that’s what we strive for.”
As for where he sees his business headed over the next few years, Hickey is both optimistic and realistic about the future. “I would like to maintain the size of my granite business and, through continuous improvement, become more efficient and continue to improve on quality and customer satisfaction,” he said.
Water Jet Solutions, Inc.
Type of Work: residential and light commercial
Machinery:a Cougar bridge saw, Pro Edge and a Wizard — all from Park Industries of St. Cloud, MN; a Techni waterjet from Techni Waterjet of Lenexa, KS
Number of Employees: 9
Production Rate: approximately seven kitchens per week