Getting WET (Water Entertainment Technologies): Looking over our NTMA Tour of WET

Getting WET (Water Entertainment Technologies): Looking over our NTMA Tour of WET
From the outside all you see is One letter on each large Building over a long city block spelling out
W E T. What’s basic on the outside is nothing short of incredible on the inside. WET is kind of like Disneyland – Each Building is a separate “land”. I am not sure this was the intention, but since the three founders of WET were imaginers at The Walt Disney Company it is not hard to make the comparison.

We started in a building dedicated to fabrication. There were CNC metal spinning machines, CNC punch presses, CNC Metal formers and CNC Lasers cutting sheet stock. While there were a couple of night shift workers in this department, some of the machines run unattended all night.
Next we walked to Building number Two (WET has around 14 buildings in their complex) where we saw the basis CNC machines running – both lathes and mills. It was odd to see a machine operator vacuuming a couple stray chips that had landed on the floor. Everything was in place -- the 6S in this building(s) was spot on and it was hard to see anything that looked out of place. There is standardization throughout the plant from the equipment (mostly HAAS and a couple Mori Seiki Horizontals) to the shadow boards and the WET Shirts everyone wears.

Moving on to the Third building we saw the large equipment, larger Mori Horizontals, Large HAAS Mills with pallet changers and a lathe with a robot hooked up to it. The Inspection Room in this building is housed in a 14 foot high glassed frontage. The CMM they have was sweet, but they have portable CMM’s that really put this capacity into overdrive. WET does make lots of ONE in what they do, but within each special project there are hundreds of common components where they provide the shop with some production work.

Building Four takes us into their welding area. They have several welding areas including two CNC robots for their higher production lots. WET makes many of the control panels that hold all of the electronics necessary to put their shows together. These control areas can be enormous. For the most part WET services their projects from a technical and repair stand point. Surprisingly, they stated that the wear on the components was rather small and while they do have maintenance issues they are very small compared to the number of installations. As we left Building Four we came across a gigantic white board room where they schedule projects and attack war room type problems. The room must be 500-750 sq ft. WET does not use software to run the manufacturing side of the company. All projects are tracked by hand.

Moving into a series of Buildings named the “playground” we enter the creative area for the employees. The first area was a 4,000 square foot woodshop where they build their own furniture. They offer their employees classes in woodworking to help them keep the creative juices flowing and expanding. It was hard not to notice that there was not saw dust on the floor – nor the incredible selection of power tools available to use. From the wood shop, we entered the experimental area of the company complete with clean rooms, laboratories and testing areas where WET is pressing the limits of their technologies. These applications are in defense, energy and their core entertainment niche. Lastly we transitioned into a great area that had a large kitchen, restaurant booths (where the founder was sitting down have a meeting with a couple of employees), grand piano, full drum set, and a series of meeting rooms with bean bag chairs. This area is designed to simulate and sustain the creative process of the company’s employees and host large receptions for their customers and friends. It was the first building any of us had ever been in that had about 400 square feet of real grass growing inside the building!

If company culture counts for anything within a manufacturing environment, WET will be an industry leader for decades to come. From the receptionists at the front door to the machinists and finally to the founder plotting new projects we were treated to something special.

From Wikipedia:
WET (Water Entertainment Technologies), also known as WET Design, is a water feature design firm based in Los Angeles, California, founded in 1983 by former Disney Imagineers Mark Fuller, Melanie Simon, and Alan Robinson. WET is best known for its 9-acre (36,000 m2) Fountains of Bellagio in Las Vegas, but the company has also designed over two hundred fountains and architectural water features in many parts of the world.

In addition to its focus on design, WET has pioneered many of the technologies that have since become common in fountains built around the world, by others as well as WET. These technologies include laminar flow fountains, fountains that arise from the pavement instead of from pools, fountains powered by compressed air instead of pumps, and fountains employing sophisticated underwater robots.

Hallmarks of WET fountains are that the water itself is the element of interest (no statuary covered by water); there are few if any boundaries between the fountain and viewers; the fountains display novel and surprising water forms not seen in traditional fountains; and many WET fountains take choreographic movement of the individual water elements to a level of precision and variable motion that approaches those of human performers.

The antecedents of WET can be found in Mark Fuller’s undergraduate thesis in Civil Engineering at the University of Utah, for which he developed a large-scale laminar-flow nozzle that went on to be a major element in many of WET’s fountains and water features. After graduating from Stanford University in product design, where he refined his laminar-flow nozzle, Fuller was hired by The Walt Disney Company as an Imagineer. During his time at Disney, he created the “Leapfrog” fountain at Epcot, using laminar technology.

In 1983, Fuller and two coworkers left Disney to found WET. The company’s first major commission was Fountain Place (originally Allied Bank Tower) in Dallas, Texas, a collaboration with landscape architects, Peter Ker Walker and Dan Kiley.

Since then, WET’s collaborations have included Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; Pei Cobb Freed & Partners; Philip Johnson/Alan Ritchie Architects; SWA Architects; Olin Partnership; Peter Walker and Partners; Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates; and developers Caruso Affiliated and Steve Wynn.

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