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Waterjet
Monday | 13 May, 2019 | 11:18 am

Never obsolete

Written by By Lynn Stanley

Machinery manufacturer’s R&D, education efforts and response to feedback help its customers tackle exotic alloys

May 2019 - In the early 1800s, prospectors panned for gold with a pick, shovel and some wooden hand tools. A decade later, miners carved out tall banks of gravel with a focused water stream from a rudimentary waterjet. Industrial high-pressure waterjet cutting entered the scene in the 1960s. Abrasives were added in the 1980s to expand the cutting method’s versatility.

Today, according to Howstuffworks LLC, the H2O abrasive mixture leaves a waterjet’s nozzle at more than 900 mph, reaching cutting speeds of close to Mach 3 with an accuracy rating of 0.02 inches.

“Ten to 15 years ago, industrial waterjet technology was still considered the new kid on the block,” says OMAX Applications Manager Vlad Bucur. “That is no longer the case.”

Bucur says education, research and development and an “almost fanatical dedication to customer service and support” have helped the cutting method come to the fore.

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Cutting an arc of titanium using XData.

Center stage

“Early on, OMAX installed waterjet centers at technical high schools and universities to educate students,” he says. “Today, many of those students are engineers and decision- makers who understand that waterjet machines can cut thicker aluminum plate, stainless steel and a host of other materials with ease.”

The machinery builder also pays keen attention to customer feedback. “The intel we’ve received from customers has allowed us to leap ahead in terms of software advances, pump design, high-precision waterjet systems, CAD/CAM and motion control software,” Bucur says. “And we continually update our software and hardware, so our JetMachining centers are never obsolete.”

The equipment has a green profile, too. OMAX direct-drive pumps don’t use hydraulic oil, eliminating the need for costly chemical disposal. When compared to intensifier pumps, the direct-drive pump cuts water consumption by as much as 50 percent. Electrical efficiency is rated at greater than 85 percent. That means 85 percent of the electrical power feeding the pump is converted to cutting power at the nozzle.

“We estimate that cutting time [per year] for an average OMAX customer totals 1,000 hours and saves approximately 9,000 kW of electricity compared to other products on the market,” Bucur explains. “At a national average of 10 cents per kW, that amounts to $900 per year in savings on power alone. If you add up water and electricity use for an OMAX direct-drive pump, you could be saving a total of $4,000 a year compared to an intensifier pump.”

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OMAX abrasive waterjets can perform macro to micro cutting.

Material challenges

“Materials represent some of the biggest challenges we see today,” he continues. “People want to know if they can cut carbon fiber, acrylic or phenolic, for example, and they want to know how to do it.”

Growing demand in the aerospace and automotive markets is prompting the development of a plethora of exotic materials. Like automakers, airframe builders and their supply base have been pursuing ways to increase energy efficiency, reduce fuel consumption and prevent further deterioration to the environment. Lightweighting structures reduces an aircraft’s mass and requires less lift force and thrust, making structural materials such as aluminum, titanium, high-strength steels and composites more attractive.

“We’re seeing different combinations of titanium and Inconel and some unfamiliar alloys that we have had to research to help our customers understand how to cut them,” says Bucur. “It’s put OMAX at the forefront of new developments.”

Such progress is based on a solid foundation internally. “We build and integrate everything in house—software, pump and table. The best way to think about our system is to view it as a living organism. The software is the brain and the direct-drive pump the heart. One feeds the other.”

The ability to upgrade software to improve machine accuracy, provide faster cutting speeds and program new operational approaches is central to equipping customers to handle standard metals alongside alloys that have yet to be commercialized.

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OMAX software accepts any design software, routes data, identifies the path and tells the waterjet how to cut parts.

Eliminating steps

“If we determine the best way to cut unobtanium, that knowledge becomes part of a customer’s arsenal because it is incorporated into the software’s functionality,” says Bucur. “And we’re able to add new features and provide updates to customers at no charge.”

Adaptable software supports ease of use and runs different waterjet models that are each engineered to cater to the needs of a diverse customer base, from high-end precision manufacturers to do-it-yourselfers.

“Ease of use is really important,” Bucur says. “Our goal has always been to eliminate unnecessary steps for users. Our software takes DXF files or AutoCad [or any other design software], routes the data, identifies the path and tells the waterjet to cut parts. I can take an individual off the street, tutor them for a few hours and have them performing the basic steps it takes to begin cutting metal.”

OMAX’s PC-based motion controllers allow fabricators and service centers to produce accurate parts with minimal operator experience.

As the needs of fabricators and service centers continue to evolve, OMAX’s groundwork in education, technology and service have paved the way for waterjets to take their rightful place as a “tool in customers’ toolboxes.” MM

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