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Waterjet
Thursday | 31 May, 2012 | 11:58 am

Tool of all trades

By Gretchen Salois

The right instrument propels new business, tighter tolerances and eye-catching results

May 2012 - First impressions are unavoidable. If you walk into a room and later can’t remember how it looked, it gave you a lackluster first impression. When students walk around Valparaiso University’s campus, it is hard to miss the large aluminum marquee with the word “light” carved out in different languages. It was created with a waterjet, and that same technology helped another company produce parts without stamping dies, opening up new industries requiring intricate parts.

mm0512-waterjet-lead2Doralco Architectural Metal Solutions, Alsip, Ill., manufactures decorative exteriors, including architectural sun shades, custom awnings and shade work. Although the company is based in Illinois, the majority of its projects are shipped throughout the United States. Many projects are state funded, such as hospitals, courthouses or schools, and others are private projects, including churches and private companies.

Doralco constructed Valparaiso’s custom screenwall out of aluminum with 39 translations of the word “light” adorned across it. “The Omax software is just so much more advanced that it was much easier to complete this project than it would have been using our older machines,” says Matt JaBaay, president and CEO of Doralco.

“We’re building sun shades for a bank here in the U.S. for all their branches,” JaBaay says, adding Doralco is responsible for many storefronts for a major retail electronics company. “We’ve done everything from Lambeau Field in Wisconsin to the Seattle Seahawks stadium. In fact, there’s not much on Michigan Avenue in Chicago or in Times Square in New York that does not have some form of our product on their facades.”

After reviewing waterjets at the Fabtech trade show, Doralco purchased an Omax 80X. The company considered a number of factors, including software and hardware, operating costs, ongoing maintenance and local service support. The machine offers Doralco a larger envelope, enabling the company to cut bigger parts all at once instead of separating the material.

Another feature that appealed to the company was the ability to read multiple electronic file formats that Doralco’s older machines could not process, JaBaay says. “We got input from our shop foreman, a checklist from operators, explaining what we wanted to have,” he says. While only having had the machine a few months, the company already is experiencing faster run times.

The 80X allows for intricate parts, radiuses and curves because of Omax’s Intelli-MAX software. The company developed the motion-control technology specifically for abrasive waterjet machining, says Sandra McLain, vice president of marketing at Omax. “The Omax software ... speeds up cutting, increases precision and lowers operating costs by automatically optimizing the tool path.”

Because Doralco works with thick and thin materials, the waterjet is the most-efficient method to cut the product. “You could laser or plasma cut these metals, but these processes are not efficient with thicker materials,” JaBaay says.

Another benefit to using the waterjet is the easy interchangeability between jobs. Whether aluminum, steel or another metal, operators do not need to change tips or anything within the machine. “I could cut wood, brass, stainless then aluminum—all within 25 minutes,” JaBaay says. “The machine doesn’t care what the material is. It maintains the level of accuracy we need.”

JaBaay says there is no odor from the waterjet as there is when using a plasma or laser cutter. That’s important because Doralco’s facility is an enclosed space. “We can’t open doors to let out the smell of something burning. That was a big factor when we purchased a waterjet,” he says.

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New direction
To support operations in its internal tool room, Ringwood, Ill.-based Burnex Corp. purchased an Omax 2652 and 55100 with Tilt-A-Jet cutting heads. The company soon found the waterjets gave it the flexibility to open a completely new division, Rapid Waterjet Design. “What really interested us was the diversity of potential customers we could have,” says Scott Suhr, president. Although Burnex has a narrow scope, the waterjet allows for a larger potential scope, he adds.

Burnex is a metal stamper and former, a job shop that spans a wide array of industries, including automotive, electronics and communication parts. Designing all its stamping dies, Burnex found offering waterjet-cutting services opened up so much business, it could branch out confidently.

Using magnets, slings and a forklift, Burnex is capable of taking orders from large industrial customers. The company soon discovered unforeseen uses. “Now, we’re expanding the role of the machine,” Suhr says. “The machine gave us the ability to branch off, which wouldn’t have been possible had we not had the waterjet.”

“We’ve done some interesting jobs for a different customer base,” Suhr says. Recently, the company made a 6-foot sign for a customer’s Duesenberg auto collection. Burnex’s Rapid Waterjet Design was able to cut the sign for this individual customer, a “one-time buy,” Suhr says. The car collector brought in a large piece of steel and operators drew out a design, input it into the waterjet’s computer and produced a custom-made final product.

Suhr says the company has taken on extremely intricate projects, including finger holds for trumpets made from 1⁄8-inch-thick brass. While not a large-volume order, the customer would have been turned away prior to the installation of the waterjet.

Burnex’s Rapid Waterjet Design also works with a large forging company, pushing its Omax machines to the limit by cutting thick aluminum and steel. The pieces, as large as 8 inches thick, go to the forging company’s metallurgical lab to prove out for its forging process.

The machine’s flexibility works well because an operator who has run a small-footprint machine can operate the large tables easily, says McLain. “The process is the same whether you are cutting large or small parts. It’s simply a matter of bringing up a drawing file and calling out the material and thickness,” she says. “If you are cutting very, very small, detailed parts, you might want to consider using a smaller jewel and mixing tube.”

“While the accuracy of the waterjet is not being tested, the sheer horsepower needed to cut these thick materials successfully is very important,” Suhr says. “I’ve been following waterjet for eight years, but it wasn’t until recently that the accuracy got where we felt Burnex needed it to be.”

In a competitive economy, reducing lead times was also a major draw for Burnex when considering Omax. “It changed the way we start our tool-building process,” Suhr says. “Before, if we had a block of a die opening, we would have purchased a block of steel, put it on a mill, drilled holes, tapped it—now I’m getting billets of steel and cutting it out on the waterjet.

“It’s been critical in helping us shave off two weeks worth of lead time,” he continues. “With customers today, lead times are critical, and such a reduction was an unexpected advantage.” “We bought what we thought we were buying,” JaBaay says. “Sometimes, you make the purchase only to find out it’s only 80 percent as good as they said it would be, but that’s not the case here. We haven’t run into any problems.” MM

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