Waterjet Makers Move to Increase Uptime of Machines

Manufacturing Engineering Magazine October 2018
Bill Koenig

Waterjet technology—cutting materials with a jet of water—is expanding. Use of waterjets is moving to smaller shops, where there may only be one or two such machines. As a result, makers of waterjet machines are looking to boost uptime and simplify how they operate.

The demand in the industry from customers to increase uptime with a constant focus on efficiency, allowing a smoother running operation and for the customers, increased uptime means a boost in productivity.

Increasing uptime also a priority for many company, like Omax Corp that adding solids-removal system to reduced downtime through mechanical garnet removal from the tank. The alternative would be to shut down the abrasive waterjet and manually shovel, or vac-truck, the garnet out of the tank.

Just like in Omax Corp, Hypertherm Inc. also aware of the need for uptime. The man who founded Hypertherm’s waterjet business ran a small job shop for many years, so he saw firsthand the havoc a downed waterjet could cause to a person’s business. Having a pump go down and seeing the pain and time involved in getting it up and running again, that prompted him to design the HyPrecision waterjets that they sell today.

Jet Edge Waterjet Systems has multiple approaches to increasing uptime by utilizing heavier duty components that consistently perform longer to the original equipment specifications with less downtown. They also look to configure machines that can manage multiple cutting heads, eliminate secondary operations with the use of shuttle tables, and keep more non-value activity offline. Meanwhile, in terms of simplification, waterjet makers are looking at both customer training and new controls.

For example, flow is developing a new, more intuitive user experience allowing a faster user ramp, less need for waterjet-specific expertise and significantly more flexibility for automation of the workflow. This new foundation opens new possibilities for integrating waterjet technology into multi-process production environments bringing the value of the waterjet process to new markets.

What follows is a closer look at how waterjet makers are adapting to market changes.

‘Predictive Uptime’

Reliability is what matters most to today’s business with the focus on efficiency that allows a smoother running operation, because of that, Flow introduced FlowCare, “a comprehensive maintenance plan that ensures the systems are always ready and making waterjets extremely reliable and easier to maintain.”

The company has customer technology centers in Kent, WA, as well as France and South Korea, where their facilities are dedicated to training with application specialist who have years of waterjet experience. The curriculum is continuously evolving, providing their customers with new materials and hands-on training. Their goal is for customers to be well informed about their equipment and capable of cutting to the system’s maximum potential.

The company has a long history of varied waterjet applications experience, and the use of the high-grade materials of construction for its equipment. All of that contributes to an increase in uptime, according to Flow.

Flow has introduced its new-generation Mach Series, including the Mach 300, Mach 500, Mach 700 and NanoJet, plus the more recent Mach 100 and Mach 200. Their flagship system, the Mach 500, has a much faster acceleration rate and can cut parts with faster cycle times that their legacy machines.

With the new Mach series, they are focused on predictable uptime through their preventative maintenance and exchange programs through FlowCare. The program has been a success, with customers requesting these same plans for existing machines.

‘Listening to Our Customers’

Omax said it has been working on improving uptime. One example: EnduroMAX pumpus run 1,000 hours between major rebuilds versus 500 hours for other pumps. Also the pump is designed to minimize the rebuild time and requires no special tools to perform. To ensure high reliability and peak performance, Omax designs and builds nearly all of its waterjet pumps in-house at its Kent headquarters.

The solids-removal systems greatly increase uptime by removing garnet and other solids from the tank. All of the water treatment line of accessories [chiller system, reverse osmosis system, water recycling system] help to maintain optimal working conditions of the abrasive waterjet to allow for maximum operational uptime.

The Intelli-VISOR software increases efficiency and reduces downtime by connecting operation controls with machine maintenance and upkeep. By digitally monitoring your machines, you can conduct preventative maintenance in a well-organized manner and predictively schedule repairs.

