The dual-head waterjet machine means Altar Metal Fab can increase production capabilities in a shop with limited floor space.Click image to enlargeby Mary Scianna

The Problem: Limited floor space, production capabilities

The Solution: Dual-head waterjet system

Dual-head waterjet cutting system gives BC shop production boost and ability to expand into more markets

Altar Metal Fab Co. Ltd. operates out of a 465 sq m (5,000 sq ft) facility in Kelowna, BC.

Like many job shop owners, brothers Dallas, Trevor and Tyson Schmitke would like to expand their operation, but local real estate is expensive. Instead, for the time being, they're focused on acquiring fabricating equipment that will essentially allow them to do more with less.

In 2013 it purchased a dual-head waterjet cutting system from Machitech Automation, Saint-Marc-des-Carrieres, QC, through the builder's distributor, Praxair (based in Brampton, ON), equipped with a 60,000 psi Streamline SL-V pump from KMT. It's the second waterjet cutting system in the shop that sits alongside equipment for sawing, shearing, forming, punching (iron worker), rolling (plate rolls) and welding (MIG, TIG and spot welder). The first waterjet, purchased in 2006, was a Calypso machine also equipped with a KMT pump, (Calypso was acquired by Jet Edge in 2009).

Dallas Schmitke, operations manager, says waterjet was the best technology fit for the shop.

"We looked at all the options, lasers, routers, plasma and waterjet. Being a small shop, we needed a technology that could cut everything because in our fabricating and welding shop we deal with a lot of different materials; aluminum, stainless steel, copper, brass and other non-metal materials."

The 60,000 psi KMT Streamline SL-V equipped on the Machiteh dual-head waterjet has helped improve production efficiencies.Click image to enlargeFlexibility was the main reason Altar Metal selected waterjet technology. As business began to expand, the Schmitke brothers recognized they'd have to invest in more fabricating equipment. Based on their experience with waterjet, they knew they would purchase a second waterjet machine, but they wanted something that would allow them to increase productivity; hence the decision to purchase the dual-head waterjet.

Doubling production
"Waterjet has helped us grow the business. Dollar figure, it's probably helped grow it ten times from when we started because of its ability to do so much," says Schmitke. "The dual head system was a production decision. We knew we needed another table, but getting twice the cutting out of one table was a huge deciding factor for us."

Schmitke estimates that Altar gets more production from the dual head unit than from a single waterjet unit.

"When you're cutting two pieces with the dual head the machine runs at 80 per cent of the speed the table could run with only one head, so it's a little slower, but you're getting double the production. We have existing ongoing contracts and when they get busy we need to keep up with their orders; we couldn't keep up if we didn't have this dual head waterjet system."

Equally important for Schmitke is the quality of cuts. He says quality "is right up there."

"We selected Machitech Automation's machine with the KMT pumps because we know the technology is proven in the field. Machitech started building plasma tables and have refined the technology for waterjet and fiber laser cutting. We use Hypertherm's ProNest nesting software and the technologies combined give us good repeatability, easier programming and good quality cuts."

The waterjet decision
Schmitke and his brothers looked at all the cutting technologies, but zeroed in on waterjet cutting for two main reasons: technology flexibility and cost.

"We're a small shop and have to be flexible in what we can cut. It's not just metal, but foam, plywood, granite, plastic and glass, and waterjet can cut these materials very well. When you compare waterjet to a laser, laser cutting machines can run three times the price of a waterjet. We know we're a little slower cutting steel with waterjet, but the quality is there and it gives us the option to cut other materials too."

The decision to purchase from Machitech Automation was easy.

"We like to support local industry and Canadian industries as best we can and Machitech being based in Quebec was a big deciding factor," says Schmitke. "We also liked what Machitech had to offer because we wanted another KMT pump on our second waterjet. We were used to dealing with these pumps, and we knew maintenance would be fairly easy. It was one of our stipulations to have a KMT pump on the waterjet."

Serving diverse markets
When you operate a job shop in a relatively small regional community, you need the ability to service a diverse market.

"Our ability to touch different industries in a smaller market is key for us and for our success. Last year we worked with a local artist who got commissioned to create art for a downtown revitalization project. There are 48 pieces of art work in stainless steel posted on light posts that we fabricated," says Schmitke.

Preparing for the future
As anyone in the job shop business knows, it's a tough gig. Competitive pressures and the lack of skilled tradespeople are just two of the many challenges job shops face.

"The biggest items on my wish list is finding skilled labour and having a technological advantage over our competitors," says Schmitke.

For Altar Metals the skilled jobs shortage is even more evident.

"People want to live here but they don't want to work here because the wages are not up to par to those in the Alberta oil sands, which is not far away. Wages in the oil sands are five times what they are here so it's hard to find good people because of this; it affects our ability to grow."

It's yet another reason why Altar Metals relies on technology to help make it more competitive. To continue to grow, Schmitke says he and his brothers are looking to diversify into new markets.

"We're looking at small projects in the green energy sector. We're working with some companies now with solar farms to build brackets. We're also working on a part for small wind turbines. We're going to work on the design and fabrication of the aluminum scoop portion that catches the wind." SMT

Altar Metal Fab Co. Ltd

KMT Waterjet

Machitech Automation

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