Thursday | 18 September, 2014 | 9:01 am

Sin City strategy

Written by By Gretchen Salois

Above: A 1⁄4-inch aluminum ceiling panel produced by Water FX was cut using the Hypertherm Accustream 6050.

Eliminating post-processing compels a job shop to switch cutting methods

September 2014 - A desert oasis for those seeking a good time, Las Vegas is home to posh accommodations and pleasant poolside lounging. Beneath the facades of those pools are steel structures, many of which were cut by a nearby fabricator that found such cutting jobs were made easier by transitioning from plasma to waterjet technology.

“We made the switch from plasma to waterjet for versatility,” says Matt Little, a jack of all trades at Water FX LLC, Las Vegas. “With the plasma we were limited to thinner materials and we deal with extreme thicknesses when working with stainless steel.”

Using the Hypertherm Accustream 6050, Water FX has started processing jobs for other companies—many of which use lasers to cut materials, limiting them to ½-inch carbon plate or thinner for aluminum material. “Now we’re able to process those thicknesses as well as eliminate post-processing,” Little adds. “We’re not spending hours grinding edges. And because we do a lot of precision welding, I don’t have a pretempered edge because of a laser or plasma.”


Water FX manufactures metal structures and fixtures. Every order is custom so Water FX works best keeping every aspect of its projects in-house. “The waterjet allows us to keep all our jobs here and that’s the biggest payoff: We can keep close control over everything,” Little says.

“I can do all my weld preparation during the cutting stage, right in the plate,” he continues, noting that tasks which once proved problematic, such as cutting holes, are achieved much more smoothly. “Because there’s no heat used during cutting, it doesn’t matter where I cut, it is always accurate, even in the middle of the material. I can slap it in there, press start and go,” he says.

Streamlined simplicity

Switching from one material to another requires a simple program change on the table. “The combination of the low-maintenance pump and the setup design of the machine makes it easy to load and unload materials,” Little says. “I don’t have to do anything special. If I was using a laser, I’d have to change the gas combination to do aluminum. Plasma is the same way.”

Despite the recognizable benefits, “waterjet can be perceived as a fussy technology,” says David Dumas, OEM sales manager for waterjet at Hypertherm. Users worry about the complexity of maintenance because downtime is unproductive.

However, maintenance of the pump is quick and easy with streamlined access to seals and Hypertherm’s screwless poppet design. “Seals can be changed in 30 minutes or less,” Dumas says. The design also eliminates a potential failure that results when the screw holding the poppet to the check valve backs out and damages the inside of a cylinder or, worse, a plunger. That can happen with other pump products, he explains.

Industry standard threads on stainless steel cylinders can also cause maintenance headaches. “We use a tie rod design on the intensifier to eliminate threads on the cylinders because they can gall and cost thousands in downtime and $3,000 to $4,000 in replacement parts,” Dumas says. “While that’s a repair that doesn’t happen all the time, when it does, it’s a big expense. With our pumps, that problem can’t happen.” 

Further, because the key mating surface of the cylinder is internal rather than external, it won’t be damaged if a worker drops it, for example. When the same part is designed with an external mating surface, if it’s dropped there’s no saving it—the damage is permanent. 

According to Dumas, there are many other benefits of Hypertherm’s HyPrecision waterjet products over competitors’ offerings. “The Advanced Intensifier Technology (AIT), found only in our pumps, extends the life of key components like high-pressure seals and cylinders by designing in protection of those components.


“A key element of AIT is the use of large-diameter plungers that provide the optimal stroke, producing more water-per-stroke with less friction, which protects and extends seal life,” he says.

Protecting components extends beyond the intensifier. A protective coating inside the hydraulic tank prevents corrosion. A web-enabled graphical user interface provides real-time feedback about the health of the pump and a mechanism for logging maintenance activities. This ensures both machine operators and maintenance workers have the tools to keep the pump operating and the table cutting.

Instead of paying for electricity and gas as it did with the plasma, Water FX  focuses on garnet and filtered water only. “The biggest pain is getting rid of the used garnet but we’ve found using a giant vacuum truck that backs up to our back door to remove it is working out well for us,” Little says.

Hypertherm acquired AccuStream about 18 months ago. AccuStream began under the helm of co-founder Eric Chalmers. With extensive research and development into waterjet technology, coupled with operating a waterjet job shop, Chalmers used day-to-day experience to shape waterjet design and innovation. “He brought a lot of understanding and expertise to the pumps, cutting heads and abrasive delivery products of AccuStream, which are the foundation for Hypertherm’s HyPrecision waterjet products,” Dumas says.

Hypertherm’s prompt customer service is a plus for Little, as extended downtime might cost the company a contract. “One of the things our customers like best about us is that when we get a call with a question about an application or the need for a replacement part, we respond to each call with a sense of urgency. No call queues, no ‘we’ll call you back,’” says Dumas.

Versatile workforce

The shop runs lean with between six and 15 employees. Each employee is versed on all the equipment and the waterjet keeps production fluid. “I’ve spent a considerable amount of time finding the right talent, workers who can work on different machines for different jobs. Versatility is key in all of our employees,” Little says.

“I have guys coming in and filling out applications all the time,” Little says. “Sure, they can weld or cut metal or know how to do one specific thing. But because we touch on so many things, I often have guys that run jobs on mills today but need to be able to work on the waterjet the next day. I look for the worker who is motivated and who is open to wanting to do different tasks.” 


Opportunity evolves

Water FX recently completed some renovations at New York, New York and the Monte Carlo, two hotel/casinos on the Strip. The work included a decorative guardrail from 3⁄8-inch steel plate. “Back in the day we would have passed on this job because of the metal work [secondary processing] required,” Little says. It would have required numerous days to clean up the edges so “we wouldn’t have taken the job.”

For example, when welding 1-inch plate, “you need a 1⁄2-inch bevel. We can waterjet in a fraction of the time for a fraction of the cost. We do a lot of 5-axis cutting, multiple bevels,” Little adds.

The future looks promising for Water FX. “Right now we’re working on a 30-foot by 30-foot aluminum awning that’s going to Hershey’s Chocolate World here in Vegas,” he continues. The fabricator works with many materials beyond metal—including glass, plastic and foam—“but metal is at the core of what we do.”

With the waterjet in place, Water FX is open to new challenges. “You can’t be scared to expand your horizons. If someone walks in the door and presents you an opportunity, you say yes and find a way to work it out. I’ve been here eight years and I’ve done such a variety of jobs,” Little says. “We don’t want to say we can’t do something so we always do what we need to to stay ahead, whether that’s buying new machinery or software or hiring someone for a specific set of skills.” MM


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