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Take Advantage of the Latest Technology When Designing with Natural Stone

by | Oct 24, 2017 | Educate |

Technology has become so prevalent in society that we take many everyday wonders for granted. Tools, apps, and gadgets that improve the energy efficiency and security of our homes, remind us to exercise, allow us to download the latest novel and communicate with friends and colleagues around the world instantaneously, have changed how we live and work. Technology is also impacting the natural stone industry and it opens up a world of possibilities for your projects and saves time, money, and resources throughout the process.

Today stone can be quarried using less energy, processed in only a few minutes, and fabricated using less water, reducing the overall impact on the environment. These benefits are all possible because of the latest technology, including a few high-tech fabrication techniques discussed here, such as Computer Numerically Controlled (CNC) machinery, water jet, 3D modeling, and sandblasting. Having some knowledge of these techniques will help you more clearly define your choices and expand your design options in ways you never imagined before.

Selecting a Stone

It starts at the point of selecting the right stone for the project. What type of stone would best fit your personal taste, budget, and style? With almost endless materials, colors, and finishes available, even choosing a stone for a kitchen countertop or bathroom flooring can be a tedious and overwhelming task. But now you can gain access to practical and technical stone information at the touch of a button.

Selecting a stone by hand can be enhanced by learning about the type of stones and their characteristics online first before heading to the stone yard or showroom. Left: Stone slabs stacked in a stone yard waiting to be chosen and finished for a project. Right: Stone samples to choose from in a showroom. Photos courtesy of Stephanie Vierra

Like a favorite new novel that you can download and read anywhere, you can also search and download resources to learn about different types of stones and how they should be installed and maintained. This convenience puts a great wealth of knowledge at your fingertips–from swatches to design books and testing information–which is extremely useful in eliminating guesswork and preventing costly mistakes. An excellent place to conduct this research is online. Many companies provide comprehensive information on their website. The Natural Stone Institute is a great resource with a wide range of documents available for purchase or download. The site directs you to the information you need as a consumer or professional in the stone industry. Be sure to ask questions and bookmark stone samples, designs, and installations that you prefer. This will help you select the stone you want more easily and communicate more effectively with your stone supplier or installer.

CNC Machinery

After you have selected the stone, the next step is to fabricate it into the correct size, shape, and finish. A widely used technology at the fabrication stage is computer numerically controlled (CNC) machinery.  CNC makes it possible to develop a design in the computer first and refine it before applying the design to the material.  What began as a simple block or slab of stone can end up with curves, impressions, texture, and shapes carved into it.

While you are interested in the end result, you can feel good knowing that the CNC technology saved time, increased the precision of the cuts, and reduced waste. Talk to your local stone fabricator and ask if they are using this technology. Consider personalizing and customizing the design to make the project uniquely yours. Perhaps your initials or favorite sports team’s name carved into the side of a sink, or your company name etched into a work surface.

An example of CNC machinery being programmed and tweaked at the control side before the machinery implements the final design. Photos courtesy of Stephanie Vierra

Various patterns that can be cut into natural stone using CNC technology. Photos courtesy of Stephanie Vierra


Water Jets

Water jet technology has also become more widely used in the natural stone industry. While the water jet has been around since the late 1800s, the technology keeps improving and is used with such accuracy that it saves more money and time than ever. Aria Stone Gallery documented some of these advantages in their blog post “Cutting Natural Stone with Water Jet Technology.” They found that the “water jet has the ability to create intricate detail with the utmost accuracy, with less maintenance and lower costs than traditional laser cutting devices. Depending on the settings, the water jet can produce different results. The details may be subtle to transform smooth, earthy stone to appear as though it has a linen textured finish. On a larger scale, the natural stone may be cut into many different shapes and details to create sculptures and large-scale art installations. As this technology continues to advance, artists and engineers will find endless creative possibilities.” Imagine an elaborately carved bathtub or bar feature that will provide many years of enjoyment.

Examples of the intricate detail and sculptural art that can be created using water jet technology on natural stone. Images courtesy of Aria Stone Gallery.


3D Modeling

Renovation projects where existing materials or designs must be matched can bring a host of challenges that technology such as 3D modeling can help meet. To match a serpentine pattern of 120-year-old stones in a historic church in Virginia, 3D scanning technology was used by the granite fabricator. A complete scan of the church produced a 3D model, which was then converted into 2D documents used to trace the pieces. Next, the granite fabricator used the 2D drawings to create a 3D Revit model. The extensive efforts ensured the new façade would replicate the existing with accuracy. This same approach can be used to match an existing or historic façade or other stone elements, especially if you are interested in preserving the character and original design intent of the stone. Perhaps instead, you want to emulate the look of the French Cháteau you recently visited or the Tuscan Villa that you saw in a magazine in your new home. A 3D model can be created from pictures that would replicate the design with accuracy and precision and the most appropriate stone and finish chosen to match the design and make it look historic.

Example of 3D and 2D scanning technology used by the granite manufacturer to match the existing serpentine pattern of the historic stone at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Staunton, Virginia. Photo courtesy of ©Coldspring.



When a project’s design calls for images to be etched into stone, high-tech sandblasting capabilities can bring the vision to life. Such was the case with the granite entrance to Boston Children’s Hospital, fabricated by Coldspring. Intricate dot matrix stenciling and a sandblast process transferred the artist’s images to polished gray-black stone. The 1,200-square-foot, L-shaped wall greets visitors with playful images of animals and foliage that includes dragonflies, butterflies and flowers and provides a different view with each experience. Through the sandblasting process, various shades of gray were produced and recessed into the stone. Each adjacent piece was carefully laid out and lined up to ensure the image flowed correctly across the entire wall. Stone selection is a critical decision for a sandblast project. Typically, a dark-colored stone provides an effective and necessary contrast against the images inscribed into the stone. Mesabi Black granite provided such a contrast, offering the ideal background to allow the animals and foliage to shine through. Additionally, the grain structure and stark gray-black color has a beautiful appearance in many different finishes, which allows designers to achieve a contrast in color without the use of different stones. Imagine this idea applied to a feature wall or countertop in your next project.

The 1,200-square-foot, L-shaped wall of the Boston’s Children’s Hospital greets visitors to the hospital with beautiful artwork and imagery including playful images of animals and foliage transferred to a gray-black granite background. ©2016 Amesse Photography

New technologies will only continue to expand and grow in importance and ease of availability. As designers and consumers continue realizing the benefits of technology, the demand for digital craftsmanship in stone design is expected to increase. The design world and consumers will have even more opportunities to see fine, detailed stone work in more applications. The possibilities are only limited by one’s imagination. Ultimately, the use of sustainable, natural stone in project designs will become the norm. So take advantage of the latest technology when designing with natural stone. You will find your knowledge expanded and the total process of selecting, fabricating and installing natural stone a more seamless, creative and positive experience.

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