Tuesday | 22 September, 2009 | 5:23 am

Changing the game

Written by By John Loos

September 2009 - A lot can happen in a short period of time. The span between America’s first manned space flight and Neil Armstrong’s boot touching the moon’s rocky surface was only eight years. The Beatles’ entire monumental career was contained in one seven-year stretch. And in just four years, one company has gone from new kid on the waterjet block to a recognizable name in the industry.

MC Machinery Systems Inc., Wood Dale, Ill., has built its company on laser and EDM machines, but only recently has it made forays into the complex world of waterjet technology. This wasn’t a blind leap, however. The company has taken its extensive machine tooling and integration knowledge and applied it to the evolving waterjet cutting market, with distinctive results.

"We’re new to waterjet, but we’re not new to machine tool building and integrating," says Steve Szczesniak, national waterjet product manager for MC Machinery. "Everyone who’s working the waterjet department is an ex-toolmaker, ex-EDM guy, so we know what tolerances are, and we know how to achieve those tolerances."

The DX series, MC Machinery’s newest waterjet line, is a prime example of the rapid advancement of the company’s waterjet technology. DX machines are available in a variety of sizes, starting with the DX?44, which is 4 feet by 4 feet, all the way up to the DX 1040, which is 10 feet by 40 feet. Also available are the DX 510, DX 612, DX 720, DX 820 and DX 1020, each with dimensions matching the model name.

The machines also include a 20-inch I-beam construction, 40-millimeter ball screws, a stainless steel work tank isolated from the machine frame and crash protection for its X, Y and Z axes. It’s controlled with the Mitsubishi 700 series CNC control, which features advanced programming possibilities, a 15-inch waterproof LCD screen and NC design.

"The DX series is truly the hard work of several people here at MC Machinery, putting in a lot of their ideas to separate us from the competition," says Szczesniak. "This includes the way the machine is built, the accuracies it can maintain, as well as some of the applications. We’re doing some different, unique things."

Standard innovations
One way MC Machinery has attempted to set its waterjet segment apart, particularly with the DX series, is to make standard some typical extras that are usually added on to a basic machine.

"We don’t sell a vanilla machine and then say, ‘You want this option and you want that option,’" says Szczesniak. "Obviously, we did our homework. We talked to a lot of people who are using other waterjet machines, and we asked them what some of their biggest headaches and problems were. The No. 1 answer was the abrasive removal."

To combat this issue, MC Machinery teamed up with Ebbco Inc., New Baltimore, Mich., a manufacturer of metalworking filtration systems and filter vessels, and developed a specialized system for handling abrasive.

"We actually put an abrasive removal system on our DX models as standard," says Szczesniak. "It basically moves water at the rate of 300 gallons a minute and actually separates and removes about 90 percent of the abrasive in the tank. So it’s really a maintenance-free system."

Another partnership that’s paying dividends is MC Machinery’s relationship with KMT Waterjet Systems, Baxter Springs, Kan., a manufacturer of extreme-pressure pumps.

The first DX series waterjets featured a 50-horsepower KMT pump and 60,000-psi cutting power, and newer iterations feature 60-horsepower pumps for 90,000-psi cutting force.

Diversifying customers
This versatility and variability in power and configuration makes the DX suitable for MC Machinery’s wide spectrum of customers, from standard waterjet job shops to custom car fabricators and agricultural equipment suppliers.

One customer, Master Cut EDM Inc., Schaumburg, Ill., a wire EDM specialist, was looking to expand its capabilities, and it decided to integrate a DX 612 machine into its operations.

"Our single focus has always been wire EDM and small-hole EDM," says Harold Bartman, vice president of Master Cut. "We have a lot of experience with that, and last year, we expanded and put one of the largest wire EDMs in the greater Chicagoland area in our facility by adding a wire EDM capable of handling blocks as large as 10,000 pounds and 20 inches thick fully submerged and even larger non-submerged."

The addition of the large wire EDM also came just in time for the economy to sour, so Master Cut began looking for ways to diversify its capabilities.

"One thing you can accomplish with a waterjet is you can cut almost any material," Bartman continues. "Our current customer base uses us to cut metallic parts, but we’re starting to cut non-metals as well. To date, we have cut both soft and hardened tool steel, titanium, aluminum, pure molybdenium, Inconel, and recently, rubber and lexan plastic. We can cut tile, felt, carpeting, stone, glass plywood or whatever you want, so we felt that it could significantly broaden our customer base."

Master Cut’s DX 612 features 6 feet of X-axis travel and 12 feet of Y-axis travel, as well as the ability to tilt the jet slightly to reduce unwanted tapers on the cut part. It also features twin ball screws that enable tighter tolerances.

"Many of the older waterjets out there use a cog belt drive system to move the jet of the machine around," says Bartman. "It wasn’t necessarily the most accurate way, whereas MC Machinery has laser-compensated twin ball screws, so the company is quoting tighter accuracies. We wanted a more accurate waterjet, coming from the EDM side, where we’re using indicators and micrometers rather than calipers and yard sticks."

The DX 612’s water filtration system has also been an advantage for Master Cut, allowing it to filter water down to 35 microns, de-ionize it and reuse it rather than dump spent water and abrasives down the drain and add fresh water to the holding tank.

"This is far more eco-friendly, and we’ve been praised by the EPA," says Bartman.

Master Cut has also benefited from the DX’s speed, an invaluable advantage in an economy in which time is more expensive than ever before.

"It’s amazingly fast," says Bartman. "It’s remarkable how much work it gets done in a short period of time. We’re very pleased with how the machine operates."

Beyond its physical waterjet, Master Cut has benefited from MC Machinery’s extensive and experienced service department, the same service department that works with its laser and EDM customers.

In fact, MC Machinery’s EDM department is being cross-trained on its waterjet technologies to further expand resources available to its waterjet customers.

"Anytime we’ve had a technical question, they’ve been very helpful, all the way down from the head of applications to the individual applications engineer," says Bartman.

In some instances, MC Machinery has gone beyond standard service practices to help Master Cut satisfy its customers’ needs. For example, Master Cut’s first waterjet job arrived before its DX 612 was installed, so MC Machinery let the company use a machine in its demo room to fill the order. MC Machinery has also done special mailings to advertise Master Cut’s new services and DX technology.

"They’re doing everything they can to make us successful," says Bartman.

Four years ago, MC Machinery was mostly unassociated with waterjets. Now, it’s striving to change the rules of how these machines are designed, built and serviced.

What’s more, its above-and-beyond service tactics, as well as its customer-focused technological advancements, seem to suggest its entrance into the waterjet industry hasn’t been just one big step for a laser and EDM company; it’s also been a giant leap for waterjet technology. MM

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