Waterjet Cutting

It’s personal

By Lynn Stanley

Above: For Mike Fobes, an automotive instructor, tinkering with toys evolved to building custom cars and motorcycles.

Budget friendly, high-performance cutting tool gets workout in the hands of hobbyists, students

January 2018 - When Mike Fobes agreed to be a beta tester for ProtoMax, Omax’s first high-performance, personal abrasive waterjet, the hobbyist admits he had doubts. “I was not gung-ho about the machine at first because the table size was 12 in. by 12 in. and I make big stuff.”

It didn’t take long for Fobes to change his mind. After using the ProtoMax for six months, “You can’t pry this thing out of my hands. I’m buying the machine but I’m getting the model with caster wheels.”

By day, Fobes is an automotive instructor for Renton Technical College in Renton, Washington. He’s held the position for 20 years. His interest in making things goes back much further. It came from a natural desire to tinker. “As a kid, 7 or 8 years old, my parents would get mad because when they bought toys for me, I would take them apart to see how they worked, but I wasn’t able to put them back together.”

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The ProtoMax converts hand drawn designs to a downloadable file that is quickly and accurately cut into a finished part.

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Toys evolved to cars and motorcycles. “We weren’t a rich family so I usually got things that didn’t work,” he says. “I had to learn how to make repairs.” Fobe’s brother, Kinsey Fobes, had a knack for electronics. “I was drawn to mechanical skills but wasn’t very good with electronics. Together, we made a good team.”

Fobes continues to build things. If you drove past his house last Halloween, you would have witnessed a fire-breathing dragon perched on his roof, spewing real fire balls. What Omax Vice President of Marketing Stephen Bruner likes best is the coffin car Fobes created.

A different direction

“To some degree, waterjets remain an emerging technology,” Bruner says. “It’s not a niche technology but outdated perceptions about waterjets, pricing and reluctance to give up traditional cutting methods have created some roadblocks along the way.”

Combining R&D with acting on feedback from customers “has allowed us to build high-precision waterjet systems, CAD/CAM and motion control software at different price points for a variety of applications,” Bruner says. The company wants to educate people about the advantages and “show them how to make the most efficient parts possible.”

In a bid to evangelize mass audiences in the way of the waterjet, the machinery builder took a different direction when it developed the budget-friendly, high-speed ProtoMax. Omax unveiled the product at the International Symposium on Academic Makerspaces in September 2017 and introduced it to the manufacturing industry at Fabtech in November 2017.

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“We call it the personal waterjet,” says Bruner. “We wanted to create a product that could be used in schools, colleges, universities and by hobbyists like Mike. We felt that the education and maker spaces offered venues that could influence the adoption of waterjet technology in broad terms if the machine was sized to fit a small work space, was budget friendly and easy to use. It would be great to see one in every garage.”

The garage is where Fobes keeps his ProtoMax. To get his feet wet with the equipment, he chose a pre-loaded part—a floor tile with a highly detailed butterfly—and thought the results were cool. “I was still doubtful, though, because the butterfly was only 6 in. by 6 in.,” Fobes recalls. “Then I cut one of my own designs—a spiderweb gusset. The ones you can buy don’t really look like a spiderweb. I grabbed paper and pen and drew the design I wanted. The ProtoMax took my hand drawing and converted it to a file that the machine could download. I cut the part and I was blown away.”

Fobes moved on to cutting cylinder mounts on the waterjet for a car he is building. “Normally I take my plasma cutter, drill holes, then take the part to the grinder and finish it,” he continues. “The first time I cut a cylinder mount on the waterjet, the holes were perfect. It’s saving me so much time and money. And the machine actually improves my designs. Prior to the waterjet, I couldn’t make the intricate cuts that I can perform now.”

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The waterjet’s ability to cut perfect holes in cylinder mounts has eliminated secondary processes, saving time and money.

Fobes cuts aluminum and mild steel from 1⁄2 in. to 3⁄4 in. thick and cut precision lightening holes (to reduce weight) in car brackets and myriad other parts that were “impossible to do with a plasma cutter. I’m impressed with its flexibility and how many parts I need that are 12 in. by 12 in. and smaller,” he says.

Design freedom

The advanced hobbyist soon indoctrinated his wife Karen on the waterjet.

“She makes things out of stained glass. I took a piece of her glass, loaded a pre-programmed object and cut a pretty detailed killer whale. I thought I was cutting an 8 in. whale but I noticed the cutting head wasn’t moving very far. The finished whale was only 2 in., it was detailed and the glass did not break. I showed it to my wife and now she’s onboard with getting the waterjet.”

The self-installed machine supports prototyping and low-volume cutting of materials up to 1 in. thick. ProtoMax delivers 30,000 psi cutting power with a 5 hp pump and can precision cut materials ranging from metal and glass to plastics, composites, granite and wood. Material properties don’t change because the waterjet cuts with no heat-affected zones. It plugs into a 240 volt outlet and does not require hardwiring.

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Fobes designed and built his “coffin” car for a local haunted house.

Fobes plans to cut taillight lenses with the ProtoMax, acknowledging that the waterjet has given him “the ability to do a lot of things I couldn’t do before.

“I had the ability to be creative,” he says, “I just didn’t have the means to realize the things that popped into my head. The precision of this machine is incredible. And it’s easy to use. I’m not a big computer guy—I’m not going to learn CAD. I draw out my designs. The machine takes them and cleans them up. That’s one of the biggest things for me. I can draw out what I want, the machine scans my drawing and I cut it. It’s fast yet highly accurate.”

Karen Fobes is taking “pictures of all sorts of things she wants to make on the waterjet. She wants to open an Etsy storefront,” he says. The Fobes family may just need to buy two waterjets. FFJ



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