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The Metal Machining Versatility of Abrasive Waterjets

The Metal Machining Versatility of Abrasive Waterjets

The Metal Machining Versatility of Abrasive Waterjets

In today’s dynamic manufacturing world, flexibility and versatility is the name of the game. Those shops that adapt and succeed are those that have moved beyond a single-purpose machinery mentality and embraced highly versatile multi-purpose technologies. Article by Joshua Swainston, OMAX Corp.

Innovation dictates how and what we machine. Steel and aluminum are standards, but new alloys are changing how we construct everything, from key rings to airplanes. On top of this, customer demands continue to change. When they do, your machine shop must adapt and change as well.

In today’s dynamic manufacturing world, flexibility is the name of the game, and those shops that adapt and succeed are those that have moved beyond a single-purpose machinery mentality and embraced highly versatile multi-purpose technology such as abrasive waterjet cutting.

Abrasive waterjet is a method of material cutting using a high-pressure stream of water to erode a narrow cut in the part stock material. To cut a wider range of materials from tool steel to titanium to foam, a granular (typically garnet) abrasive is added to the waterjet, increasing its cutting power.

Waterjet manufactures, such as OMAX Corp., often offer an array of additional features and specialized software that further enhance waterjet machining with such capabilities as beveled cutting and taper compensation, among others. With the versatility of an abrasive waterjet, you and your shop are ready for whatever part material changes may happen in the future.

Figure 2: Waterjets come in an array of sizes to meet your shop’s needs and capabilities.

Controlling workflows and costs

Most machine shops will tell you cost control and short turnaround times are the most important aspects to running a profitable operation. One of the major reasons a shop decides to purchase an abrasive waterjet is to bring advanced cutting capabilities in house, which has the potential to pay huge dividends. Outsourcing metal cutting and near netting eats into turn-around times and profit margins. By having a waterjet on your own shop floor, you control your workflow and costs, and no other shop knows this better than Titan Boats in Vancouver, Canada.

Titan Boats was spending time and money outsourcing its waterjet cutting, and according to Jennifer Michell, Organization Development Manager for Titan Boats, the reason was logistics. “Living on Vancouver Island means that the proximity to a waterjet machine that would meet the size requirements of our vessels, would have to be done off island,” she explained. “With that bears shipping costs and lead time waits. We wanted to eliminate those added expenses by the purchase of our waterjet.”

By adding its own abrasive waterjet, the shop was able to streamline its workflow and cut production times from several weeks to a few days.

In terms of types of material cut, an abrasive waterjet is the most versatile cutting method available. Where EDM specifically cuts electrically conductive materials, and laser is limited to thin, non-reflective metals, abrasive waterjet cuts virtually every metal on the market. Abrasive waterjet machines cut steel, aluminum, brass, copper, titanium, Inconel, chromel, cupronickel, and basically every other type of metal.

In particular, abrasive waterjet is excellent at cutting titanium (over other methods of manufacturing) as the jetstream of the waterjet never dulls, eliminating the need for time-consuming tool changes. Cutting metal on an abrasive waterjet is particularly attractive as the cut product has no heat affected zones (HAZ) or material distortion, often removing the need for secondary machining.

Versatility and accuracy

Venable Machine Works is another shop that now benefits from abrasive waterjet cutting for its part production operations. The Saskatoon, Canada, shop bought its OMAX 55100 in 2011, and Dan Wingerak, Venable’s machine shop foreman, explains his thinking when purchasing a waterjet. “When deciding between a flame, plasma, laser, or waterjet, we decided to go with the waterjet due to the precise cutting, option with no heat or heat affected distortion, and the ability to cut almost any type of material,” he said.

Lasers are typically extremely expensive and require extensive training for operators. Plasma can produce noxious fumes (depending on the material cut) and leave a rough-cut surface. For a machine shop weighing its machine tool options, a waterjet is a relatively inexpensive, clean and useful alternative.

In addition to its versatility in materials, abrasive waterjet handles the full spectrum of part sizes. For instance, abrasive waterjet is pushing the extremes when it comes to micro and macro machining. Used in medical, national defense, and circuitry applications, the MicroMAX JetMachining Center from OMAX, for example, is capable of a positioning accuracy within five microns. On the larger side, the OMAX 120X series, offered with a customizable cutting bed that can reach up to 40 feet by 10 feet, is being used in large tank fabrication as well as architectural metal and glass. The size of the finished product is only limited by the size of the waterjet’s cutting table, allowing a manufacturer to work as small or as large as needed without additional specialty equipment.

For K&W Tool from Michigan in the United States, the durability of its two abrasive waterjet machines is a huge benefit for the contract fabrication shop. “We use both of our OMAX 120X waterjets at least ten hours a day; if we are busy, we run them both 24/7,” said Camren Kring, Project Manager at K&W. “The ease of use and low maintenance associated with abrasive waterjet make them nearly capable of non-stop machining.”

K&W also added the OMAX A-jet accessory to its waterjets. With a cutting range from 0° to 60°, the A-Jet can easily cut beveled edges, angled sides, and countersinks. Advanced features in OMAX’s IntelliMAX Software Suite allow the A-Jet to compensate for taper and easily create complex 3D shapes. The A-Jet is a completely software-controlled multi-axis cutting head that greatly expands K&W’s versatility.

Software matters

The versatility of an abrasive waterjet is only as good as its software. Using underperforming software with an off-brand waterjet will result in off-spec parts. On the other hand, using software programmed with the unique characteristics of the waterjet in mind, coupled with a superior machine, results in excellent machining.

OMAX has made its software easy to use. With OMAX’s IntelliMAX software, the operator enters the material type and thickness, then the software calculates and controls the cutting. The machinability is already factored into the software. If an operator entered in a new design into the IntelliMAX MAKE program—the program that controls the waterjet—for instance, they will be prompted by a screen with a dropdown list of various material types. This dropdown list contains over 60 different materials ranging from red oak to Inconel to PVC and everything in between. Additional materials can be entered in manually, and after an operator enters the material and thickness, they are ready to cut. At any time, an operator can reset the material by a simple click of a button.

With the development of its ProtoMAX, OMAX incorporated all the versatility benefits of large abrasive waterjet cutters into a sleek and economical small abrasive waterjet that is perfect for job shops, engineering classrooms, makerspaces, personal use, and people like Dan Dumphy.

Dumphy started his own business, Dumphy Cycle Machining, in 2018 with the aid of the ProtoMAX, the first personal waterjet on the market.

What convinced Dumphy to use waterjet to start his business was the software. “The programming software is so easy to learn if you have general machining experience or use of CAD software. We can simply load an image and adjust it as needed, where CAM software on CNC mills and lathes can get a little tricky and time consuming. Plus, it’s simple to draw up a part from scratch,” he said.

The right cutting tool

Any shop machining metal needs a machine tool that can adapt to changing markets, that is easy to use, and that can produce precision parts. For fabrication shops, single purpose machines can be a deal breaker; and for manufacturers, it can be limiting. Shops don’t want to turn away work due to inadequate capabilities, nor do they want to suffer the cost of retooling with every product change.

In the rapidly changing world of machining, you need a tool that can accommodate any metal variation. With abrasive waterjet, you can be assured you have the right cutting tool to easily work whatever metal your company may come across tomorrow or in the future.


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