Waterjet And The New Economy of 2009
by Richard Ward
Could ownership or use of a waterjet affect the future of your business in 2009?
General consensus is 2008 was horrible from a business perspective. We could fill pages of all the bad things that happened. Yet there are companies constantly that ask “what problems?” There are businesses that are so buried with work they don’t know where to turn. It would be great if we all had this issue? So how do we maneuver our companies into that position.
Using a waterjet will not open the floodgates, but it could well change the way you think, plan, structure and design almost everything you do. Waterjet cutting has so few boundaries that one is genuinely freed to use your imagination to the full.
Since its inception, waterjet cutting has come a long way. The attained goal to make the waterjet cutting process easier to use in software, operation of controllers, ease of service and extended life of consumable parts has seen the demand for waterjets increase. But now there is even more. An open architecture design of building and thinking how to use additional processes all mounted onto the waterjet gantry is opening more doors than ever before. Imagine being a sign shop for example. You need to make some aluminum signs where the waterjet will be ideal for the cutting of the logo and lettering. But each part has tapped holes which receive studs into the back of the part. The studs will then be used for mounting the sign to the wall. This is automatically a 2 stage process. The design needs to be cut and then the tapped holes machined into the material. With the new options available with some systems, all this can now be done in one program, with no need to remove the material from the waterjet table till it is completed. And this is just a simple example.
WARDJet Inc., a waterjet manufacturer in Ohio whose motto is “WARDJet…. Not Just A Waterjet”, have customers who are using 3 waterjet cutting heads mounted on one cross beam to cut 3 holes simultaneously through 1.125” thick armor plating. Then the holes are reamed to ensure the ID of the holes are perfect. All 3 holes are then tapped simultaneously with a tapping device mounted on each of the Z carriages. Counter sinks, marking, surface finishes and many other procedures are available. Each process can be run inside a single program. Automatic loading and unloading, bar code inventory tracking and countless other opportunities are there for the taking. And the limit is not 3 heads. The same machine design has some units with 15 cutting heads mounted on one cross beam. This is serious expandability!
“We want our customers to be able to daydream about automation in their shop, including simple assembly of parts using the WARDJet system. We can run 32 axis of simultaneous motion from the controller, so any combination of rotating axis, loading, unloading, drilling, tapping, multiple 5 axis cutting machining and shaping, are all possible, including integrating a tool changing unit for additional automation and reduced manual input. Unlimited sensing using light or touch, visual recognition systems and an optional built-in equivalent of CMM to verify final part accuracy after cutting is the way of the future. And all this is nothing without 100% remote access for control, service and management .” Says Richard Ward, founder of WARDJet Inc.
And certainly this kind of thinking is contagious. It might well become mandatory for survival in the aggressive manufacturing environment we all find ourselves in.
Let’s take a step back for an overview of waterjet cutting. The process of waterjet, although not the fastest or ideal process for cutting and working each material, is unique in that it will cut almost everything. Certainly there are areas where waterjet is the ideal process. However, when comparing waterjet with laser cutting of thin steel sheet, the laser will outperform the waterjet. So if you have large volumes of work in thin steel, don’t buy a waterjet. However, if you are looking at a range of materials to cut, from shim stock, to 10” thick stainless, to gasket materials, to the foam packaging of tools, waterjet is the way to go. Overall the advantage of having this incredibly versatile tool in house can reduce your dependence on others. Whereas bringing all work in house is not always a good thing, a waterjet is so versatile, that it is one tool that won’t take long till nearly everyone in the shop will need something processed on the unit.
Add to this the multiple functionality of all the other processes other than waterjet cutting on a CNC gantry, and you might well be wondering how one machine will meet all your needs. Of particular interest WARDJet is building a 30’ x 13’ system, with the exact same design as their R-Series range of waterjets, but this one is different in that there is no waterjet on the system. There are so many other processes that are available that the machine does not have a waterjet on the unit, although a waterjet can be added to the system at any time. One of the features of the unit is the replacement of gaskets typically cut out of rubber compounds. The unit will dispense a silicone bead onto the parts saving material, time and cost. The machine will also be doing some assembly of parts. Typically this kind of versatility can only be gained by spending large amounts on large gantries. However volumetric mapping of the position of the tool over the entire working envelope of the system, allows a flood of initiative and ways to change traditional methods of building equipment.
