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Waterjet Cutting

Breaking the pattern

By Gretchen Salois

Above: Example of Flow waterjet in action cutting 6-in. aluminum.

Large aircraft parts were hard to cut until fabricator invested in more capacity

January 2015 - A fear of flying can make air travel extremely stressful. Each belabored whine of the jet engine while climbing to gain altitude or an unruly pocket of turbulence can set a weary mind over the edge. Travelers should be thinking of their destination rather than thinking about every screw or fuse of a plane—and how things could go wrong with one faulty part.

Because such attention to detail is essential when building an aircraft, airframe manufacturers and their component suppliers rely on machinery and skilled operators to hold tight tolerances while producing precision-cut parts. 

After visiting Fabtech in 2012, leaders at Pegasus Northwest Inc. were impressed with the Flow Mach 4c waterjet cutting machine. “It’s a smart system that doesn’t need as much human contact and interaction. It can sense material height, which helps us break fewer nozzles,” says Christina McNabb, sales and marketing manager. 

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Based in Kent, Washington, Pegasus primarily cuts metals, using the largest waterjet table available: 13 ft. by 26 ft. “We often cut large aerospace components, like 9-in.-thick aluminum or 3-in.-thick stainless steel,” McNabb says.

The issue of table size presented itself when Pegasus tried cutting a 20-ft.-long part while limited to a 10-ft. cutting envelope. “If we had a job to cut a 20-ft. piece, we’d have to stop midway and manually move it and restart the cutting process to finish the task,” McNabb recalls. “We don’t need to do that any longer.” Pegasus purchased a two-head system, which gives operators the additional convenience of cutting two parts side by side. That led to a measurable improvement to overall efficiency.

Modular mobility

The dual z-axis system on Flow’s Mach 4c uses Nexen drive technology, which allows the system to be completely modular while providing the operator with four-sided access. The machine’s setup is expandable in 1 m increments up to 4 m by 14 m, making it a solution for a wide range of industries. The increased operator access to all four sides allows Pegasus to load and unload material more quickly, reducing downtime while increasing shop throughput.

The Mach 4c is the most accurate production waterjet the company has ever built, claims Brian Kent, Flow global product manager, adding, “Tolerances are achievable at +/- 0.001 in.” The model uses Flow’s HyperJet pump, which operates at 94,000 psi. Pegasus installed this configuration with the goal of maintaining and increasing its competitiveness.

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The dual Dynamic Waterjet heads automatically eliminate taper so an operator doesn’t have to slow the cutting process down in order to hold accuracy. This means Pegasus can hold tight tolerances without increasing overall cycle time. “Dynamic Waterjet not only eliminates the need to slow down to reduce taper but it is accurate enough to allow finished cutting of small holes in a variety of aerospace materials with precision,” Kent adds.

“The complete structure of the Flow’s Mach 4c was designed from the tool tip backward, rather than having an existing platform and working off that,” he says. “With dual HyperPressure pumps, Pegasus does not have to split the cutting power between two cutting heads. Both cutting heads are able to maintain the same power and accuracy even if running concurrently.”

Where precision is needed, minimizing human error is vital. Flow’s waterjet has a Dynamic Contour Follower that senses variation in material height and detects impending collisions. “If you get large sheets, which are never flat, instead of breaking a mixing tube when it contacts the material, it follows the contour to avoid collision. [The] follower prevents the operator from having to manually adjust for z-height,” Kent says.

Made from carbide, mixing tubes are expensive. “It can cost us $150 and up to replace a nozzle, so the sensors that help us avoid that are a big help,” McNabb says, adding Pegasus invests in the more expensive nozzles because they last longer. “Sure, it’s expensive to purchase these nozzles, but compared to the time we’d lose having to replace nozzle heads, it works out.”

Meeting demand

While aerospace-related jobs represent a major part of Pegasus’ business, the fabricator also manufactures parts for a variety of applications from nuclear components to artwork. “Customers come in with projects for parts that have specifications and tolerance information and they’ll say, ‘Cut this and we need it in a couple days,’” 

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McNabb says. The waterjet is most helpful when a customer that formerly would be required to buy separate blocks of materials can now get their orders nested together on one block by using the two cutting heads simultaneously, she says.

The 13 ft. by 26 ft. cutting envelope allows Pegasus to process large parts without having to index the workpiece. When running high volume jobs with smaller parts, the dual mast system allows the Mach 4c to boost productivity compared with a single z-axis system. For larger jobs, an operator can easily park one head, making it possible to complete multiple jobs from a single piece of plate using one head. The system was designed to minimize maintenance and increase uptime. Another feature of the Mach 4c, automatic lubrication, minimizes maintenance so there is no downtime spent lubricating the linear bearings and guides, says Kent.

Additionally, operators use under-bridge LED lighting for better visibility. Roll-around control and touch-screen control makes it easy to maneuver around the waterjet when working on parts. Air and water are easy to access with hand-held connections. Hands-free top-kick lets operators access materials and parts easily. 

“For us, it was first and foremost about stepping into a new technology. This purchase was an investment in our future,” McNabb says. “We had to go out and get it.” FFJ

Sources

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AIR FILTRATION

IRONWORKERS

NESTING SOFTWARE

SERVICE CENTERS

Camfil APC - Equipment Trilogy Machinery Inc. Metamation Inc. Admiral Steel
Camfil APC - Replacement Filters

LASER TECHNOLOGY

PLASMA TECHNOLOGY

Alliance Steel
Donaldson Company Inc. AMADA AMERICA, INC. Messer Cutting Systems Inc.

SOFTWARE

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Mazak Optonics Corp.

PLATE

Enmark Systems Inc.
MetalForming Inc. MC Machinery Systems Inc. Peddinghaus Lantek Systems Inc.
RAS Systems LLC Murata Machinery, USA, Inc.

PLATE & ANGLE ROLLS

SigmaTEK Systems LLC

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TRUMPF Inc. Davi Inc. Striker Systems
Steelmax Tools LLC

LINEAR POSITION SENSORS

Trilogy Machinery Inc.

STAMPING/PRESSES

COIL PROCESSING

MTS Sensors

PRESS BRAKE TOOLING

AIDA-America Corp.
Bradbury Group

MATERIAL HANDLING

Mate Precision Tooling

STEEL

Burghardt + Schmidt Group Fehr Warehouse Solutions Inc. Rolleri USA Alliance Steel
Butech Bliss UFP Industrial

PRESS BRAKES

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Red Bud Industries

MEASUREMENT & QUALITY CONTROL

AMADA AMERICA, INC. BLM Group
Tishken Advanced Gauging Technologies Automec Inc. Prudential Stainless & Alloys

CONVEYOR SYSTEMS

METAL FABRICATION MACHINERY

MC Machinery Systems Inc.

WATERJET

Mayfran International Cincinnati Inc. SafanDarley Barton International

DEBURRING/FINISHING

LVD Strippit

PUNCHING

Flow International Corporation
ATI Industrial Automation Scotchman Industries Inc. Hougen Manufacturing Jet Edge Waterjet Systems
Lissmac Corp. Trilogy Machinery Inc.

SAWING

WELDING

Osborn

METAL FORMING

Behringer Saws Inc. American Weldquip
SuperMax Tools FAGOR Arrasate USA Inc. Cosen Saws Strong Hand Tools
Timesavers MetalForming Inc. DoALL Sawing T. J. Snow Company

HYDRAULIC PRESSES

MICROFINISHING TOOLS

HE&M Saw

 

Beckwood Press Co. Titan Tool Supply Inc. Savage Saws

 

Triform

 

 

 


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