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Waterjet Cutting

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By Gretchen Salois

“Pimp My Ride” fabricator uses his imagination to transform the mundane into magic

April 2012 - Best-known for taking dilapidated vehicles and reshaping them into sleek, technological wonders on MTV’s “Pimp My Ride,” Michael “Mad Mike” Martin and his team of fabricators needed a machine capable of cutting, etching and slicing through various metals for custom projects ranging from car frames to fences at Galpin Auto Sports, Van Nuys, Calif.

“I had been doing research since March 2011 about what a waterjet could do,” Martin says. “I found out that waterjets could cut anything from steel to wood to glass. I explained to the owners here at Galpin what we needed, and after showing what we could do with a waterjet versus other types of cutters, convinced them it was the missing link at our shop.”

Galpin Auto Sports purchased a 3204-W waterjet from MultiCam Inc., DFW Airport, Texas. The team at Galpin was introduced to MultiCam after the manufacturer provided the shop with a temporary sponsorship for a plasma cutter.

“We knew how to work the plasma machine pretty well, but the waterjet offered more ways to cut without heat and had the same kind of interface,” Martin says. The transition was not complicated, and the team already has cut more than 2 tons of material with the 3204-W. “I use it so much, it’s like my right arm,” he says.

Creative designs
The fabrication team at Galpin restored a 1934 coupe, which needed a custom frame. “We use the waterjet to create the custom frames. Dave Shuten, one of our master fabricators, comes into my office or leaves the templates for pieces he wants under my door,” Martin says. “I can scan the templates on my computer and drop box it to the waterjet and it cuts out 1⁄8-in., 1⁄4-in. steel.”

The customer wanted his signature in the frame of the car, “which is a very intricate process. You could do letters or pictures using the waterjet, and it doesn’t compromise the metal because you’re not heating it up. It’s just like you’re drilling a hole in it,” Martin says.

Underneath the cars from Galpin are complicated designs and welding in the frames of the vehicles, completed using the 3204-W. “The waterjet allows us to create new and different styles in places where there could never be art before,” Martin says.

MultiCam’s 3000 series of waterjets feature an all-steel, stress-relieved, integral water tank design and three-side cutting tank access for easy loading and unloading. With integrated forklift tubes and heavy C-channel guttering for water run-off, the machine allows Galpin to cut various sizes.

“We cut from 1⁄8-in.- to 11⁄2-in.-thick steel and every size in between. There’s no limit. You draw the picture of anything and the machine will cut it out. I’m also trying to learn how to etch with the waterjet,” Martin says, noting he often tries to find unique ways to push the machine’s limits.

“I’m not a typical CNC operator. I am not an expert working the waterjet, but I know how to make that machine do what I want it to do because I’ve tinkered and played with it. People will tell me the machine can’t do something, but because I don’t have limits or rules, I find a way to make it happen because I know the machine is capable of more,” Martin says.

Cosmetic advantages are a major factor for shops like Galpin because the waterjet is capable of cutting with a high degree of accuracy, typically 0.003 in. to 0.005 in., says John Harris, director of sales and marketing at MultiCam. “With water and abrasive being pushed through the nozzle at 60,000 psi, you’re left with a sanded edge,” he says, noting the waterjet leaves a clean finish with no burrs and no heat-affected edge.

MultiCam manufactures several models of waterjet systems from water only to the very large bridge and rail systems with intensifiers up to 125 hp. According to Jay DuBose, owner of MultiCam West, a technology center/master distributorship for MultiCam that sold the 3204-W to Galpin, the machine’s cutting envelope is 60 in. by 120 in., and it has a KMT 30 hp intensifier. “This provides more than enough water pressure for very fast cutting,” DuBose says.

“The No. 1 concern of Mad Mike and his team at Galpin was reliability and local service and support,” says DuBose. Because the team is always under pressure to meet customer deadlines, they “just cannot afford product unreliability and downtime,” he says.

The Galpin team doesn’t take on only automotive custom jobs. It also works on upscale, multipurpose fences meant to provide aesthetic beauty as well as security.

“We did a beach house fence out of steel and designed and cut turtles, dolphins—the entire fence was made from steel using the waterjet. We cut it out and powder coated it,” Martin says. The team welcomes different projects and also can work with aluminum, “whereas before we were limited to steel. Anything that was heat conductive was off-limits. Now, we can work a lot with aluminum using the waterjet,” he says.

Jobs in less time
With the addition of an Aston Martin dealership at Galpin, the fabrication team faced a new challenge. “Underneath the front of the Aston Martin is a chin spoiler, and in California, they have low driveways, causing people to scrape their cars,” Martin says. “So we built a chin protector out of aluminum. You need a waterjet to cut aluminum for jobs like this because a plasma cutter [wouldn’t] cut it as accurately as we need.

“We had a guy here who previously had to cut those pieces out of aluminum using a jigsaw, taking four hours to cut it and polish it,” he continues. “With the waterjet, we can cut it in 15 minutes from the time the car pulls into our lot until he leaves with a finished spoiler. It’s a 45-minute process, and you save extreme man hours. We go underneath the car and put the spoiler in and take a photo of the underside and put it in our CAD program and trace it out, send that file to the waterjet and it cuts it out—it’s really just that simple.”

The team is also in the process of working on the interior steel components of a Range Rover executive class limousine. “The mounts for the televisions, seats and bar are custom-made out of cardboard templates, which we photograph and then make the mounts of the limo divider,” Martin says. “The arm rests, laptop holders—any part we needed we were able to input into the waterjet’s computer.” The project uses 1⁄8-in. steel, 1⁄4-in. steel and 3⁄16-in. steel.

The fabrication team also uses the machine to cut vehicle emblems. “People like to personalize their cars and put their names on the outside,” he says. “You have Ford, Chevy—now you can put your name on the outside of your car. You can put your signature and transfer that, cut it out of steel and have that polished or powder coated, a whole other side to a customized vehicle.” FFJ

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Sources

  • Galpin Auto Sports
    Van Nuys, Calif.
    phone: 877/464-2746 
    www.galpinautosports.com
  • MultiCam Inc.
    DFW Airport, Texas
    phone: 972/929-4070 
    fax: 972/929-4071
    www.multicam.com

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