The introduction to waterjet technology is often prompted by the need for achieving tighter tolerances with no risk of a heat-affected zone. In fact, some waterjet machines can achieve a tolerance as small as 0.025 mm. Without waterjet technology in the shop to meet their tolerance needs, owners have to outsource the work to others, which can prolong lead times. Bringing the technology in-house becomes an exciting prospect and once they do it, shop owners seldom look back.
For Steel Sales Inc., located in the upstate New York town of Sherburne, Kenneth Allgair, general manager, says the company was looking for a way to evolve its fabrication capabilities and provide additional services to customers. After doing some research, Allgair knew waterjet technology could provide that needed boost.
Incorporated in 1993 to offer steel distribution and custom fabrication services, Steel Sales has for years worked with contractors, agri-business, aggregate industries, municipalities, maintenance departments, welders and fabricators, and the general public. The shop is equipped with a variety of metal working technology, including punches, drills and milling machines, as well as a high-definition CNC plasma table. About a year, ago an Omax 60120 waterjet machining center was implemented.
Hypertherm, a provider of plasma-based cutting technology, acquired Omax in 2019. Allgair says Steel Sales has used Hypertherm products for “as long as I can remember,” so it was only natural that he would reach out to Omax in part because of Hypertherm’s reputation for exemplary service and support, which he assumed would be the same at Omax.
“I got a hold of a rep from Omax and asked him to walk us through their products,” Allgair says. “After listening to him and seeing their samples, we knew it was going to be the next piece of equipment we were bringing into our shop. I will say since day one when the sales rep was here, the service and technical support have been excellent. He walked us through everything.”
The best center
The Omax 60120 is the first in the Omax bridge machine series, providing precision and versatility. John Almy, regional sales manager at Omax, says the “bridge” in the product name refers to the support at each end of the Y-axis or X-axis.
“For larger machines, it’s important to have the support for both the length and weight,” he says. “We also sell cantilever systems where only one end is supported.”
The 60120 offers a relatively small footprint, allowing extra room for work in the shop. Standard features include pre-loaded linear bearings and precision ball screws. The machine also comes standard with a 600-lb. bulk abrasive delivery system, which transports garnet from the assembly’s large hopper. It has a standard programmable motorized Z-axis with a precision MaxJet 5i nozzle for improved productivity and process efficiency.
The waterjet is also equipped with the standard rapid water level control for cleaner, safer and quieter submerged cutting (most of the work can be done at below 80 dBA).
“It’s certainly a cool feature,” Allgair says of the quiet operation. “It’s in our fabrication shop, so it’s right there. The health and safety of our employees is always a high priority for us. With that feature, it offers a quieter work environment for the guys, so it’s less stress on them and improves productivity.”
Almy says Omax considers a variety of factors in the working environment, noise levels being one of them.
“There are two factors for noise level control with our machines,” he says. “The first is water level control. This provides the capability to cut submerged, which is a cleanliness factor, as well as a noise reduction factor. The second is the pump. Our EnduroMax pumps do not work off a hydraulic system. The result is a quieter working pump. Those two main factors are part of the mindset for all of our products. “
Steel Sales serves approximately 18 counties in the area surrounding Sherburne. Allgair says they have a wide range of customers and that “no job is too small or too big.” They also do many one-offs and prototype work, which is a perfect match for waterjet technology. Before implementing the waterjet machine, Allgair says they processed all of their steel and aluminum on their burn table, but by bringing in the waterjet, they have “doubled the amount of material we can process.”
“A really cool feature I love about the waterjet is that it is so accurate in its dimensions,” he says, adding that the shop has even been able to eliminate some processes by using the waterjet, which saves time. For example, when making crusher plates on the burn table, the shop would cut the shape of the part on the burn table and then transfer it to a CNC milling machine to tap the hole in the part. All of those steps are accomplished on the waterjet machine.
The brains behind the 60120 is Omax’s IntelliMax software suite, which runs on Windows 10. It is intuitive and easy to use but offers power and performance to the user. For example, users can create drawings and import part files and IntelliMax takes the design and prepares it for machining.
An important part of the software is Layout, which is Omax’s CAD software that creates toolpaths for the waterjet system. Layout includes the basic commands common to CAD packages, but it also brings a suite of tools specific to abrasive waterjet and waterjet machining. Furthermore, the software includes cut quality specifications, toolpath fonts, and gear and rack generation.
“This proprietary software suite tells the machine what to do,” Almy says. “It controls the cutting speed and placement of the cutting head, and our Layout and Make platforms mimic that of any CAD/CAM engineered software.”
He adds that mimicking the CAD/CAM engineered software means the operators can move rapidly from print to part with the ability to important 90-plus file types, including cleaning and pathing tools and an advanced cutting model to deliver parts that meet quality and cost requirements.
“Our software engineers are constantly optimizing and updating IntelliMax,” Almy says, “which means our customers are always using the most advanced version.
Another part of the software developed specifically for waterjet cutting is Make, which sends precise motor control commands to the machine, moving the nozzle along the toolpath and controlling the flow of the abrasive and water at the same time. Make includes advanced corner and piercing optimizations, which are autonomically applied for improved precision and speed.
Finally, IntelliMax includes IntelliCAM, which is a computer-aided manufacturing program that allows users to generate 2-D and 3-D toolpaths from 3-D models. Users can import their 3-D file from a variety of files types and the 3-D object pops up in an interactive window. Users can get their 2-D profile from any face or slice of the 3-D model easily using IntelliCAM. The software also includes an AutoPath function, which automatically creates a waterjet-reasonable toolpath while applying the required attributes for 3-D cutting.
“It’s definitely very easy to use,” Allgair says of the waterjet’s software. “The operators picked it up very quickly. They are drawing their own parts and making them for the customers. It’s improved productivity and allowed us to take on new and more complex work.”