Omax also said its software is changing. With every iteration of the Omax software, they are listening to their customers. Quick keys, streamlined toolpath creation, geometric shape generation, pump pressure controls, intelligent material piercing, as well as many other advancements in their software have improved user experience and overall workflow.

Omax has continued to improve motorized positioning to micro-level accuracy. Their growing line of accessories champion customer time-saving measures. By developing better taper compensation, precision optical locators, and terrain followers, Omax has developed tools to make their customer’s procedures easier and more consistent.

‘Free Training for Life’

To help customers become more efficient and proficient with Omax equipment, the company offers free training for life to customers on how to use its software as well as how to use and maintain Omax equipment.

Omax offers about 100 classes per year, serving 500 students, and since 2006 has run about 725 classes for 3,700 students, according to Julene Bailie, technical training department manager for Omax.

Classes offer a hands-on learning approach, where students draw parts using Omax Intelli-MAX software in the computer lab, then move into the machine training lab, where they make the parts on Omax waterjet equipment. By learning about the latest Omax software and machine tools, customer can improve productivity in their shops. They also learn how to properly maintain machines, helping to extend machine life and improve uptime.

In addition to teaching customers, Omax teaches its own technicians through certification training programs, which also include testing prior to certification. The training department has a technical writing team that prepares all customer-facing documentation, such as operating manuals, and has the capability to translate that documentation into 18 languages. The training department also prepares e-learning videos for on-demand learning and trains mentors and instructors who teach waterjet cutting at vocational schools.

Lasting Longer

Hypertherm’s Dumas said the company is designing parts so its waterjets run longer.

Their plunger bearings are longer than our competition, with a spiral groove allowing the plunger to be immersed in a bath of oil. Their waterjet piston is designed with a hydraulic T-seal with wear rings, giving it an extended life up to 12,000 hours vs. 2,000 hours. They use a screwless, low-pressure poppet so no Loctite thread locker is required. Their customers don’t have to worry about a failed, loose or dropped screw damaging the plunge and they designed their pumps with threadless high-pressure cylinders to eliminate the issue of cracked, struck, misaligned, or stripped threads.

Hypertherm estimates the total cost of ownership for our HyPrecision systems is up to 20% less than competitive systems.

The company also engages in efforts to familiarize new customers with waterjet technology. Hypetherm offers a number of tools, from traditional site visits to phone support to the Waterjet Mobile Assistant, an interactive smartphone and table app that uses an embedded scanner to pull up step-by-step instructions.

The waterjet maker also offers its waterjet system as part of what it calls Built for Business Integrated Cutting Solutions. A computer numeric controller and HyPrecision waterjet work together to automatically apply the right cutting parameters and adjust things like the feed rate, abrasive flow rate, pump pressure and more.

Smart Technology

Maintenance practices are also changing. Maintenance practices for waterjet pumps have been at the discretion of the operator. If something leaked, got hot or made noise, it was left to the skill sets of the operator to troubleshoot the problem. They wanted to use smart technology to turn the pump into a self-monitoring unit to help the operator establish predictive maintenance practices. Through a combination of sensors, switches, and computer software, Techni Waterjet set about developing a pump that could communicate to operators when maintenance tasks needed to be performed.

The ability to plan maintenance means fabricators don’t have to experience down time in the middle of a ‘hot job’. Minimizing downtime is a bigger concern than ever.

Industry 4.0

Some makers of waterjet equipment expect further evolution as Industry 4.0 takes hold. That’s shorthand for “connected” machines that provide real-time data around a factory floor.

Through software and connectivity, company could sees growth. Connected machines will supply data from predictive maintenance intervals to optimized machine operation for specific jobs or classes of jobs to a continually improving cutting process. Linking the data generated from running the machine will further efficiency, accuracy and reliability of waterjet systems.

Hypertherm’s said that they are looking at developing features such as “automated alerts that will let a customer know when a seal is nearing the end of its life, or monitor things like fluid management or pump life and efficiency”.