Solid Edge Meets Solid Rock
Jason Brett posted on March 31, 2016 | 6954 views

Freshwater Stone has been creating architectural and sculptural masterpieces for over 40 years. Built upon the creative vision of founders Jeff and Candy Gammelin, the company has grown to include four quarries, 50 employees and a portfolio of projects that span the globe. While the roots of the company are built upon the ancient tools and traditions of the stonemason, they also embrace modern technology where appropriate. That is why, in the small town of Orland on the Maine coast, Freshwater Stone CAD designer John Horton is developing new ways to apply Solid Edge 3D design and modeling software (from Siemens PLM Software) to create compelling designs in solid rock.

Freshwater Stone creates a wide range of architectural and landscape solutions for clients around the globe. Some of their detail work can be seen in this restoration of the Old Red Courthous” in Dallas, Texas. (Image courtesy of Freshwater Stone.)
Freshwater Stone creates a wide range of architectural and landscape solutions for clients around the globe. Some of their detail work can be seen in this restoration of the Old Red Courthous” in Dallas, Texas. (Image courtesy of Freshwater Stone.)

In some ways, Horton’s training and experience is about as far from stonework as one can get. Growing up in Maine, Horton developed both a passion for sailing and a passion for building. These two passions came together in the 1980s when Horton found himself in Rhode Island, using AutoCAD to design and build racing yachts. After taking a year off to spend his time on boats instead of making boats, Horton returned to Maine where he continued to build racing yachts. As the years progressed, the capabilities available in design software improved. In 1998, Horton was tasked with identifying a modern parametric modeling package that would meet the company’s design needs for the future.

“We considered Solid Edge, SOLIDWORKS and Pro E,” he said, addressing the challenge of selecting a new CAD package, “and we had a huge archive of boat plans to consider.” The decision to adopt Solid Edge was made after meeting Rick Loring of LMGI CAD solutions, who showed them how Solid Edge could incorporate their design archive while addressing their solid modeling needs. Then, in 2008, he met Jeff Gammelin, who was looking for someone with advanced technology skills to join the team at Freshwater Stone. Horton and Gammelin discussed how 3D modeling could be incorporated into the company workflow, and in 2011, Horton switched from working with carbon fiber to make buoyant, fast moving boats to working with stone for architectural designs that, ironically, were neither fast nor particularly buoyant.

“One condition of my employment was that we buy a seat of Solid Edge,” Horton explained. “A lot of what I do is about communicating with the customer, and Solid Edge enhances our ability to communicate.” Horton finds that Solid Edge is particularly valuable when putting together some of the “wacky geometry” that stonework requires. In addition to the aesthetic finish of the exterior of the stone, he has to contend with the support structures and services that run through the structure. “No engineer wants to sign off on stonework,” Horton said. “It is a natural product with a range of properties, so it often has to be reinforced and attached to the metal work in the wall.”

Freshwater Stone has giant saws that “can slice a 40,000-lb block of granite like a loaf of bread,” according to designer John Horton. (Image courtesy of Freshwater Stone.)
Freshwater Stone has giant saws that “can slice a 40,000-lb block of granite like a loaf of bread,” according to designer John Horton. (Image courtesy of Freshwater Stone.)
In addition to meeting building codes that would have befuddled the best of the ancient stonemasons, architects will often require plumbing and electrical runs through the stonework. Freshwater Stone has a range of machines, from giant saws that “can slice a 40,000-lb block of granite like a loaf of bread” to five-axis CNC saws and routers that can form radiuses and profiles. Getting it right the first time, however, is crucial. For a major project, they will typically build a mock-up of the foundation and assemble the project in their shop before breaking it down and shipping it for installation at job sites around the world. “But if you’re off, you have to do it over,” Horton pointed out. “I’ll take a design and model it until we are sure it is what our customer wants. A lot of people have problems reading 2D plans, so where Solid Edge really shines is that you can have a 3D image to show the client. I model it and share it with the customer, and we go back and forth. It’s a great tool!” One of the upgrades Horton is excited about is Solid Edge’s integration with tablets for on-site interaction with clients. “It’s all about communicating clearly with the customer,” he explained, pointing out that Solid Edge gives Freshwater Stone a competitive edge. “I hope to get clients back because we treat them better.”
If it is beautiful, and made of stone, Freshwater Stone can probably build it. They will often assemble a structure in their shop before shipping it out for assembly on site. Designer John Horton uses Solid Edge to help ensure that the design matches the client’s vision while meeting architectural requirements. (Image courtesy of Freshwater Stone.)
If it is beautiful, and made of stone, Freshwater Stone can probably build it. They will often assemble a structure in their shop before shipping it out for assembly on site. Designer John Horton uses Solid Edge to help ensure that the design matches the client’s vision while meeting architectural requirements. (Image courtesy of Freshwater Stone.)
 
Freshwater Stone’s clients tend to be “institutions and the affluent,” according to designer John Horton. Every project is unique and has to be designed to meet structural building codes and requirements for services such as plumbing and electricity. Solid Edge “allows me to communicate these crazy shapes,” said Horton. (Image courtesy of Freshwater Stone.)
Freshwater Stone’s clients tend to be “institutions and the affluent,” according to designer John Horton. Every project is unique and has to be designed to meet structural building codes and requirements for services such as plumbing and electricity. Solid Edge “allows me to communicate these crazy shapes,” said Horton. (Image courtesy of Freshwater Stone.)

Horton has found some surprising similarities in his work with Freshwater Stone and his experience building racing yachts. “Most of our work is for institutions and the affluent. We get to work with designers all over the world,” he pointed out, emphasizing the importance of meeting high customer expectations in both lines of work. Horton is also seeing an interesting cycle in his own career as he is now being called upon to combine his experience in composite sailboat construction with his knowledge of stone to create strong, lightweight granite and marble structures for custom yachts and private aircraft. Freshwater Stone is now producing stonework that not only floats, but flies too!

“We do naturalistic stuff, but we’re high tech too,” explained Freshwater Stone designer John Horton. The company takes pride in using local Maine stone from their four quarries whenever possible to create structures, sculptures and landscapes that blend seamlessly into the environment. (Image courtesy of Freshwater Stone.)
“We do naturalistic stuff, but we’re high tech too,” explained Freshwater Stone designer John Horton. The company takes pride in using local Maine stone from their four quarries whenever possible to create structures, sculptures and landscapes that blend seamlessly into the environment. (Image courtesy of Freshwater Stone.)

John Horton has been in the desktop CAD industry for as long as there has been a desktop CAD industry.  Whether working in carbon fiber or granite, on moving boats or eternal architecture, Solid Edge is his tool of choice for modeling, and it is one he truly enjoys working with. “I’m a builder—doing the 2D drawing is kind of dry,” he concluded, “but with Solid Edge, I feel like I’m building it.”


Siemens has sponsored ENGINEERING.com to write this article. It has provided no editorial input. All opinions are mine. —Jason Brett


About the Author

Jason Brett teaches electronics and materials science in the Technology Teacher Education Program at the British Columbia Institute of Technology. He has 17 years of experience in technology education, during which time he founded the first For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) robotics competition team in Western Canada. He is the founding president of the Pacific Youth Robotics Society and remains actively involved in promoting STEM education through competitive robotics. Brett uses CAD to design and simulate a variety of products that he produces using techniques ranging from traditional machine tools through water jet cutting and 3D printing.

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