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Waterjet Cutting

All-terrain conquest

By Nick Wright

Howe + Howe are at it again, creating Ripsaw for “G.I. Joe Retaliation”

May 2011 - Twin brothers Mike Howe, president, and Geoff Howe, CEO, founded their namesake company in 2001 to build all-terrain vehicles suited for a gamut of hazardous conditions-fires, mines and war zones. With raw innovation as a design philosophy, the Waterboro, Maine-based Howe and Howe Technologies allows extreme ingenuity to emerge. "When we first started developing, we came together and said, 'Okay, let's develop the world's fastest, most advanced suspension-based track vehicle,'" says Mike Howe, referring to the tank-like Ripsaw platform made in several models for the U.S. military.

Perfecting a lightweight track for the Ripsaw while accommodating 16 in. of travel in the suspension was a big design issue. "You can't just push a dozer track at 70 miles per hour when it weighs itself 4,000 lbs.," Howe says. The company adapted the mechanism of chainsaw chains for the Ripsaw track, made it 1/5 to 1/10 the weight of a normal tank, and in eight years of daily testing, the track has never thrown. "If the chain flips, you're going to cut your leg off, so it's pretty important you don't lose your chain. And we borrowed that type of mentality and put it into the Ripsaw program." (Watch the Ripsaw in action about 35 seconds into this clip -- don't blink!)



Sharp stream
To fabricate the wide range of materials and thicknesses that comprise their vehicles, Howe and Howe currently uses an 8-ft. by 4-ft. Mach 3 2513b waterjet cutting table from Flow International, Kent, Wash. After seeing one slice through metal on an episode of "American Chopper," Howe and Howe was sold. "I was blown away that water could cut such a wide array of materials," says Tyler Hentz, the company's fabrication manager.

The waterjet eliminated extra finishing steps that came with CNC plasma cutting, the method Howe and Howe used initially. "It's nice when we start using the Flow jet because it's burrless. It comes out clean and we don't have to deal with slag," Howe says.

The machine features Flow's Dynamic Waterjet technology, which reduces stream lag and taper. Tolerances are as tight as 0.001 to 0.003 in. (0.025 mm to 0.07 mm), according to Flow's specifications. "Its tolerances are unbelievable," Howe adds. The company can assemble chassis and parts directly from the waterjet table. Before using a waterjet, not all parts fit together correctly, so extra finishing was needed.

Because the vehicles, which are fabricated from primarily steel alloys and aluminum, must withstand a structural pounding, integrity of the welds is paramount. "MIG is our reliable welding method for all materials but perhaps less visually appealing than TIG," Howe says. "We execute many iterations of strength tests on our vehicles, armor and materials. We have high-pressure rams and other proprietary devices that we utilize to test strength and fatigue."

Field tests are the ultimate extreme vehicle assessment, and they make for good television. Discovery Channel's "Black Ops Brothers: Howe & Howe Tech" showcases the work at the 55,000 sq.-ft.-shop. But due to current U.S. government-sensitive projects, "there are no cameras even allowed on the premises," Howe says.



In-house innovation
The company's success is linked with its ability to manipulate existing tools and develop fabrication methods. "We were the first to really be able to go art-to-part so quickly and use SolidWorks to develop the processes to convert to G-code and then develop the process to cut tubular piping by flattening the Y axis," Howe says.

"It's not just working with the individual new tools and technologies but also combining those individual new tools and technologies with each other. It's like cooking," he continues.

Howe and Howe's growth is a testament to its success, as it's going through hiring processes every two months. With more talent, the designs can only improve. "When you analytically sit down, don't skip certain problems, you just work through them," Howe says. "If there's not a solution in front of your eyes, there will be if you keep thinking about it. And that's what we do." FFJ

Sources

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