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Waterjet Cutting

Working on a dream

By John Loos

October 2009 - It takes courage to start any business. It also takes months of planning, coordinating and financing, not to mention long hours and loads of patience.

Imagine, then, putting forth a back-breaking effort to start a precision cutting business, only to have the economy implode just as you’re opening your doors.

That’s what happened to Louisiana Cutting, Baton Rouge, La., and yet a year later, business is booming.

The brainchild of two ambitious Louisiana State University engineering graduates, Louisiana Cutting took a nontraditional approach to starting its operations and, with the help of KMT Waterjet Systems Inc., Baxter Springs, Kan., and Esab Welding & Cutting Products, Florence, S.C., created a unique cutting table with seemingly endless cutting options.

Co-owners Nick Jacob and Clint Schonacher opted to distinguish their business and increase their capabilities exponentially by installing both a waterjet and an Esab m3 plasma cutting system on a self-built table with a cutting envelope of 17 ft. by 41 ft. Powering the waterjet is KMT Waterjet Systems’ Streamline SL-V Plus 150-hp intensifier pump.

The resulting breadth of the system set the company apart from metal processors in the region, even before it opened its doors.

"It’s impressive what [Jacob and Schonacher] have been able to do, and I think a lot of it has to do with two things," says Bryon Machado, area manager South for KMT. "First and foremost, Nick and Clint are from Baton Rouge and they graduated from LSU with degrees in mechanical engineering, so they had a head start in understanding the industrial market sector. Second, because the area is diversified with shipyards and petrochemicals, along with close proximity to New Orleans and Houston, they developed their business to cut extremely large as well as small raw materials. They chose a combination waterjet/plasma system that also gave them unlimited possibilities. The combination of the two cutting systems and the large table for complex and heavy steel provided them with a unique value-added service for their customers."

Table talk
In the year and a half Jacob and Schonacher spent planning and building their business, they looked at several cutting tables from different manufacturers, but they ultimately decided to build their own--and build it big.

In the hot summer months of 2008--we’re talking a southern Louisiana summer--Jacob and Schonacher spent weeks and weekends working 16- to 20-hour days, building their office space and then their cutting table. The immense size of the table, in particuar, might’ve seemed like a risky decision to the outside eye. However, it’s become a central part of the company’s success.

"Our thought process was, if we didn’t go big enough, we were creating more risk," says Schonacher. "We had to have something to differentiate ourselves, at least so when we go out and sell ourselves, we can say we can do something different than everyone else. And the two biggest things with that are the combination cutting and the size of the table. That, in and of itself, is going to get you some work that no one else out there can do."

So far, the vast cutting possibilities afforded by the large table and the combination cutting setup have piqued the interest of many customers in the area.

"As far as getting our message out there, it’s been well-received by customers," says Jacob. "We really try our best to meet their needs. Quite often we give them two or three quotes, one for waterjet, combination and/or plasma, and then explain the advantages and disadvantages of each."

Louisiana Cutting’s waterjet can cut materials up to 9 in. thick, and its plasma handles material up to 1.5 in. thick. It also offers plate beveling for plates between 0.25 in. thick and 1.5 in. thick, and it has a 15-ton crane for loading and unloading the table.

Pump it up
For a major waterjet manufacturer like KMT, being a part of the Louisiana Cutting narrative and helping a pair of LSU graduates see their waterjet business come to life was particularly satisfying--and in line with how KMT works and collaborates with its customers.

"We don’t look at KMT as just a pump for a price," says Machado. "KMT offers incredible options when you buy a complete waterjet system through one of our OEM integrators, and on the back side, KMT will assist you in any way possible to help with your business development and the growth of your business with waterjet cutting."

The Streamline SL-V Plus 150-hp intensifier pump KMT supplied Louisiana Cutting features proportional pressure control, easy-to-access intensifiers and two intensifiers that can each use up to 100 hp and deliver 2 gpm. Because the intensifiers are larger, the stroking is slower for smoother performance and longer seal life. There’s also the option to add a third intensifier as a backup pressure source. Overall, the pump provides 60,000 psi of continuous pressure.

"It’s a pretty unique pump," says Bob Pedrazas, marketing manager for KMT. "There’s not too many of them like it out there. Based on what [Louisiana Cutting] needed for the thickness of materials they would be cutting, including multiple cutting heads, we supplied a powerful 150-hp pump with two intensifiers, which gives them the ability to cut with only one intensifier at the time, allowing them to change the seals on the other, which is about a half hour worth of work. They wanted to make sure they wouldn’t have downtime, that they could cut whenever they needed to."

Beyond supplying the pump, KMT has also assisted Louisiana Cutting in finding customers, sending mailing materials, even creating videos for YouTube that demonstrate what the new company can do.

In its role, Esab sent field technician Luis Romero down to Louisiana Cutting for three weeks to help install and refine the combination cutting system. During that time, Jacob and Schonacher were determined to learn as much about their machine as possible, making the installation experience hands-on and collaborative.

"For myself and Esab, seeing two young guys make such a big investment, it was obviously very important to us that the system was top-notch," says Romero. "It’s almost more like a partnership, where we try to provide the best service we can for them. Personally, they know if they have a problem, they can give me a ring anytime."

"Working with those guys was wonderful," he adds.

With allies like KMT and Esab, its unique combination cutting capabilities and its oversized cutting table, Louisiana Cutting demonstrates how optimism, fortitude and bold aspirations can be an effective repellant to a sour economy. Even though, for most of the nation, business went south at the end of last year, for one Southern company that opened its doors last September, productivity and success have consistently pointed north.

"The next step is to get a new machine and maybe start hiring once that time comes," says Schonacher. "We’ll take it one step at a time, but we’re going to keep progressing."

Jacob agrees, adding, "If you’re good at it, work hard and enjoy what you do, chances are you’re going to be successful." FFJ

 

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