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Waterjet Cutting

Automation (squared)

By Abbe Miller

Devin Avilez, shop foreman at Fabricating Distributor Inc., Mesa, Ariz., is one tough customer. For someone who produces automation equipment on a daily basis, it’s anything but an easy sell when he strolls into an equipment manufacturer’s showroom. When it comes to purchasing equipment for his own operations, he’s just as discriminating as his customers.

"When we were looking at waterjets, being an automated machinery builder myself, I looked at the engineering, the style and the way that they were actually built--the entire construction of the machine," he says. "Equipment like a waterjet isn’t cheap, and it’s not my money that I’m dealing with. If the [company’s] owners are going to ask me to spend their money, I’m going to do my homework."

After close study of what was available on the marketplace, Avilez decided on a 4-ft.-by-8-ft., 87,000-psi Dynamic Waterjet with FlowMaster software from Flow International Corp., Kent, Wash. The construction of the equipment more than satisfied Avilez’s stringent requirements.

"I even told the salesmen that I wasn’t going to buy just anything," he says. "Just looking at [the waterjet], I could tell. We build automated machines here, and we know strength and what makes a machine work. We know what makes equipment last for a long time."

Bringing it in-house
Fabricating Distributor, in business for 13 years, produces equipment for just about anyone looking to automate their production processes. The company’s customers explain what type of automation they could use to streamline their operations, and Fabricating Distributor sends its in-house engineers to determine what type of machinery will fulfill the need. Solutions often include fixturing robots, and the industries the company has served include agriculture and automotive--and that’s just the A’s.

Beyond its expertise in customized machinery, Avilez says the company also acts as a typical fabrication shop. "We’ll still turn out a shaft for Farmer John if he needs it."

Before purchasing the Flow waterjet, Fabricating Distributor relied on an outside company for any waterjet cutting that was needed to complete a job. "We outsourced to a company here in town, and I don’t know how many thousands of dollars we were spending, but it was a lot," Avilez explains. "We got into a job that was going to cost $100,000 to have it outsourced, and that’s when I looked at buying my own."

Anyone familiar with a waterjet knows the beauty of the machine is that there’s hardly a material out there that it doesn’t cut. Fabricating Distributor uses its waterjet to cut "a lot of steel and stainless steel," says Avilez. "We also cut aluminum, as well as all of our plastics and polycarbonates. We do a lot of plastic, but steel, stainless steel and aluminum are what we primarily use it for. But again, we didn’t want to be handcuffed. We didn’t want to be stuck with a plasma machine that could only do so much. And there’s where we’ve become successful--trying to do as much as we can in-house."

Time to spare
The Flow waterjet is still a relatively new piece of equipment for the company, but since February, it’s become just as important as Fabricating Distributor’s pre-existing equipment, a collection largely made up of CNCs. Before its arrival, the company was basically an all-CNC machine shop, comprising CNC mills and lathes. Now, the waterjet does a lot of the work that the mills used to handle. "I have a lot of stuff that I just waterjet, but I also have some stuff that I pre-waterjet for my machine shop," Avilez says. "With the waterjet, I started oversizing parts, so when they come off the waterjet, I just throw them right onto the mills. It cuts a lot of time off the job."

With the time that can be picked up rough-cutting parts on the waterjet, Avilez says he’s not worried about the material loss that comes from experimenting. The scrap involved with trying to cut a part on the waterjet that ultimately might not work can still be worth the try. "We do mess around with it, but for the most part, it’s really starting to be a pain in the butt because I can’t walk away from it," Avilez admits. "I’ve got guys that say, ‘Hey, let’s do this. Let’s throw that on there.’" There are parts that aren’t conducive to pre-waterjetting, but when it does work out, the savings can be monumental.

"We had a grinding ring fixture that took about six hours to machine," he says. "Actually, it took longer than six hours just to rough it out. The last one we did only took two hours. I knocked off four hours just by waterjetting it." The time factor is an obvious saving, but it isn’t the only benefit. With the waterjet sharing the CNCs’ workload, the company’s mills should see extended life spans. With the short amount of time that the waterjet has been on the job, these benefits haven’t been witnessed to their full extent, but as time passes, Avilez foresees these advantages coming into light even more.

Running at Mach 3
The 87,000-psi technology, developed exclusively by Flow, allows users to work at an accelerated pace. It cuts up to twice as fast as a standard 60,000-psi unit while using 30 percent to 50 percent less abrasive. It’s been said the cutting velocity actually reaches Mach 3. So when speeds are at their maximum, whether it’s regarding a waterjet or, say, a fighter jet, a little bit of control and accuracy can be lost. With the Flow Dynamic waterjet system with active tolerance control, though, that’s not an issue. According to literature Flow released, the Dynamic system uses an advanced motion system that "incorporates mathematical cutting models, which control a small, articulated wrist that’s attached to the cutting head. The wrist allows the cutting head to tilt in any direction, compensating for the stream lag and taper experienced with conventional waterjet cutting machines."

Add the company’s proprietary FlowMaster software, and operators can keep cutting accuracy and tolerances at an even greater level. The FlowMaster software dictates the position of the cutting head and automatically knows the slightest amount of tilt or rotation that’s needed to make the most precise cut. Cutting outside corners at 87,000 psi requires an increased tilt, but the operator barely has to worry about the minor adjustments needed to prevent issues such as coning. The software is designed to handle cuts of all kinds and on a variety of material.

Avilez says he’s especially pleased with the Dynamic system when he pulls a part off of the cutting table. "There are a lot of times that if it’s an outside edge, I don’t have to finish it at all," he says. "Before, we’d have to run an end mill around the entire thing."

All in all, it’s the sheer speed of the machine that gets Avilez excited. "That high of a pressure just allows me to cut faster," he says. "When you go to get a quote, it’s all about time. If I can cut it in 10 minutes and it’s taking my competitor 14 minutes, I can sell it to my customer cheaper than the other guy because I can do more per hour. That’s probably the thing that I like the most." FFJ

Sources

  • Fabricating Distributor Inc.
    Mesa, Ariz.
    phone: 480/988-2477
    fax: 480/988-2491

  • Flow International Corp.
    Kent, Wash.
    phone: 253/850-3500
    fax: 253/813-9377
    www.flowcorp.com
    e-mail: info@flowcorp.com

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