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Waterjet Cutting

Beyond two dimensions

By FFJournal staff

Five-axis waterjet makes small job shop a big player in product development

December 2013 - You don’t have to be the largest manufacturer around to make a big splash in fabrication. Having a smaller, more nimble operation backed by powerful, reliable equipment can be the winning formula when it comes to cutting metal parts—or anything, for that matter.

“We don’t discriminate when it comes to taking on work.” That’s how Steve Folin, owner of Rickard Engineering and Design, describes his business philosophy. It’s a mantra that has allowed his small fabrication shop in Albany, Ore., to grow its operations and become the go-to part developer for everyone from the average Joe who needs a truck bumper to major corporations, such as Boeing, that require high-precision, complex components.    

Founded in 2009, RED has experience in every stage of a product life cycle. From concept to prototype and testing the final product, to continual improvement, the company is a one-stop shop experienced with product development.

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“We strive to find the best solution for our clients, and we do it with a level of quality and creativity that is historically nonexistent in the small fabrication industry,” Folin says. 

Today, RED is a well-rounded shop that can cut virtually any material beyond the two dimensions most people associate with a waterjet. From machining trolley wheels out of 3-in. hardened steel, business signage out of 0.250-in. aluminum, Christmas ornaments out of 0.70-in. stainless steel, or foam blanks for product packaging, RED can accommodate most customers’ needs—and it’s all possible with Kent, Wash.-based Omax Corp.’s innovative, highly versatile waterjet technology. RED has used several Omax waterjets since it opened for business.

Water world

Before RED, Folin worked as a manufacturing engineer for a small dental company that assembled related components. He didn’t enjoy the long process involved with outsourcing a project, which could take up to six weeks or sometimes longer if a part was out of spec.

When he started RED, Folin wanted to provide a better prototype and design service by making the parts himself. His original tools of the trade were standard fabrication items, including a handheld plasma torch, basic band saws and grinders. However, he knew he had to make a change if he wanted to grow his operation and continue making parts with short lead times. 

In 2010, RED took ownership of its first abrasive waterjet machine, the Maxiem 1515 JetCutting Center with a 5-ft., 2-in. by 5-ft., 2-in. cutting area. “The Maxiem was a great capital investment because it gave my company the flexibility to cut a limitless number of materials and thicknesses quickly and accurately on one machine,” Folin says. “We could be cutting a part made out of Delrin one day and then switch to steel or aluminum the next.”

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Folin selected waterjet technology for his operations because unlike laser, plasma and EDM cutting, it processes a broader range of materials and thicknesses at better tolerances. 

For example, waterjet machines can cut 6-in.-thick materials whereas laser and plasma can only handle 1-in. to 3-in. thicknesses. He also liked the fact that waterjet cutting does not involve any heat, eliminating the risk of material burning or melting. Nor does the process alter the specific properties of the material. 

He chose the Maxiem 1515 waterjet machine because of its affordability, small footprint, easy-access table, simple design and available options. Folin says the machine’s control software is extremely easy to learn and its Collision Sensing Terrain Follower is “worth its weight in gold.” 

Available as an option, the Collision Sensing Terrain Follower automatically and accurately cuts parts from materials with irregular or warped surfaces without the need for special programming. “We like to set it and forget here, and with the Collision Sensing Terrain Follower, we don’t have to worry about the machine jamming or running into something,” Folin says. 

Folin could also tell from his first conversation with Omax that customer service and support were top priorities for the company. 

“Omax employees are top notch,” he says. “The installers are fantastic and very knowledgeable about all aspects of waterjet, from the software and mechanics to the maintenance and repair.” 

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Space friendly

Omax designed the Maxiem 1515 as a robust and versatile cutting solution that takes up minimal floorspace, thus letting a shop expand its machining operations. At the time, RED’s shop was only 3,000 sq. ft. with two employees, so space was key. The machine allows companies, including RED, to cost effectively cut high-quality parts from most materials, including stainless steel, exotic alloys, titanium, copper, composites, plastic, stone, ceramic and glass. 

At first, RED’s Maxiem 1515 was cutting mostly parts for the dental companies Folin had established relationships with during his previous job. However, the machine would sometimes sit idle. To get more return on his investment, he went on a marketing blitz describing how his company could cut small parts. Within just a year’s time, his business started growing by leaps and bounds. RED was taking on much more than just small-parts work. 

“The bulk of the parts we cut are for industrial companies,” he says. “Typical job shop type parts include brackets, gears, fixtures, little widgets and components. It’s a hard question to answer because we do basically anything and we don’t shy away from difficult projects,” he says.

By accepting larger projects, Folin faced some limitations with the 1515 in that he had to cut down full sheets of material as well as handle more setups and changeovers during production runs. As a result, in 2011 he traded in the machine for the larger Maxiem 1530 waterjet with a 10-ft., 2-in. by 5-ft., 2-in. cutting area. 

With the 1530, RED saved time and money by no longer having to cut down full sheets or hire a third party to shear the material. The machine also allowed RED to nest full sheets at a time, which allowed the company to cut FFJ-1213-waterjet-image4parts in one setup instead of two. 

By the end of 2012, RED had doubled its business and added another Maxiem 1530 to its new 9,000 sq. ft. shop. With business thriving, RED traded in this second 1530 by mid-2013 for an Omax 60120 JetMachining Center with the A-Jet five-axis cutting head and 10-ft., 6-in. by 5-ft., 2-in. cutting area.    

“The high precision and five-axis machining of the Omax 60120 will allow us to produce higher-end products that require more accuracy to be able to pass stringent quality inspections,” Folin says. “The 60120 will allow RED to manufacture products for an even wider range of customers.”

He notes that many people are in a 2-D mindset when it comes to waterjets. However, with the 60,000 psi 60120, RED is gradually demonstrating that the five axes can take steps out of a customer’s production by chamfering holes or putting a bevel on a piece—processes that don’t immediately come to mind with waterjets. “There are unique circumstances where using a waterjet, and putting in the slightest bevel, is what the product is about.” 

According to Folin, waterjet is generally his company’s foot in the door with a new customer. After all, the waterjet machining process, with all of its unique cutting advantages, makes for a much more interesting conversation when compared to RED’s more traditional welding and sheet metal operations. As long as Omax continues to advance its technology and deliver impeccable, attentive customer support, its waterjets will remain in RED’s stable. FFJ

Sources

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