Thursday | 27 December, 2012 | 11:22 am

A moveable feat

Written by By Stephanie Andrews

One fully modular waterjet grows with company

December 2012 - One may not contemplate the difficulty of shipping and installing a waterjet. With its large catcher tank, waterjet installation can be a tremendous undertaking. From limited shop space to potential expansions, there are a host of factors to consider when purchasing equipment. For some, these factors are enough to stave off large purchases, but with Flow’s new waterjet, these concerns become obsolete. 

“The Mach 4c is the newest model for Flow International, and it’s the first modular waterjet Flow has ever built,” says Brian Kent, global product manager for Flow International Corp., Kent, Wash. “Everything from the catcher tank to the machine’s size and even its features are completely modular.” This modularity allows a customer to add on to its waterjet as needed. 

Growing demand

Before the Mach 4c, Flow noticed one particular industry need. “The biggest demand was expandability,” says Kent. “Every other waterjet would pretty much stay that size. So if you needed to get a bigger system, you sold your existing waterjet and bought a larger waterjet.” There was no way for a waterjet to grow with the company, but with Flow’s Mach 4c, a company doesn’t have to replace its waterjet if it wants more features or its facility expands. 

“If a customer purchases a 2-meter-by-4-meter machine for a smaller job shop and their business grows, instead of having to purchase a new waterjet, like they would have to in the past, they can just add on to it,” Kent says. This same rule applies to upgrading the Mach 4c’s features. If a company originally purchases a conventional waterjet head and then business grows, it can add on the Dynamic or Dynamic Waterjet XD without significant expense. 

Before launching the series, Flow first wanted to test the Mach 4c prototype. Flow turned to bo-mar Industries, Indianapolis. “We were picked to be a beta site for Flow to help them work out bugs on their 5-axis 

waterjet system project,” says Robert Buchanan, owner of bo-mar Industries. “We also helped them in their development of the new tank and its modular construction.”

Bo-mar bought its first Flow waterjet in 2008, but as orders increased it became difficult to fill all of them on one waterjet. “We needed a second machine because we had way too much work for one machine,” says Buchanan. “It just made sense to go to their newer technology versus going with a duplicate of the machine we had.” The Mach 4c’s 5-axis feature allows bo-mar to do chamfers, weld preps and bevel cuts easily. There also have been a few applications the new machine can handle that the company wouldn’t have been able to tackle on its old waterjet, Buchanan says. “The old machine is limited to how tall a piece you can put in there,” he says. “But this newer machine allows you to use a thicker, taller part than our older waterjet.” 

Additional features 

The waterjet’s modularity isn’t the only standout feature. Flow designed the machine with the operator’s convenience in mind. The Mach 4c is equipped with an ergonomic toe-kick, which provides the operator with easy access to the material. “It’s more of an open-gantry design,” says Buchanan. “In the older designs, the cutting head comes off the very back of the machine. With this machine, it goes down both sides so the operator can get in and get to the parts. It’s easy for the operator to load and unload, as well.” 

 Kent says it’s the only gantry that’s accessible from all four sides. “With most gantry-style systems you lose two sides to the rails and the drive, so you only have access to two sides,” he says. “With the Mach 4c, the rails actually are a step for the operator and the operator can stand on them.” The operator’s full four-sided machine allows for decreased loading and unloading times and reduces HyperPressure cycle times. And Buchanan says the machine is more ergonomic for bo-mar’s operators. 

The waterjet also provides enhanced workpiece visibility. “We have lighting underneath the bridge to illuminate the workpiece so the operator can see better,” says Kent. “It also eliminates shadows from the production environment.”

Once the part has been cut, the operator uses the Mach 4c’s built-in air and water gun, both easily accessible from the same handheld connection. “The operator can wash it off and dry it off with one hand tool instead of having to switch back and forth.” All of these features have added up to a machine that has made bo-mar more productive and efficient. “It’s priced competitively with the other machine and it’s about 15 percent faster,” says Buchanan. “So in that respect, there is efficiency in it, and we go through less consumable parts.” 

“The Mach 4c is a very fast machine—1,400 inches per minute,” says Kent, “so it’s faster than most other Flow models, as well as competitors’ models.”

In older models, as the water cuts through material it begins to taper off, leaving a curve or draft in the part. “Up until Flow had pioneered this [machine], this was just what waterjets did,” says Buchanan. “It was the nature of the beast.” But with Flow’s new system, this is no longer an issue. “What made me get the machine was the fact that they have the dynamic taper compensation,” he says. “The parts I cut do not have a curve or draft to them, so it has kind of a quasi-5-axis to it in that it does kerf compensate.” 


Valuable assets

Flow’s Mach 4c has a multi-industry versatility, but “the two [industries] that have benefited most are large metal service centers and aerospace for large envelope cutting that needs high accuracy,” says Kent. However, some of Flow’s job shop customers are smaller companies with smaller facilities, and their future plans are uncertain. For these companies, the Mach 4c is ideal, says Kent. “[The Mach 4c] allows them to grow, depending upon where their business takes them in the future.” 

Kent says modularity is one factor that leads customers to buy the new waterjet, but ultimately it’s the entire package. “I think what makes this machine so popular is all the factors put together,” he says. “You have the high speed, you have the accuracy, you have the flexibility.” Easy installation is a concern for most small job shops. With a catcher tank that may be 4 meters by 5 meters or larger, prospective waterjet owners, in the past, have gone to extreme measures to install a waterjet. “Before this [machine], we’ve had customers go as far as removing walls to get a piece of equipment in the building,” says Kent. 

Fortunately, bo-mar did not need to take this extreme measure. “I have the luxury of having more space than I probably need, but if you have a shop and things are closer together, that modular tank is a great idea,” says Buchanan. “The new design is much easier to get into a small confine.”  

Having a modular waterjet also is a significant cost advantage for Flow’s customers. “It’s the world’s first truly modular catcher tank, so it’s shipped in pieces,” says Kent. In the past, when customers ordered larger catcher tanks, shipping was a  major issue. “A 4-meter-by-5-meter catcher tank doesn’t really ship down highways in America and especially in Europe where they have smaller roads,” he says. The new modular catcher tanks allow Flow to ship in pieces rather than weld at the customer’s shop. 

“The tank can be taken apart into three pieces,” says Buchanan. “There’s the center piece and then the two outside pieces, so you can bring it in in three pieces and then put it together in a smaller cavity.” Buchanan notes a 6-foot-by-12-foot machine is considered an oversized load, which “costs more to ship.” The waterjet’s modularity saves Flow’s customers from unnecessary expenses, which he says “is an asset.” 

But for customers like bo-mar that already have the convenience of a larger facility, the investment’s value lies in Flow’s customer service. “[Flow] takes its customer service seriously,” says Buchanan. “Whenever I’ve had trouble in the past, which has been minimal, they’re there to solve the problem.” Most problems can be fixed with a simple phone call, for which Buchanan credits Flow’s “phenomenal technicians.

“It’s like they are an extension of our company,” he says. “We’ve done projects for them in the past, and we’ve helped them do some research by being their prototype shop. We get top-shelf treatment all the time. I’m a real proponent of the people that take care of me,” he continues. “ Flow feels like part of our family.” MM

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