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ForWARD Thinkers

By David R. Wasserstrom

Inside Business, May 2000

Richard Ward and EasiJet, Inc. are looking to revolutionize the waterjet-cutting industry with their WARD 24 abrasive recycling system.

When Richard Ward realized he was being locked out of the abrasives industry, he decided to invent a product that the industry couldn’t do without. 

It all began about two years ago, when Ward, owner of Tallmadge-based Richel Inc., a waterjet- consulting company, tried breaking into the tightly knit abrasives business.  “I tried to buy and distribute the materials; but I found it impossible, because it was such a locked-up market,” he recalls.

Indeed, natural materials, such as garnet, are an integral component of abrasive waterjet-cutting.  The process slices and dices virtually any material with a water/abrasive mixture stream no thicker than a human hair traveling a cool 2,200 miles per hour and exerting 20,000 to 60,000 pounds per square inch of pressure. 

Hardly your everyday garden hose.  But the abrasives used in this process cut just as deeply into the bottom line of manufacturers that use it.  Ward estimates that abrasives represent up to half of the total operating cost of a waterjet system, and until now, conventional wisdom maintained that abrasives were a non-recyclable commodity.

Ward balked at the notion.  “I wasn’t convinced that recycling couldn’t be accomplished,” he says.  “I saw opportunity in taking everyone’s used abrasives and the sludge they created and developing a system whereby they could be reused.”

Ward approached his cousins, owners of Houston-based Genesis Recovery, which extracts precious materials such as platinum and gold from items such as computer-chip boards and catalytic converters, with his theory.  He figured that systematically recovering abrasives from piles of sludge would be child’s play for Genesis.  Ward and his cousins tested prototypes during a series of trials.  “I realized after the first trial that we hit the jackpot,” Ward says.

Based on that success, Ward et al. endeavored to design a machine that was financially viable, reliable, simple to operate, efficient and salable.  The result is WARD 24 – short for Waterjet Abrasive Recycling Dispenser – a screen-like device coincidentally named for its founder that recycles between 50 percent and 70 percent of abrasives and could revolutionize a fast-growing industry.  It also resulted in Ward’s new company, EasiJet Inc., which markets and sells the WARD 24.

WARD 24 is no mere screen, though.  Its design allows abrasives to be washed, sorted and completely dried in a series of steps.  For this, Ward is being honored with a 2000 Manny Award.  “We think we’ve come up with something that people would have to buy.  It’s not a question of whether they want to buy it,” he says.

Results thus far suggest that Ward may be on target.  WARD 24  was officially launched March 1.  Since then, eight machines have sold at $40,000 each, and potential orders are pending on almost 40 more.  Ward expects to sell at least 100 units by year’s end.

Chuck Howard, plant manager for Troy, Mich.-based waterjet company Copeland-Gibson Products, estimates a cost-savings of $200 to $300 per day through his shop’s use of WARD 24.  “Until now, we’ve been throwing away tons of garnet, and I’ve been more impressed the longer we’ve had it,” Howard says of the system, in operation at Copeland since December.  “We’ll pay it off through our garnet savings in six months.”

Besides the economic benefits derived from recycling, Ward says that used abrasives are actually more effective the second – and even third – time around.  Why?  “Abrasive crystals like garnet are typically round,” Ward says.  “When they enter the waterjet stream, they’re traveling at 2,200 mph. So even if they never touch any of the metal you’re cutting, over a 3-inch distance, they’re likely to crack somewhat.  When that happens, you now have a sharp edge on each of them, and that edge increases the cutting speed.”

Ward says his invention has reduced the total operating cost of waterjet cutting by 40 percent.  Moreover, he cites industry statistics that suggest how a 12 percent average growth rate of waterjet sales could blossom to almost 30 percent through WARD 24’s introduction into the marketplace.

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