Waterjet Cutting

Lead roles

By Lynn Stanley

Fabricator gains cutting control, higher throughput and more accurate parts with topflight hardware and software

September 2019 - Profilers record and analyze a person’s psychological and behavioral characteristics to assess or predict their capabilities. Consider the attributes of early adopters. They tend to be the first to try new ideas, processes or goods. They rely on intuition and vision. Metal fabrication specialist Midwest Precision Inc. fits the profile.

The Tulsa, Oklahoma company got its start in a family garage under the name Miller Manufacturing. The company has grown over the last four decades into one of the region’s largest and most versatile sheet metal and plate fabrication shops.

Midwest Precision is ISO 9001:2015 certified and can machine, laser or waterjet cut, weld and assemble parts for a diverse group of industries that range from aerospace and Department of Defense (DoD) applications to oil and gas, agriculture and health and fitness equipment. Despite its evolution, the company has held fast to its penchant for making quality, cost-efficient parts and its reputation as a trailblazer. In the 1990s, Midwest Precision was the first fabricator to bring waterjet cutting services to the Tulsa area. The journey would eventually lead the company to technology pioneer Flow Waterjet.

FFJ 0919 waterjet image1


“The decision was market-driven,” says Midwest Precision Vice President Gary Garbelman. “Our founder Ron Miller was a savvy salesman. He identified a market need for waterjet cutting capabilities and pulled the trigger on a capital equipment purchase.”

With aerospace work picking up, Midwest Precision soon found it needed to update its waterjet equipment.

“We purchased two new machines but soon found that the technology we thought we bought didn’t live up to the sales pitch,” Garbelman says. “The machines were prone to breaking down. We found the equipment’s database and taper control feature to be limited. It was not an intelligent system. We were falling behind competitively so we reached out to Flow.”

Midwest Precision spent time with Flow technicians at the OEM’s Kent, Washington, facility. Sample part runs demonstrated the system’s accuracy and speed.

“It was exciting for us to help them make a breakthrough,” says Flow Regional Business Manager Eliot Riggins. “I remember showing them a part we processed for them and the individual in charge of their waterjet operation said, ‘Yeah, we can’t do that now.’”

Maintenance and aftermarket support, Flow’s mathematical cutting models and material library, active tolerance control (ATC) and a financing package gave Midwest Precision a “deal they couldn’t walk away from,” Riggins adds.

This year, Midwest installed a Flow Mach 500 4020 featuring dual dynamic cutting heads with  ATC for the highest cutting accuracy. The waterjet’s 94,000 psi HyperJet pump allows Midwest Precision to cut twice as fast, yet uses 30 to 50 percent less abrasive and reduces part cost by as much as 30 percent.

“All waterjets exhibit stream lag and taper when cutting through material,” Riggins explains. “Our dynamic waterjet with active tolerance control compensates for these inherent errors with mathematical cutting models that control an articulated wrist to automatically tilt the head, and remove part taper.”

Work on the Mach 500 is split between OEM parts and blanking for machine shops. The machine can cut aluminum, stainless and titanium in thicknesses of ¼ in. to 4 in. “We process some plastic but 75 to 80 percent of what we cut is aluminum,” says Garbelman. “And the Mach 500’s active tolerance control gives us the flexibility to cut a true perpendicular, narrow kerf angles and sharp corners.”

With conventional systems an operator must cut past a part’s edge, loop around and circle back to the perpendicular plane to produce that feature.

FFJ 0919 waterjet image2

Flow’s dynamic waterjet with active tolerance control produces more accurate parts at higher cutting speeds.

New capabilities

“Looping allows you to cut a sharp corner but it also means you have to cut longer,” he says. “With the Flow Mach 500, we don’t have to employ looping to achieve sharp corners. The combination of their software with active tolerance control means we can really dial in our cutting techniques to maximize how we approach a part.”

Midwest Precision finds it can produce more parts in a shorter amount of time. “Previously if we wanted to cut an outside contour, we had one cutting speed available to us,” Garbelman says. “With the Mach 500, we can select different planes on the contour and approach those areas with faster or slower feed rates.”

The fabricator recently added a machine shop in the building that houses its waterjet operation. The expanded capability allows Midwest Precision to fine tune customer support.

“We’re able to look at the body of work these machine shops are doing and advise them on ways that waterjet cutting can benefit their operation,” Garbelman says. “We can help them eliminate things like burned-out blanks and heat-affected zones. But the bigger advantage is that we can give them more machine time. Machine shops that are juggling a lot of jobs either have to offload work to another job shop or consider a process that can reduce the amount of time their machines spend on a family of parts. The Mach 500 allows us to cut near-net shapes for machine shops. That is a major benefit for them because the more machine time they have, the more money they make.”

“Flow gives us capabilities we didn’t have before,” Garbelman says. “The operators love its interface and find it to be very user friendly.”

Midwest Precision still has the original waterjets it purchased, in addition to the Flow Mach 500. But Garbelman says the company can keep up with a three-machine load on the Mach 500 alone. “That’s how well it is performing,” he says. “You have to pay attention to technology and where the market is going to stay relevant. It’s very rewarding when we can show a customer a new way of doing something and prove to them that it works. We feel we have helped to take a process that at one time wasn’t very commonplace, and make it commonplace.” FFJ


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