In the last 10 years, plastics have taken on a greater role in WET "fountains," which Lichorobiec said he put in quotations because the installations are combinations of multiple elements that capture people's attention and imagination.
"Some of our installations use and focus on other features and do not have a pool with fountain," he said.
For example, there's the Mirage Volcano in Las Vegas — a fusion of water, fire and light — with 120-foot FireShooters over a 3-acre lagoon.
The Mirage water feature opened in 2008, and Lichorobiec said he wasn't involved with its plastic components. However, he has seen plastic parts solve a lot of WET design problems, including a challenge involving the company's six-lens lighting feature called Prisma.
"When we developed this new light, we set out to tackle some of the shortcomings of our previous-generation light it would be replacing," Lichorobiec said.
The new design has clamping rings that encapsulate the light fixture now molded from Zytel nylon instead of machined brass.
"This was previously a three-piece design that needed to be machined and welded. Our new design is injection molded," Lichorobiec said. "The new rings have a cycle time of about 45 seconds apiece, and the machining and welding time of the previous rings were about 10 minutes each. So we have been saving over 28 minutes of labor for each light built with the rings."
The WET team has encountered many situations where it can make demanding components from appropriate resins more effectively, both cost-wise and time-wise than machining them out of other materials.
"We also have the advantage of lighter weight devices when we are able to make something from plastic that was previously metal or glass," Lichorobiec said.
Lightweighting components is important for shipping and installing water features.
"Because all of our products are built here in Sun Valley and our installations are all over the world, we have lighter containers when we're shipping," Lichorobiec said. "Additionally, when we're installing equipment, the lighter the parts, the easier it is to handle for the technicians."
Component weight also factors into the calculation for the horsepower required to articulate the company's patented variation of a water lariat called the Oarsman, which has a self-contained robotic nozzle and a variable-frequency drive, pump and lights. The feature was initially developed for the Bellagio fountain.
WET purchased its first Arburg machine several years ago — "we absolutely loved it" — and stayed with the line when it was time to increase the shop's range and capacity.
"Some of our molds run almost constantly due to our needs and consumption, but most of our runs are on the shorter side," Lichorobiec said, adding that molds typically run one to two days at a time.
WET strives to be a vertically integrated company with the ability to build molds, mold components and schedule production based on its needs with its own equipment.
"There's a great advantage to mold and produce parts as needed, in the quantities desired, at a moment's notice," Lichorobiec said. "We do not have to pay an outside molder for every mold setup we perform, nor carry an excess inventory of parts on our shelves for devices that might not be built for some time to come."
When the pandemic was declared in March 2020, WET's core business of building "fountain" features immediately halted along with the rest of the nation's manufacturing sector.
The WET teams didn't stay idle for long, though. In six days, they designed and built a single-cavity mold for a face shield and began producing parts.
"We followed that up a month later with a multicavity mold that was able to run automatic," Lichorobiec said. "In the months since, we have also produced a clear face mask that has become a great asset to those that need to see your mouth while speaking and listening. I am certain that these endeavors wouldn't have occurred had it not been for this pandemic."
Now, as the country emerges from the constraints of the pandemic, WET business is returning to more normal production levels.
"And the nature of most of our installations across the world, as outdoor experiences, is actually well suited for a post-pandemic world where physical social distancing is still something we became accustomed to. People can once again enjoy one of our attractions and feel safe doing so," Lichorobiec said. "It's our belief that as hotels, resorts, theaters and the like reopen, the demand for our WET experiences will return as well."