Using information generated from FARO® Laser Tracker equipment, controllers powerful enough to use this data for mapping and compensation of positional and repeatability accuracies in 3 dimensions, allow simple actions like traditional layout and marking to be replaced with CNC processes.
Most waterjets are built to be waterjets only. And if all you are looking for is to have parts waterjet cut, that is fine. The vertical upward force in reaction to the stream is minimal, as are any lateral forces on the cutting head. The weight of a cutting head is also low. As a result a waterjet built specifically for the sole purpose of waterjet cutting tends to be light in every way. Many waterjets are built specifically to only cut with one head using a cantilever design with only 2 motors, one for the X and one for the Y axis motion. Cantilever designs require squareness to be mechanically adjustable as opposed to a bridge style machine with 3 motors, where squareness can be compensated for electronically. Cantilevers designs are often limited in the load they can carry before bending, deflecting and suffering torsion to the point accuracy is affected.
Many bridge designs are also built to be very light for waterjet cutting just like the cantilever counterparts, so simply going for a bridge design is not enough if you are looking to add other processes. For a machine to be able to add drills, tapping systems, height sensors, crash sensors, 5 axis cutting heads and more all on one Z carriage, it is advisable to understand and request the finite element analysis of the structure of the system. Every reputable waterjet manufacturer will have this information available showing how additional loads, static and dynamic affect the overall structure, as well as the accuracy of the unit. All this theoretical data should again be verified with full 3D laser tracker, 2D laser interformeter and ball bar results. The ultimate test is of course the finished part, but good metrology equipment which should be owned by a reputable waterjet manufacturer, will verify the dynamics of the machine to a far greater degree of accuracy than any finished part would show.
Imagine if just as some milling machines have tool changers allowing one machine to perform all sorts of procedures on the same part, if a waterjet could do the same! Waterjets that offer drilling, tapping, countersinks, tool changers, marking, drying, coating, finishing, automatic feed back to remote control stations all in 2D or 3D are already being used in the most imaginative ways. And if this seems interesting, go to the next step of using these capabilities with multiple heads simultaneously all on one cross beam.
As we look back into 2008 and further, it is clear that when labor costs are lower elsewhere it is very difficult to compete in the long term. No matter what the item is, if there is enough lead time to have the product produced elsewhere, it is tough to compete with low wages that will never be achievable in the USA.
What manufacturers in the USA have on our side is innovation, time and automation. We have to become the best at what we do, with the shortest lead time. We have to innovate and reduce our labor costs such that lower external labor is not a major factor in the final cost of the product. As soon as automation becomes a factor, it appears that no matter what the cost of labor, if removed from the picture, it will be very difficult for end users to risk outsourcing their manufacturing with all the complications and uncertainties that abound.
Clearly, if it is possible to source a product locally, at competitive pricing, with guaranteed consistency backed by accountability, the work should never go abroad. It is up to manufacturers to seek out and provide ways to achieve this goal. And yes, a waterjet system that offers more than just a waterjet when it comes to capability could be just the manufacturing advantage that could make a difference.
One final aspect of growing into the future is remote access of production from your living room, or your lunch meeting. Even if you are not thinking of running your equipment remotely, from your cell phone or no matter where you are, do not discount that others are. You may wake up next week and discover that your competition is producing several times the output you are, with no more than 2 or 3 employees. Remote access to the point that parts be programmed and cut remotely, motors tuned, machines squared, failed drives compensated for is happening today and yesterday.
WARDJet is so confident in its ability to service its machines on site and remotely the company offers a 2 year limited warranty with a Guaranteed Uptime ™ program where, they will pay the owner of the machine $100 per hour or $800 per day if the machine cannot be in production when certain criteria are met. It is this kind of innovation that is making the difference.
Thinking outside the box, while putting the future of expansion and opportunity for each machine owner to grow and plan and automate their operation is a reality. 2009 is a time to ensure that every turn improves efficiency not by a small percentage, but by 100%. Again and again.
Let’s take the challenge with both hands to grow and innovate and create. America did not become the great nation it is by mistake or accident. Manufacturing has a future in the USA. Let’s get creative and be the driving force to make this happen.
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