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Waterjet Cutting

Blast for the big screen

By Nick Wright

Above: One of the Shredder vehicles from the movie “Battleship,” on display at Parker Brothers Concepts’ showroom.

Parker Brothers Concepts renders sci-fi vehicles into reality for Hollywood and beyond

January 2016 - What is it about those who like to tinker? That need to build something for its own sake, or on the flip side, the urge to tear something apart so it can be modified to go faster. Whether it’s to squeeze more power out of a perfectly good engine, or to render a sci-fi vehicle from imagination to ignition, it’s such a vision-driven approach that is decidedly American—a reminder that inspiring awe can be better than utility.

You could perhaps point to the Parker Brothers as two of the greatest modern-day tinkerers. This isn’t the duo that popularized Monopoly, Risk and Trivial Pursuit. Rather, Marc Parker and Shanon Parker have built custom replica vehicles for comic-based movies. If you’ve ever seen some of their fabrications, you might wonder how they possibly could’ve come up with their designs. They’ve made hubless motorcycles, a jet car for rapper 50 Cent, and the NeuTron hubless motorcycle inspired by the movie “Tron.”

More recently, they’ve been the focus of the SyFy channel’s show “Dream Machines,” which goes behind the scenes of Parker Brothers Concepts, the brothers’ custom fabrication business in Port Canaveral, Florida.

FFJ 0116 waterjet image1

The Flow Mach 3b is the workhorse of Parker Brothers Concepts. “We couldn’t stay in business without,” says Marc Parker.

“We don’t just buy off-the-shelf parts and bolt everything together,” says Marc. “There are so many little pieces, and big pieces. Everything has to be made from scratch.”

With occasional outside help, the Parker brothers fabricate everything themselves. Their shop is 20,000 sq. ft., about half of which is showroom space. It houses all the vehicles they’ve made, some of which are second versions so they have one to display. At most, the shop can hold eight to 10 cars and up to eight motorcycles.

Without a big staff, the brothers rely on proper tools and machinery. At the heart of their fabrication shop is a 4 m by 2 m (13 ft. by 6.5 ft.) Mach 3b waterjet from Flow Corp., Kent, Washington. One day, they might be working on a chopper. The next day, a spacecraft for a movie. Such projects throw materials, metal and otherwise, into the mix: bronze, copper, steel, aluminum, as well as carbon fiber, wood and various polymers. The waterjet cuts literally everything, says Marc.

“It’s indispensable,” he says. “We couldn’t stay in business without it.” The waterjet has cut all of PBC’s hubless wheels, and also cut every component of the shredders, which are the destructive chainsaw spheres that aliens unleashed in the 2012 Universal Pictures film “Battleship.”

“There are thousands of pieces on that vehicle, all made with the Flow,” says Marc. They can cut chassis frame pieces, side body panels, and more. “I can’t think of single project we haven’t used it on.”

Water world

Let’s take a closer look at the waterjet, which PBC has used since 2012. Specifically, it’s a standard Mach 3b with a 94,000 psi HyperJet pump, which exceeds the 50,000 to 60,000 psi range more common on waterjets in metal fabrication shops. That higher pressure means PBC doesn’t have to use as much garnet abrasive. Besides that feature, the machine is a standard workhorse of Flow’s offerings. 

But a crucial feature that benefits PBC’s cutting jobs is the Dynamic Waterjet, which Flow designed to automatically compensate for stream lag and taper—inherent issues with any waterjet. That means PBC can cut twice as fast within 0.004 in. finished tolerance than a machine without such a feature.

Waterjet visibility (and not only machines from Flow) has grown along with the popularity of shop-centered shows like “Orange County Choppers,” featuring the well-known motorcycle shop that has used a Flow waterjet since 2003. After working with a local vendor in 2012, PBC learned not only about the precision and accuracy, but the utility of waterjets.

“It really opened up so many design options for us, from structural parts down to small things where we could cut someone’s logo into a piece of metal on a vehicle,” says Marc. To control the machine, PBC uses the FlowMaster Intelligent control. It’s a Windows PC-based system into which users need only to enter material type, thickness and cut quality. “We could make anything without sitting here with a cutoff wheel and grinder making parts for days.”

FFJ 0116 waterjet image2

The Flow cut all of the Shredder’s steel scales and aluminum frame pieces.

FFJ 0116 waterjet image3

Marc, 46, who is 18 months older than his brother Shanon, says they regularly give tours of their shop. Sometimes 100 people a day come through, and it’s not uncommon for Marc to spend most of the tour explaining the waterjet. “People are drawn to it,” he adds. “We’ve had this thing quite a while and it still blows my mind that little stream of water can do what it does.”

Flow has offered the Mach 3b, HyperJet, and Dynamic Waterjet for over 10 years, evolving and upgrading every few years, according to Chip Burnham, vice president of marketing. The Mach 3b, the HyperJet pump, and the Dynamic Waterjet articulating wrist are on most of the machines the company supplies to North American customers.

Neighbor network 

The Parker brothers opened their shop in 2010 after relocating to Florida from South Carolina, where they grew up tinkering with motorcycles, hot rods and just about anything with a motor. 

“It was just a hobby before. We had day jobs,” Marc says. “Then we decided a few years ago to take the leap and dive into this full time.”

And so far, the risk has been worth it. The success they’ve had with Hollywood projects is leading PBC to another industry: space exploration. PBC’s shop is only a few miles down the intercoastal from NASA’s Kennedy Space Station.

Marc says PBC has become acquainted with many of the local engineers from NASA as well as SpaceX, the private space venture started by Tesla Motors owner Elon Musk. PBC’s creations aren’t that far off from what some rocket scientists envision for next-generation space exploration vehicles.

One might think PBC is working in the shadow of giants because of its proximity to NASA. But, depending on who you ask, it could be perceived the other way around.

“They call us up for tech advice,” says Marc. He notes that PBC will be using its Flow waterjet to cut parts for what could be the first vehicle to be driven on the red planet. “We’ll be making lots of parts for the first car to be rolling around on Mars.”

That would bring PBC’s vehicles out of the realm of big-screen science fiction, and into reality. FFJ

Sources

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