A supersonic jet stream of water and abrasive can cut through almost any material with high precision, as a fabrication shop in Eugene, Ore., discovered. Harvest Valley Specialties (HVS) was founded in 2008 to provide design and fabrication services to businesses in the Willamette Valley, including breweries and wineries.
Known as “Oregon wine country,” the Willamette Valley is home to more than 500 wineries and is famous for its world-class pinot noir. HVS is a family business owned by Randy and Lorena Brigl with their son Josh running the waterjet department. HVS likes to do a little bit of everything – from one-off prototypes to typical job shop work.
When the company first opened, the shop occasionally received orders that required components cut from materials or thicknesses that its press brake, shear, punch press and plasma torch couldn’t handle. That component work was outsourced to other shops with waterjet machines or laser cutters. But the lead time for the outsourced work was one to three weeks, significantly increasing total production time and costs for those projects. It also hampered HVS’s ability to take on quick turnaround jobs.
Word circulated around the Valley about HVS’s good quality work. Order volumes increased, the business grew and so did its dependence on outsourcing components. Lorena, in charge of finances, found the business was spending an average of $35,000 per year on outsourced cutting work. The Brigls knew they needed a solution that allowed them to handle more of the work in-house.
“The initial cost of a laser and cost of maintenance and consumables weren’t within our budget,” Randy explains. “I didn’t know much about abrasive waterjets, including their accuracy and what maintenance was required. But, when I talked with Greg Smith, the Omax sales manager for our region, I was interested in what they had to offer. The versatility, accuracy, cut quality and affordability of their waterjets sounded like a great match for our needs. We sent a drawing file for Omax to cut and they had it back the next day.”
Versatility meets flexibility
More and more fabricators are turning to waterjet machines rather than traditional CNC milling machines, laser cutters or wire EDMs to cut material because waterjets can handle such a wide variety of materials and thicknesses. Most of what HVS cuts is from stainless and mild steel, but the company also gets job orders that require cutting glass, ceramic tile, UHMW polyethylene and stone, all materials that a waterjet can cut with high precision, no heat-affected zones and no tool changes.
Impressed with what they had learned about waterjet technology and wanting to learn more, the Brigls decided to visit the Omax manufacturing plant in Kent, Wash., that same week.
“We toured the Omax facility and had a really good experience,” Randy says, “and the hospitality was excellent. I’d recommend to everyone to see where the machines are built and how they’re built. After seeing the different waterjet machines in operation on the manufacturing floor, as well as in the demo lab, it was easier to determine which model and size machine would best fit our needs. We liked the company atmosphere and the quality of the workmanship and decided to purchase an Omax 55100.”
One factor that influenced the Brigls’ choice of an Omax waterjet was the fact that Omax offers free training for the life of the machine. Once the machine was purchased, Josh attended a hands-on waterjet operator training course at Omax headquarters in Kent. After Omax technicians set up the waterjet at the HVS shop, Lorena and Randy attended the training course, too.
With the Omax waterjet added to its equipment inventory, HVS has reduced production time and labor costs for a lot of the work the company does.
“Having the waterjet gives us much more freedom,” Randy says. “We don’t have to rely on outsourcing our cutting needs. We can turn around most jobs much quicker. We can also take on emergency jobs. The quicker turnaround has been key to our increased revenue.”
Another boost to the company’s revenue is expansion into the waterjet-specific cutting market.
“It took about six months to get the word out without any real advertising,” Randy adds. “It has opened up a whole new market for us. We can take in more orders because we can handle a wider variety of materials. Business has really picked up. Now, we have a steady flow of jobs coming through the shop.”
Yet another unexpected benefit from the waterjet purchase is how it has streamlined the shop’s operations. Randy says that the waterjet has changed the thought process on how to design projects.
“We can be much more creative now that we can cut virtually any shape and thickness from most any material,” he says. “In addition to cutting our parts, we use the waterjet to cut weld fixtures, templates and jigs to speed up assembly time and reduce labor costs. We’ve reduced the time we spend doing layout work and tool changes, and our part accuracy has increased.”
Waterjet capability at HVS has also changed perceptions of customers and their cutting requests. Randy says many new customers don’t realize the capabilities and benefits of waterjet cutting, such as no heat-affected edges and the ability to cut virtually any thick materials that a laser can’t touch.
“We have samples to offer that show the accuracy and definition of cut and edge quality based on different cutting speeds,” he says. “We experienced an increased demand for thicker parts.”
To handle those requests, HVS decided to upgrade the waterjet’s cutting head to a Tilt-A-Jet, which allows for taper-free cutting without slowing down cutting speed.
“The very slight kerf taper has never been a problem with thinner gauge parts up to 1/8 in.,” Randy says. “The Tilt-A-Jet allows us to cut tight tolerance holes, for example, to press-fit bronze bushings in 1/2-in. stainless steel plate and reduce the tolerance needed for interlocking assemblies.”
The Omax waterjet has expanded HVS’s customer base, enabled the company to stay competitive in its market and helped the business grow. The shop has processed more than 90,000 lbs. of stainless steel raw material over the last year and now, the Brigls are in a 5,000-sq.-ft. facility with a shop staff of six people.
“We’ve been very happy with the decision to purchase an Omax waterjet,” Randy says. “When you find the perfect tool to accomplish the goal, you don’t look back.”