Opting for precision

Waterjet technology advancements offer manufacturers automated, easy-to-use cutting options


Versatility and precision are the two words that best capture what manufacturers are aiming for when cutting a variety of different material types with waterjet technology. But for shops where metals of varying thicknesses dominate the daily cut list, dependability and ease of use are also integral.

With tolerances as tight as 0.1 mm, waterjet technology can certainly meet the precision goal of any manufacturer, but can someone with little to no manufacturing or fabricating experience jump on a waterjet and flawlessly make their way through an extensive cut list? And what about complex parts that require 3-D-level skills – can the same novice operator pull it off?

These are valid questions because gone are the days when a newcomer could absorb sage advice from experts with decades of experience behind them. Today’s cutting machines need to pass the skills gap test, which is something companies involved in everything from robotic welding and lasers to sawing and waterjets have had to provide.

Customer-friendly operation

Kylie Howard, senior Omax waterjet marketing specialist, Hypertherm Associates, is proof that the machines her company produces can be operated without an extensive background in manufacturing. A former sales associate representing the Omax product lines, Howard went through a training program that included hands-on instruction about operating the machines she sold.

Omax’s IntelliMax software is easy to learn and frequently updated to improve usability and productivity.

“Speaking from my own experience,” Howard says, “it was very quick to learn and I was very surprised since I had no experience with CAD software at all. I went to college for business, so I had never experienced that. I definitely felt like I could easily make a part and get to cutting right away.”

Omax waterjet cutting system developers created the software, called IntelliMax, for all its waterjet lines. It is “so intuitive and talks very smoothly,” Howard says. And she’s referring to all the Omax product lines, which includes the Maxiem, GlobalMax, ProtoMax, the eponymous Omax line as well as the top-of-the-line OptiMax waterjets.

Despite the software being intuitive and user friendly, there is a slight learning curve, which is basically a non-issue thanks to the Omax waterjet product training, which is offered onsite when implementing a new machine for a customer.

“Our tech team is very skilled and very good at training new operators,” she says.

Operators are guided through the software, learning how to add cut qualities, draw parts and then actually cut parts. In addition, they are taught how to maintain the machine, including important tasks such as changing the nozzle and performing a pump rebuild.

“After the initial training, they have access to the e-learning site,” Howard says, “which includes videos and manuals. And, they can also call our customer service line, but we definitely set them up for success before we leave.”

Understanding that many shops have high turnover rates, there is always a need to get the new operator up to speed, which is why the company offers free training for life for its OptiMax and Omax systems at its Kent, Wash., headquarters.

The optimal option

The Omax waterjet product lines have a little something for everyone, including those who want the latest in waterjet technology. To that end, the company brings three decades of engineering expertise and experience to the OptiMax machines, which include the OptiMax 60 (with a 10-ft.-by-5.2-ft. table) and OptiMax 80x (with a 13.3-ft.-by-6.8-ft. table). The company touts OptiMax as the “world’s most accurate waterjet designed for maximum uptime in any manufacturing environment.”

The control center (on the left in the photo), which includes all the technology required for programming and controlling cuts, is on wheels, allowing operators to move to various parts of the table and inspect cuts as they occur.

“OptiMax is the most high-tech waterjet we offer,” Howard says. “It’s designed for the busy and diverse manufacturer. That means you’re cutting a lot of parts and a lot of different parts. You could be working with plastic one day and metal the next.”

An example of that high-tech bonus includes upgrades like the VersaJet, which is a 5-axis cutting head that is completely software-controlled. VersaJet gives users a cutting range of 0 to 60 degrees for cutting beveled edges, countersinks, angled sides as well as complex 3-D shapes. The high level of positioning accuracy results in cut parts that do not require secondary finishing, which is of great value to shops where welding the part is one of the next steps in the process.

Accessories to success

Accessories are the extras available to customers that see the advantages in moving up from what comes standard on a machine. For example, a waterjet that runs hour after hour on a daily basis outputs a massive amount of spent abrasive (garnet) – about a pound per every minute of use. The traditional way to remove spent garnet involves the laborious and time-consuming process of shoveling it out by hand. OptiMax users, however, can add a solids removal system to their machine, which automatically clears the cutting bed of spent garnet.

“It’s a great feature because it’s running while you run your machine – you don’t have to stop the operation for it to work,” Howard says. “It can just constantly be running in the background. I definitely recommend it for busy shops.”

Another waste material that can be a concern for some shops is the wastewater produced in the process of cutting material. Some users are unable to allow water from the waterjet to simply drain into the public wastewater system because of local restrictions. While water from a waterjet isn’t toxic unless the material it’s cutting is toxic, these users can avoid running afoul of the regulations by using Omax’s water recycling system, which utilizes a variety of filters to clean the water, chill it and run the water back to the pump in a closed-loop system.

A more pressing issue for most shops is preventing damage to the machine. For example, not all material on the cutting table is completely flat. To avoid collisions with bowed material, OptiMax users can install a collision-sensing terrain follower, which detects raised areas of the material that could damage the cutting head.

“The terrain follower sits on the bottom of the nozzle and allows the software to read if there are any bows,” Howard says, “so it moves the cutting head up or down depending on the terrain of the material – that’s pretty popular with customers.”

Latest upgrades

Taking customer feedback into account is part of what has made Omax’s waterjet products so valuable to users.

“If there is a customer that says, ‘you know having this button would be really nice,’ we take that into consideration, and we have done updates based on customer feedback,” Howard says.

Omax’s OptiMax high-tech waterjet cutting machine is engineered for manufacturers that require precision, versatility and reliability, cut after cut.

Speaking of keeping the customer happy, Hypertherm Associates added an automated air sweep to the OptiMax waterjets, which is a device attached to the bridge mini hopper that helps to avoid costly downtime. When a clog in the nozzle occurs, the air sweep’s integrated fluid diverter directs water away from the reservoir while an automated routine uses compressed air to clear the clog, eliminating the need for shutdown and disassembly.

OptiMax users also enjoy an auto-homing feature. Homing allows the machine to recalibrate and operate with greater accuracy, which is a manual process for most waterjet users and is recommended before every shift. However, the auto-homing function requires little to no thought on the part of the operator.

“This makes it easy for operators,” Howard says. “Just press ‘auto home’ and it just does it for them.”

And when the cutting begins, operators can now get a better view of what’s happening with workpiece lighting, which includes LED lights directed down from the bridge and into the cutting area.

Getting materials onto the cutting bed can be a delicate process, especially with the bridge holding all the important parts of the machine so near where the material is placed. Traditionally, waterjet users are able to move the bridge to the end of the cutting table and onload the material. OptiMax users will appreciate a new feature that allows them to move the bridge completely off to the side of the table.

“This allows OptiMax users to take advantage of the complete cutting envelope of the table they’re purchasing,” Howard says.

Check out the video to see the many features available with Omax’s OptiMax.

Hypertherm Associates


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