Wednesday | 31 August, 2011 | 9:07 am

Versatility and precision

Written by By Gretchen Salois

Jet Edge uses its research and development team to improve its waterjet offerings on the market


May 2011 - When manufacturers need something cut, they turn to lasers, saws, waterjets - a number of options that suit different materials. These cut parts are shifted along through a process in which raw materials are transformed into finished products. In this case, Jet Edge, St. Michael, Minn., is attempting to change the usual fare of waterjet offerings by giving customers the option to purchase the 90KSI X-Stream pump - a pump that goes beyond the typical 50,000 psi to 60,000 psi options for customers manufacturing everything from race cars to storage racks for finished factory products.

Michael Waltrip Racing, Cornelius, N.C., produces about 30 to 40 new race cars each year, according to Jeremy VanDerLeest, the company’s waterjet manager. "The biggest reason why we wanted to bring all the parts manufacturing in-house for our race cars is because at the time [2007-2008], we were relying on someone else’s schedule," he says. "In the racing world, things change so fast that we need to be on our own schedule, on our own time."

The team at Michael Waltrip Racing uses aluminum to make fixtures and jigs for "just about anything on the car," says VanDerLeest. "NASCAR rules require that every part be in a certain location - anything from 0.02 inch to 6-inch-thick aluminum - which was the determining factor when deciding between plasma cutting, laser cutting and waterjet cutting systems." Even more intricate are the 1,000 to 1,500 parts on each car that are cut using a waterjet.

"Throughout the year, a car’s process evolves," VanDerLeest continues. "We’re never done or happy. We’re always constantly changing the profile of the part over the course of a year or two years. It’s not like we can have a big stockpile of parts because we don’t know how long certain parts may be on the race car." Because there is a constant need for maintenance on each vehicle, the benefits of a high-pressure waterjet cutter outweigh the initial investment.

"We’re cutting 30 to 40 percent faster with the 90,000 psi pump compared to the 60,000 psi pump," VanDerLeest says, noting with Jet Edge’s machine, there are less seals to replace due to its innovative design. "The replacing of seals in itself takes half an hour to change; that time is cut in half," he says.

Usually, waterjet machines have two seals that need to be replaced as they wear away. "We’ve eliminated one of the two high-pressure seals needed in a typical waterjet intensifier," says Michael Wheeler, Jet Edge research and development engineer. "With half the seals, you have half the potential points of failure," he continues. "Seals aren’t very expensive. The big cost is the downtime needed in order to change the seal - half an hour to an hour depending on the user’s proficiency."

In an industry where change is constant and timing is everything, MWR relishes time-saving solutions for an ever-changing product line and manufacturing schedule. "We want something that is accurate and durable. A lot of waterjet machines wear out in a couple of years, and we wanted to make one purchase that would last us years," VanDerLeest says.

A multifaceted machine
Speed, less water consumption and less abrasive consumption are some of the factors that convinced BMS Mfg., Milan, Ill., that Jet Edge had the waterjet it needed to complete work for its agricultural and construction clientele. "We run our machine seven to eight hours a day," says Tom Bennett, vice president of BMS. "We run a lot more plastics and foam as opposed to steel, and when we looked at plasmas, we knew while they might be better for metals, they would not work well with foams and plastics; it would melt them."

BMS receives orders from customers who need transport for their products. "They’ll send us how many parts they need on the rack and we’ll design the rack that collapses down for easy delivery to the vendor," Bennett explains, adding John Deere completes its hood assembly in the company’s Iowa plant, an hour away from BMS. "You have to get [that product] assembled to the line," he says, noting it’s essential to produce a method of transportation for parts that will prevent scratches. "We take the part, lay it on the rack, remove the part, leaving the foam with exactly the pattern needed to hold the part. We put it in the cutter and the waterjet cuts the foam. I’d say about 90 percent of our cutting is for the holders," Bennett adds.

According to Bennett, BMS first purchased its Jet Edge machine three to four years ago, and "it’s been a dream machine" because it is "low maintenance with the occasional seal change."

Future innovations
With waterjet technology constantly in flux, the research and development team at Jet Edge doesn’t believe the release of its X-Stream waterjet models allows the company to rest easy. Wheeler notes since the initial announcement of the X-Stream, the team at Jet Edge has found new materials and will explore future changes to improve the X-Stream line as well as apply innovations to other Jet Edge lines. "We’ve migrated some of the X-Stream technology, such as the high-pressure seal design, to the other lines," he says. "We recently introduced an upgrade for the dynamic seal of our iP55 line that uses technology developed while working on the X-Stream."

For the iP55 upgrade, the research team believed the cost-benefit ratio was enough where it didn’t make sense to stock the older parts. "When customers order parts that have been replaced by the upgrade, we sell them an upgrade kit with installation instructions. The upgrade improves the life of the dynamic seal and only takes a few minutes longer than a typical high-pressure seal change to install," Wheeler says.

The customer connection also draws customers to Jet Edge and maintains interest. "We have 24/7 customer service by phone and have free training for life. If you own a Jet Edge system, just schedule a visit to our headquarters with customer service, and we’ll train you how to use and maintain your system," Wheeler says. "The engineering department is practically next door to our service team, so it’s really easy for us to communicate with each other."

Customer service is a mainstay for BMS because sometimes problems pop up at odd hours. "I was talking to a Jet Edge technician at midnight one night - they’ve always been right there," Bennett says. "After visiting Jet Edge’s Minnesota factory, we didn’t feel the need to look at other waterjets."

"What originally drew us to Jet Edge is simply the quality of their machines," says VanDerLeest. "The corkscrew design of the machine requires less maintenance - just a matter of once a year, cleaning it and reapplying grease." Easy access to customer service is key for MWR as is the comfort of keeping operations in-house. "When you have an outside house doing your cutting for you, someone always seems to know what you’re doing." he says, "Investing in a Jet Edge cutter was an investment, both financially and good for secrecy." MM

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