Thursday | 09 November, 2017 | 1:24 pm

Clear advantage

By Colin Linneweber

Above: Jet Edge’s Edge X-5 waterjet machine offers dual cutting heads for improved productivity.

New cutting system advances a machine shop’s ability to land more challenging work

November 2017 - The owner of a machine shop recently ascertained that his company should acquire a hardier, more versatile cutting solution than the plasma and arc gouging systems he initially thought would work to fulfill a major contract for a paper mill project.

“The project we quoted involved fabricating and machining a wet end frame section for a paper mill using [grade] 316L stainless steel,” says Lloyd Smith at Gulf Machine Shop Inc., Lake Charles, Louisiana. “We would have had to cut the plate using plasma and arc gouging, either of which would have required a great amount of time for knocking the slag off and then setting the plates on a mill for a second operation to finish cutting the parts to the correct dimensions.”

The company ended up improvising and finishing the job successfully with the existing equipment, but “a larger 5-axis machine would have made that job a lot easiser,” says Smith, who soon began researching abrasive waterjet cutting systems. He felt this step was necessary to avoid wasting man hours on removing slag or temporarily shelving his mill to replace shopworn parts.

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The Edge X-5 is capable of cutting parts 12 inches thick and is used in a broad range of industries.

Smith found one machine in particular, Jet Edge Inc.’s Edge X-5 5-axis model, to be compelling. While continuing to shop around, Smith was pleasantly surprised when a Jet Edge employee sent him a quote on the machine before he even received a purchase order from the paper mill.

The Edge X-5 features a 21-foot by 13-foot work envelope and customized stainless steel tank, and is powered by a 60,000 psi, 150 hp Jet Edge iP60-150 intensifier pump. With its dual 5-axis heads and freestanding gentry design, X-5 can process any type of metal plate and sheet.

Previous methods

“Prior to the waterjet, we cut all carbon steel plate with oxy-acetylene flame cutting,” says Smith. “Any stainless, nickel alloy, Monel or Hastelloy was [processed] either by plasma flame cutting or by arc-air gouging. All of these methods required cleaning slag from the cut material and most, if not all, required secondary machining to get past the heat-affected zone and get the part to the correct dimensions.”

After a plate comes off his new waterjet table, he says, “there is no longer any secondary machining necessary to get the plate to the correct dimensions and to get the cut down past the heat-affected zone before moving it onto our fab shop. This has freed up our machines that were required to do the secondary machining.”

Clean cutting

The Edge X-5, available with tables ranging from 5 feet by 5 feet to 13 feet by 24 feet and capable of cutting parts 12 inches thick, is effective for multiple applications. Users include machine and job shops, shipbuilders, automotive, service center and aerospace manufacturing sectors.

“Our waterjet cutting system ensures minimal downtime and the freestanding gantry design allows the customer to process extremely heavy materials with no consequence to the motion system’s accuracy or repeatability,” says Jet Edge President Steve Murray.

The Mid Rail system covers the critical motion components with fabricated sheet-metal enclosures and incorporates a high-volume blower on each enclosure to produce a positive pressure condition. “This ensures that no environmental contaminants are introduced to the ways, ball screws or ball nuts,” keeping the machine itself and processed material equally clean.

Ball nuts are adjustable and can be periodically preloaded to compensate for normal wear over longer periods. “This saves the customer downtime and money by greatly prolonging the life of the ball screw and ball nut assembly,” Murray says.

Operating two 5-axis heads simultaneously “greatly increases throughput. This means quicker turnaround times for their customers and increased workload capacity on the system.”

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Gulf Machine Shop was established in 1953.

Multi-material strategy

The Edge X-5 has provided Gulf Machine Shop production floor workers with the tool necessary to complete more jobs in a comparatively easy manner. For example, Gulf can now cut plates to size in one pass and handle a wider array of materials such as carbon steel and all alloy plates, wood, plastics, granite and limestone, firebrick and sandstone. The shop now cuts steel as thick as 6 inches, firebrick up to 9 inches thick and alloy plates up to 3 inches thick.

“The parts we are required to make are much more complicated than they were 15 to 20 years ago, and even five years ago,” says Smith. The new waterjet machine “was a very worthwhile investment. I would hate to have to do without it, or without the Jet Edge High Rail system we’ve owned since 1999,” Smith says.

He can name several complex orders the shop has been able to complete that were not available before the new equipment was installed. For example, “we have cut a number of heat exchanger tube sheets where the sheets are placed in the shell at an angle to the shell centerline, instead of perpendicular to the centerline of the shell. With this configuration, it is necessary to cut the holes in the tube sheets at an angle, and they must be cut in an elliptical shape instead of a circle.”

Downloading drawings

Smith also appreciates Jet Edge’s software package, multiple cutting head options and simplicity. “Having the capabilities to program movements from the operator station, or to use an AutoCAD drawing and convert to a .dxf file, or for my customer to e-mail me an AutoCAD file that we could save in a .dxf format and download to the machine really impressed me,” he says.

The option of having dual cutting heads “is very beneficial as well. Plus, we are pleased with the ease of maintenance of the systems.” All areas of the machine where maintenance must be performed are easily accessible, he says.

He will consider buying another machine in the foreseeable future.

“One of the things I like best about the Jet Edge system is that it is designed and built in the United States,” Smith comments. “That is important to me because I am a firm believer that we need to keep American jobs in our country.” MM

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