Friday | 30 September, 2011 | 10:22 am

Shaping spaces

Written by By Gretchen Salois

Using a waterjet to create custom designs

September 2011 - Ambience can lull a frenzied crowd or awaken a complacent shopper. Decor or a room’s color palate can transform a space, making an area conducive for studying in a library or luring potential patrons to a department store. More than just installing a few light bulbs and switches, there are many components that bring together a lighting scheme, converting a nondescript space into an inviting locale.

Established in 1955, Designers Metalcraft, East Bridgewater, Mass., continues to serve its customers by working on a variety of projects spanning a range of industries, including commercial lighting, automotive, defense, electronics, medical, furniture, signage, point-of-purchase displays and more. “We pride ourselves on service and quality. We think of ourselves as an extension of our customer,” says Mark Svizzero, president of Designers Metalcraft.

Open 24 hours a day and a minimum of five days a week, Designers Metalcraft has seen tremendous growth as a result of its Flow Dynamic Waterjet. “Before we purchased the Flow Dynamic Waterjet, we were only able to work with thin-gauge sheet metal. Now, not only can we cut thicker metal, we can cut almost any material,” says Rob Anthony, general manager at Designers Metalcraft. Anthony works to help customers form ideas or help create custom designs for lighting fixtures seen anywhere from libraries and universities to large department stores.

“A part might start out with four different components and we work toward reducing the number of components to a part, making it less complicated and easier to work with. We pass that savings on to the customer,” Anthony says.

No room for downtime
Every machine needs routine maintenance checks to ensure optimal performance. Central Cal Metals, Fresno, Calif., has two Flow International Corp. waterjet machines, the Mach 3-4020b and Mach 3-7320b. Purchasing its first waterjet resulted in additional requests from customers and Central Cal invested in an additional machine from Kent, Wash.-based Flow. Purchasing a Flow waterjet “increased our capabilities,” says Patrick Matarazzo, vice president, Central Cal Metals. “In the past, we rarely had requests for parts that were thicker than 1 inch or longer than 10 feet because most of our customers knew we were unable to cut those sizes. However, after we purchased the Flow waterjet machines and explained that our capacities have increased, we now get requests for thicker and longer parts.” 

Central Cal has 29 laser machines and seven press brakes. “We like to have more than one of a machine,” Matarazzo says. “By having two machines, customers aren’t inconvenienced because their orders are late.” Central Cal realized the added value to running additional Flow machines. “We’re very familiar with lasers,” he says. “Waterjet is a much simpler machine. You don’t necessarily need an experienced operator to run the machine. We typically have the newest guys in the plant operate the waterjet. If you can use a Windows-based PC, you can operate the waterjet versus a laser.” When a waterjet machine is not working, “you either fix the pump or slow the machine down,” Matarazzo says.

“The ease of use was surprising,” Matarazzo continues. “After buying the first one, we bought the second one 10 months later. It meets our expectations.” Losing productivity is costly and can hurt more than the bottom line: It can stifle future business. Jason Martineau, national sales manager at Penn Stainless Products, Quakertown, Pa., says Penn added an additional Flow machine to its shop “not so much to prevent down time but to reduce the 15-day lead time down to seven or eight days instead,” Martineau says. “We have one facility processing in Quakertown, Pa., but we do ship internationally with parts going out to Canada and Brazil.”

Having pumps rated at 94,000 psi allows the company to meet customer orders and welcome new business. “We serve the petrochemical, pharmaceutical, power and other industries utilizing stainless steel. Flow’s Dynamic Waterjet will articulate as it’s cutting a complex part,” he says. “The head will pivot, reducing some taper associated with traditional waterjet systems. Flow brings out new products. When we bought our first Flow system, such capabilities weren’t yet available.”

“We’re basically a job shop,” Matarazzo says. “Customers will send a drawing or sample and tell us that they need a certain number of the parts. We will quote the price breaks they request, and after receipt of an order, process the parts. Whether it’s a part for farm equipment, the automotive industry or anything else they’re making, if it’s thicker than 1 inch mild steel, there’s no way to do it with a laser or plasma cutter to get the accuracy and quality that the waterjet gives.”

Matarazzo uses an example where a customer that produces machines for the agriculture industry needed parts made of 1⁄2-inch mild steel with 0.15-inch holes that were then tapped. “A laser struggles to put holes that small in thick material. The heat from the laser also will harden the holes and cause the taps to break when threading the holes,” he says. “In order to tap small holes in thick material, your options are to drill each and every hole or use a waterjet,” he says, noting the edge of the material is “not as hardened as the heat from a laser would cause.”

The many features Flow’s software offers operators complement the efficiency of its waterjet cutters. “It’s easy to sell a simple piece of sheet; we needed to add value, and the market is competitive,” says Martineau. “So instead of having to potentially send parts for secondary operation, waterjet processing allows us to be a one-stop shop.”

According to Martineau, “The market found us very quickly, then 18 months later, we got a second machine and a third a couple of months after that,” he says. “I don’t think many service centers have three machines. [The machines] are running six days a week, two to three shifts a day and sometimes 24 hours a day,” Martineau adds.

After more than 20,000 hours of engineering and development, Flow took “the most challenging programming step since the introduction of its patented Dynamic Waterjet in 2001 and has now introduced taper compensation to a 3-D cutting head in a product called Dynamic Waterjet XD,” says Tim Fabian, Flow’s manager of global product marketing. “There are a lot of multi-axis bevel cutting heads that attempt to cut a 45 degree angle, but the Flow machine knows that to cut an accurate 45 degree angle, the head actually needs to tilt somewhere between 35 and 55 degrees to compensate for the naturally occurring waterjet taper. The amount of compensation required is based on many factors, but primarily cut speed. This can now be controlled automatically in both 2-D and 3-D cutting applications,” Fabian says. The company also raised the psi in its pumps to 94,000 psi. “The higher the pressure, the faster the jet moves. This translates to faster material removal,” he says. MM

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