Waterjet Cutting

The next level

By John Loos

April 2010 - The core purpose of any technological advancement is to simplify things. There are few, if any, innovations hailed for making something more complicated.

In the world of industrial equipment, engineers are continually looking for ways to increase machines’ ease of use, as well as boost productivity and reliability. If a new technology can accomplish all three, it could very well be a game-changer for the industry.

Flow International Corp., Kent, Wash., seems to have scored such an engineering hat trick with its Dynamic Waterjet XD technology, which simplifies 3-D programming and cutting while increasing shop floor efficiency and dependability.

Flow wanted to combine the speed and precision of its original Dynamic Waterjet flat-stock cutting capabilities with the advanced technology of multi-axis machines that can cut complex, 3-D parts.

"What we really wanted to do was build a system that combines those two attributes, which will allow users to cut 30 percent faster in precision flat-stock parts, and then combine it with an easy-to-program, precision, 60-degree cutting system, as well," says Tim Fabian, market manager for Flow. "Dynamic waterjets have been great for flat-stock cutting and been simple to operate, but the multi-axis programs have traditionally been so cumbersome and difficult to program that they were best suited for companies that would repeat one program many times. Programming each part would take hours upon hours to complete. What we wanted was to take the precision and ease of programming into a multi-axis world."

Cutting in a 3-D world
XD technology is available on Flow’s Mach 4 series of waterjet cutting systems and features straightforward software models built around point-and-click programming. This enables users to cut complex shapes, including 3-D bevel parts.

Dynamic Waterjet XD improves part cycle time and accuracy compared with non-Dynamic systems. It also increases speeds up to 30 percent from Flow’s regular Dynamic technology.

By cutting the complexity out of the programming, not only are there significant time savings, but companies are able to cut more sophisticated, multidimensional parts for a wider range of markets.

"Virtually any other multi-axis programming system in the world takes an hour or more of programming in order to be ready to process a part on the machine," says Fabian. "In the case of waterjets specifically, it could be several hours of programming just to produce a single part on a waterjet in a multi-axis environment. So we’ve taken our 2-D concept of art-to-part in a minute and looked at it in a 3-D world and said, ‘What can we do to apply that 2-D art-to-part technology to a 3-D world?’ And what we’ve come up with, after about 25,000 man-hours of engineering, is a system where as long as your geometry is clean coming into the system, you can produce a working multi-axis waterjet program in as little as a minute."

Flow’s original Dynamic Waterjet technology was designed to eliminate taper and other errors that can appear on waterjet-cut parts. The XD builds on these concepts, adding a full CAD package aimed at taking the tenets of 2-D accurate cutting into the third dimension.

The CAD software, FlowXpert, is geared toward the historically hard-to-predict nature of the jet’s behavior.

As Fabian explains, with a system’s jet, often, "the bottom of the stream lags behind, so when you approach a corner, you have to wait for the bottom of the stream to catch up before you change directions in order to give yourself a sharp corner. Now imagine those challenges combined with your cutting head twisting, constantly varying thicknesses as the tilt angle of the jet changes, all while also accelerating and decelerating the jet. Needless to say, a lot of effort had to go into developing models that are able to predict and compensate for all of those elements. We refer to that new technology as Smartstream technology. That’s a big component of the FlowXpert. And again, it’s the ability to take what we have perfected throughout our many years as experts of 2-D modeling and apply it to a 3-D world."

Speedy results
Electro Mechanical Solutions Inc., Vicksburg, Miss., manufactures products for the food industry, builds electrical panels and repairs electronic boards.

The breadth of its product and service offerings made the company an ideal candidate for Flow’s multidimensional cutting solution, allowing it to waterjet parts that once needed to be plasma cut, grounded out along the edges and welded to fill in spaces using complex fixturing.

In one pass, EMS’ Dynamic Waterjet XD can accomplish the same job in a fraction of the time, with the same searing elements and notably tight tolerances.

"It’s faster than any machine out there because of the taper control," says Brad Davidson, owner of EMS. "As far as your standard 2-D cutting, if you have to cut a precision part, everybody else has to slow their machine way down, which on the cost analysis drives the cost of the part up. It’s a lot more cut time, and time is money. The dynamic taper control can actually cut at 100 percent of the cut speed for that thickness of material and compensate for the taper, so you can get a much cheaper part."

Davidson also notes that the XD has helped his company cut parts and angles competitors can’t.

"We cut parts and take them to our customers, and they can’t believe it," he says. "They say, ‘You cut this on a waterjet? This is amazing.’"

Not only is EMS able to cut unique parts, it saves significantly on cutting costs, allowing the company to be extremely competitive with price quotes.

The human factor
Beyond the programming and cutting benefits of the Dynamic XD, Flow provides customers one week of training with the technology. It also has on-site specialists who visit facilities for follow-up service.

"We have application people go in and spend time with our customers," says Fabian. "A lot of the shops that these machines are going into, while they may have a laser or a plasma, this is their first 3-D cutting system. So not only do they have to learn the software, they also have to train their minds to really think in three dimensions. Thankfully, this software is designed in such a way that it really takes the learning curve out of that process."

EMS learned about Flow from a company using a different brand of waterjet that had heard of Flow’s reputation for service. EMS has experienced this firsthand, according to Davidson.

"They have excellent service," he says.

"Thirty percent of our business is repeat customers," says Fabian. "This demonstrates one reason why service and support [are] very critical. I think some companies tend to treat this area as an afterthought, as something that they have to do. But really, if you give any business an idea to expand their sales by 30 percent, they’d really be listening intuitively. We believe others would be well-served to share our fundamental belief that the quality of service drives the strength of your business and never to allow the strength of your business drive the quality of your service."

This connection to customers allows Flow to continue introducing innovative technologies. Without an understanding of what customers need, it would be hard to create the innovations that ultimately make their lives easier. FFJ

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  • Electro Mechanical Solutions Inc.
    Vicksburg, Miss.
    phone: 601/631-0138

  • Flow International Corp.
    Kent, Wash.
    phone: 253/850-3500


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