Resource Management / Whitewares

"Singing in the Rain"

Artistic Tile is reaping the benefits of a system it developed for the collection and reuse of rainwater.

Water is drained from the company's flat roof to a holding tank.

Based in Secaucus, N.J., Artistic Tile is an importer, distributor and retailer of tile and stone products. A few years ago, the company realized it could make a few changes to better serve its customers.

"We decided to get into some light manufacturing in order to supplement our product line and offer more flexibility and customization," explains Joshua Levinson, president. "In the past, a customer might walk into our store and say, 'I really like that pattern, but I like it in that color.' If we didn't have that color in stock, we might be looking at a 12-week lead time. Now we can say, 'Sure, we can do that for you.'"

The company repurposed existing machinery and acquired new equipment so it could cut tile into mosaic pieces and mount those mosaics on mesh for easy installation. What began as a single multi-disc saw operation has grown to three saws and a water-jet system, plus a finishing line. In fact, Artistic Tile recently started a second production shift to keep up with demand.

"The big push in terms of our manufacturing is the flexibility," says Levinson. "We offer 60+ mosaic shapes and sizes, plus 80-100 different color options, with the ability to blend different colors and change finishes as well."

The company continually pursues new avenues to improve its operations, including a system that gathers rainwater for use in the production process. I recently spoke with Levinson about the water recycling system and the multiple benefits it offers.

The filter press removes the solids from the water via a chemical-free process.

How is water used in the production process?

We have three multi-disc saws, and each one can be set to cut tile and stones of different sizes. Each of the blades on each of those saws has a water line to cool and lubricate the blades. All of the cutting is done wet, and the water cools, lubricates and keeps the dust down by creating a slurry.

Water is also used in the finishing line. We have an eight-head polishing line, and water is applied to those heads to cool and lubricate the diamond tooling that's doing the finishing. We have a water jet as well, which is a closed system, but it uses 60,000 psi water concentrated through a very fine nozzle with a garnet powder introduced as the cutting media. We also have a bridge saw that enables us to cut slabs.

The company has not needed to purchase water for cutting operations since 2008.

How did the idea come about to use rainwater?

We had a smaller, self-contained water filtration system that was producing maybe 40 gal/min of clean water. Our system now produces about 400 gal/min, so we were in a real water deficit for a while. As our production levels started to increase, we would have to shut down to catch up with our water needs.

We decided that we needed to increase our system, and we ended up developing our own. We didn't want to use a flocculent, which is a chemical that is added to the water to cause the solids to gel together and thus fall out of the water. We wanted to be chemical free. So we got a very large filter press from a Polaroid facility that was shutting down. This press was one of their lightly used pieces of equipment, and we appropriated it for a different use.

While converting from the older system and adding on to the newer system as needed to increase our capacity, we realized we had a spare tank. We have a flat-roof building, and we had a drain pipe that we could redirect right into that tank. We have not purchased domestic water to add to this system for a few years now.

Aside from not using domestic water, which is saving us money, reusing and recycling the water is a great benefit. We're using thousands and thousands of gallons a day. If we didn't filter the water and it was just going into the sewer, it would be tremendously wasteful.

Small scraps that cannot be used are sold to another company for use as aggregate material.

Is the water treated before being reused?

Every time you cut with these blades or finish with the polishing line, you're introducing dust into the water that then needs to be filtered. In our system, all of this slurry water flows back to an underground pit, where it is stored.

The water is pumped up to an above-ground tank and then through the filter press at high pressure. The filter press has a filter fabric on it, and this filter fabric actually removes the solids from the water. Clean water comes out the other end and is returned to the saws for reuse in the process. It's a closed loop.

It's possible in these closed-looped systems for the water to go septic and cause infections. It was important for us to treat the water so it's safe for our employees, but we wanted to stay away from using chlorine or any kind of bleach that could potentially damage the product.

We use no chemicals in our process. Rather than using an algicide to kill the bacteria that's potentially in the water, we're using an ozonator, which is a system that's used in some swimming pools as a means of killing bacteria. The ozonator system is on our clean water tank. As the water passes through, it's treated with ozone to kill the bacteria.

The solid material, along with stone scraps that can't be cut down into mosaics any further, goes to a company that grinds that material for use as aggregate in road beds. So it does have a secondary life.

One of the nice things about mosaic production is that mosaics are sustainable in that we're utilizing, in a lot of respects, post-industrial waste. Certainly for some products, we're using chipped or "second" tiles that would otherwise be considered scrap. We try to utilize everything down to the smallest sized pieces that are no longer workable. Those smallest pieces are then reground.

What other "green" practices does Artistic Tile follow?

We're using recycled corrugated boxes and biodegradable bubble wrap, and we're currently in the approval process to install a solar system on our building. With that system, we should be able to run our daytime operations on solar power.

California leads the nation for solar power, but New Jersey is second. New Jersey requires all of its power producers to generate a certain percentage of their energy via renewable resources. That percentage will increase each year until the early 2020s, when it will max out. Any power producers in the state that are deficient in achieving those numbers can actually buy state renewable energy credits (SRECs), which are generated by solar producers and other renewable energy producers.

Having a solar system on the roof of your building, in addition to generating low-cost or free power, also generates these SRECs, which are sold on an open market to power producers to offset their potential fines by not meeting the state's criteria. New Jersey is a very active state now for solar projects because of these government initiatives and requirements.

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