Waterjet Getting Smaller by the Day
Accuracy improvements allow today’s waterjet machines to cut smaller parts with greater precision.
By Dan Markham, Senior Editor
Service centers are on a never-ending mission to increase their value proposition for their customers. This has led many of them to offer more and more processing services once thought exclusively the province of end-users. One of the services that distributors are now offering with increasing frequency is complex parts cutting, through machines such as waterjets.
In response, waterjet manufacturers continue to refine the capabilities and operations of their machines to make them a more viable option for service centers looking to expand their cutting capabilities.
“Today’s waterjets are so much faster, more accurate and less expensive to operate than the machines that were available even a few years ago,” says Jesse Tilley, regional business manager for Flow International Corp., Kent, Wash. “For a metal service center, faster cutting means more parts in a day, more accurate means they can appeal to more customers with tighter accuracy measurements and less expensive to operate means more profit.”
Stephen Bruner, vice president of marketing for Kent, Wash.-based Omax Corp., says the higher levels of accuracy allow customers to expand their offerings. “One of the trends we’re seeing is the idea of mezzo machining, the machining of very small parts with a high degree of accuracy. The boundaries of where waterjet has applicability is expanding.”
The newest developments in the technology allow the machines to cut with a positional accuracy of close to 15 microns, putting it on par with EDM. An equally significant development with waterjet technology is improved ability to keep the equipment running.
“Over the past few years, the single biggest change we’ve seen in the industry is the demand for customers for an elimination of unscheduled downtime and more predictable maintenance,” Tilley says. “Waterjets had a reputation for requiring a skilled maintenance person on staff, and it was preventing some shops from looking further at waterjet.”
On its latest machines, Flow is emphasizing more predictable uptime and preventive maintenance, as well as exchange programs to ensure the equipment is ready. The comprehensive plans cover maintenance and service for two years, supplying all the consumable parts.
More advanced smart machining also eases upkeep concerns. Software developments allow the machines to inform the operators on many key maintenance issues, such as garnet levels or expected life on parts.
“It can give you up-to-date status reports on some of the critical indicators as a waterjet owner you should know about,” Bruner says. “It’s giving people visibility when they’re at a spot when they might need to think about replacing a part.”
Another inescapable fact for service centers in today’s industrial climate is the difficulty of finding skilled labor for the shop floor. Waterjet equipment makers are hoping to reduce the manpower challenges by making machines as user-friendly as possible.
“Once we install a waterjet on-site at a customer’s facility, we provide some training over the course of three days, and then they are fully capable of cutting parts,” Bruner says. “And often times, if you have a user who knows a few things about CAD programming, they catch on quicker and can be cutting parts the same day.”
Tilley agrees. “Waterjets are typically the easiest machine to run in the shop.”