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Waterjet Cutting

Nimble startup Thor Trucks finds the right tools from OMAX Corp. for electric vehicle development

By Joshua Swainston

Above: Dakota Semler and Giordano Sordoni in front of their flagship electric vehicle, the EV-One.

January 2019 - Inside a warehouse in North Hollywood, California, Thor Trucks is reimagining the future of transportation by building commercial electric vehicles. Sleek designs coupled with quiet operation, the vehicles are impressing transportation industry watchers and innovators alike.

Thor Trucks’ owners believe this could not be achieved without the aid of OMAX Corp.’s MAXIEM 1530 abrasive waterjet. An abrasive waterjet uses a high-pressure stream of water and abrasive to slice a narrow line into a wide variety of materials, resulting in accurate shapes. Cutting with water does have some challenges. To adjust for a flexible cutting tool, the company developed computer models that optimize the patented control software, resulting in accurate part creation without trial-and-error programming.

FFJ 0119 waterjet image1

The parts for the sleek ET-One are achieved using the MAXIEM 1530 waterjet, avoiding heat-affected zones that require secondary processes.

Next-gen transportation

Thor Trucks is the brainchild of Dakota Semler and Giordano Sordoni. “Dakota and Gio both have very personal reasons for taking on the challenge of building an EV-oriented future of transportation,” says Austin Benzinger, director of business development and government affairs at Thor Trucks. “Gio, who suffered from asthma at a young age, grew up in Los Angeles, infamous for its unclean air. Dakota, who grew up around the trucking industry, became inspired as a teenager to try his hand at engine conversion and successfully converted his diesel truck to run on vegetable oil, at 14 years old.”

EVs have been around, in some form or another, for decades. In the early 1900s, Detroit car manufacturers were flirting with battery-powered vehicles and the NASA lunar rovers built in the 1960s were completely electric. However, early technology never allowed for larger commercial vehicles to achieve viable speed, mileage and torque. EVs were often seen as more of a novelty rather than a practical, widely adoptable transportation option. The evolution of the EV moved at a snail’s pace until the late 1990s and early 2000s when consumer demand for environmentally minded transportation solutions became more popular.

Even today with most car companies coming out with hybrids and personal EVs, there remains some ground to cover to get to affordable commercial transportation.

Semler and Sordoni were “both frustrated with the lack of short-term progress being made in this space; so much of the future-oriented automotive industry predictions require major technological developments and infrastructural overhauls that might take many years to put into effect,” explains Benzinger. With the mission to “get a cost-effective, easily-implementable solution on the road now, one that proves that EVs are a competitive alternative to diesel trucks,” Thor Trucks was born.

Time crunch

Initially, Thor Trucks outsourced much of its fabricating. But as its engineers and product development team hoped to produce the first cost-competitive electric semi-truck, time factors into all decisions. Outsourcing led to downtime and delays in development. Thor Trucks soon realized it would need to bring the fabrication in house to gain the competitive edge.

To develop an engineering solution, Thor Trucks turned to the latest in machine tools. The North Hollywood shop is equipped with a wire bonder, an adhesive dispenser, an ultrasonic welder, a plasma cutter, a CNC mill, and a MAXIEM 1530.

The machinery maker premiered thisline of equipment in 2009. The models give manufacturers the ability to take parts from concept to finished piece quickly. “We saw the value in the machine as a time-saving tool,” says Benzinger, and that has been realized “in every build.”

FFJ 0119 waterjet image2

Thor Trucks can now control cutting by bringing waterjet capabilities in house.

It can be difficult for manufacturers to separate fact from white noise when purchasing machine tools. Most times, deciding on a product comes down to aftermarket aspects like training, customer support and service.

“We reviewed a handful of alternatives and decided on OMAX for its support and service. We received a lot of positive feedback from existing customers and internal operators. For us, [it] was the clear choice,” explains Benzinger.

Thor Trucks uses its abrasive waterjet to cut everything from plastics and acrylic to steel and aluminum. Though the company has cut thicker materials, most of Thor Trucks fabricating is in 1⁄8-in. to 1⁄4-in. plate. Benzinger says the machine model is “the right solution for the stage we are at as a company and will remain a great tool for us to quickly fabricate new prototypes.”

The waterjet is also being used in the production of brackets to support Thor Truck’s cylindrical lithium-ion battery cells, which power the trucks. Most recently, UPS ordered two of Thor Truck’s Class 6 truck to test in Los Angeles for six months.

Ecological considerations

Abrasive waterjets allow users to cut a wide range of materials that cannot be cut with EDM or laser. Additionally, waterjet cutting doesn’t leave the finished part with heat-affected zones that require secondary processes. Waterjets are typically more ecologically friendly in that they don’t create any hazardous fumes or waste products. Benzinger says, “Without the waterjet, we would be far behind where we are today. We would still be a year or more out from commercial production. Without our waterjet, we lose a lot of our edge as a young, nimble startup.” FFJ

Joshua Swainston is a content marketing writer for Omax Corp.

Sources

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