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Waterjet Cutting

The power of yes

By John Loos

April 2009 - Yes. What a wonderful word. In business, it’s the response everyone is looking for because each yes uttered means more progress, more opportunity, more success. Each time companies have to say no to a customer, or vice versa, progress, opportunities and potential successes are lost.

For many, the waterjet is the ultimate yes machine. It can cut almost anything and can provide seemingly limitless new capabilities for companies once hindered by antiquated cutting processes.

With this in mind, Richard Ward, owner and president of WardJet Inc., Tallmadge, Ohio, is on a mission to create waterjet machines of unsurpassed potential.

"We want people to see our waterjets as a system that can grow with you," says Ward. "You can add multiple cutting heads because there’s open architecture. You can add multiple functionality, like drilling, tapping, marking and etching, all within one program and all fully automatic."

Ward, a native of Zimbabwe, started a waterjet consulting business in Ohio in 1995 that gradually began reconditioning and reinstalling used machines. Ward saw firsthand the advantages and disadvantages of waterjet technology on the market at the time, and he ultimately decided to use his field experience to start WardJet. From the get-go, Ward wanted to manufacture what he felt were superior waterjet cutting machines while empowering the customers in ways they hadn’t been before.

"We didn’t want to follow traditional methods," says Ward. "With capital equipment, you have dealers and distributors, and they can charge 20 to 30 percent. It forces the prices up and creates potential misrepresentation of a product. An overenthusiastic distributor, if his living depends on making a sale, might promise something that’s actually not perceivable. I wanted to completely remove that from the picture. That means we sell direct."

Baring all
Along with its direct-sell approach, WardJet has gone to great lengths to equip users with extensive knowledge of its machines and complete control over their operation and service.

"We wanted our customers to be able to service their equipment without talking to us," says Ward. "A lot of manufacturers are like the printer model, where you buy a printer for $80 but the ink’s $800. You become a captive audience because you can’t buy the printer without the ink. We took a fairly bold approach and went the other direction. We give people all the part numbers and [from what manufacturer] we purchased each part. We try to have as much openness as we can."

WardJet also accomplishes this by offering more than 60 instructional videos on its Web site, along with dozens of PDFs, photos, troubleshooting articles and even a waterjet encyclopedia, or "wiki."

Further, WardJet’s X-series controller, which is Windows XP-based and fully network-able, has touch-screen capabilities, a built-in video camera and a direct connection to WardJet’s technical support, which, if given permission, can remotely assume total control of a company’s waterjet.

Beyond that, the X-series controller’s wireless capabilities give users full control over their waterjet from their personal digital assistant or computer. WardJet’s WebEx online meeting center allows customers or potential customers to connect with a technician, see video demonstrations, walk through the nuances of the X-series controller or even view the construction of the waterjet they ordered.

This level of openness would unnerve some company owners used to proprietary secrecy, but not Ward. "We decided the reason we’re building the machines isn’t for our competitors, it’s for people who are interested in using the technology," he says. "And as a result, we will, to a large extent, bare all."

Growth potential
Of course, having such an array of control features and tutorial resources means little if the waterjets aren’t solidly built and flexible in function. Both WardJet’s Z-series, which has work envelopes ranging from 4 ft. by 5 ft. to 8 ft. by 13 ft., and the larger R-series, which has standard sizes up to 40 ft. long and 17 ft. wide, are designed to be expandable and come with five-axis cutting heads, with room for up to nine, depending on the size of the gantry. These additional cutting heads can be applied to one carriage or to multiple independent carriages, thanks to a lip seal design.

On top of this, WardJet’s machines can be equipped with drilling, tapping, etching and marking capabilities; can have up to 12 in. of Z-axis travel and have modular, multipurpose grating systems that allow parts to be loaded and clamped down from any side of the table.

Because of these myriad growth options, Evans & Sons Welding Service Inc., Austell, Ga., a family-owned, specialized fabrication shop for trade shows and museums, decided WardJet’s Z-45 machine was well-suited for the increasingly diverse requests the company had been receiving from customers. "We wanted to enhance the services we could offer our customers," says Tim Evans, co-owner of Evans & Sons. "Piece cutting was the last thing we sourced out. Keeping all of the different things we do in-house allows us to complete jobs for our customers with faster turnarounds."

Although it’s among the smallest machines WardJet offers, the Z-45’s sturdy construction and expandability was attractive to Evans, his brother Scott and his father, Gary. Even with a 4-ft.-by-5-ft. envelope, the waterjet can handle 5-ft.-wide material of virtually any length and has room for an additional cutting head to potentially double production.

"We felt the Z-45 was just what we were looking for," says Evans. "We wanted a unit that didn’t have the limitations some of the other [waterjets] had. We like it because it seems to be built with some of the similar characteristics of their bigger machines, as it’s accurate, and it’s a good, quality-made machine." Evans says the Z-45 has "dramatically increased" his company’s turnaround times and has added new jobs now within its capabilities. For the first time, Evans & Sons is cutting acrylics as well as laminates for interested exhibit houses.

Evans also points out that the technician who installed the Z-45 was a great source of information on the machine, as were the training classes he and his brother attended at WardJet’s headquarters.

"Before the sale, they answered all questions we had, invited us to see how the machines are built and took the time to make sure the machine was tailored to what we needed," says Evans.

For Ward, this level of attentiveness is what he hopes will define his company because it’s a customer service philosophy rooted in that freeing concept of yes.

"I tell my research and development team, ‘What’s the question? Because the answer needs to be yes,’" says Ward. "Can I add a drill? Can I dispense a silicon bead? Can I mark this? Can I mount a camera and use the entire gantry as a digitizer? Can I have automatic height sensing or crash sensing? Can I add multiple five-axis cutting heads? So far, the answer to everything I’ve told you is, ‘Yes, you can.’" FFJ

Sources

  • Evans & Sons Welding Service Inc.
    Austell, Ga.
    phone: 770/948-9844

  • WardJet Inc.
    Tallmadge, Ohio
    phone: 330/677-9100
    fax: 330/677-9121
    www.wardjet.com
    e-mail: sales@wardjet.com

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