“Future-proof” technology

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by Andrew Brooks

The problem
A new job shop needed to be ready for anything

The solution
The right mix of abrasive waterjet and laser cutting systems

 Alloy processor start-up invests in technology to “future-proof” business

Any job shop knows the challenge of keeping equipment up to date. But for new startups, the challenge is compounded by the need to future-proof–to get the equipment you need so you can handle new and varied demands as your operation grows. 

That was the task facing Emtek Processed Alloys of Guelph, ON, a new first stage alloy processor in Guelph, ON. Fortunately those behind the new venture, including general manager Jeff Emrich and plant manager Ed Simms, already had plenty of experience in the field. And they did their homework thoroughly before Emtek opened its doors in March of last year.

For Emtek, “future-proofing” meant three cutting machines–two lasers and an abrasive waterjet system. Emtek uses a 3000 kW Bystronic Bystar 3000 CO2 laser for light gauge sheet up to around ¼ in. (6.35 mm), and a 4500 kW CO2 Amada FOM2 for thicknesses ranging from 3/8 to ¾ in. (9.52 to 19.05 mm). The Flow Mach 3 4020b abrasive waterjet can handle all these thicknesses and more, up to six in. (152 mm).

Emtek grew quickly, doubling its workforce from four to eight in six months. The company now processes about 80,000 lb (36,000 kg) of sheet and plate every month. “Right now we’re running a nine hour shift,” Emrich says. The ultimate goal is to reach the point where Emtek can justify hiring three or four more employees and get a full-scale second shift running. Emtek has also upgraded the building’s power with a view to acquiring two or three more cutting machines as growth allows.

“We have just under 50 active accounts right now,” Emrich says. “I’d describe the range of work we do at this point as very general. We consider ourselves a job shop.” Customers include those that do food and water processing work, others are in the manufacture of components for pressure vessel and heat exchanger manufacturers, and some do military jobs.

“The waterjet is a good safety mechanism because if anything goes wrong with either laser it can do the work of both of those machines,” Emrich says. But the waterjet is about more than backup. Emtek’s unit is a high end model with features that Emrich says give Emtek a competitive edge. 

The unit’s “Dynamic Waterjet” system enables it to compensate for the natural tendency of the abrasive-laden water stream to spread as it cuts, creating a taper in the kerf. The error can be as much as 0.010 in. (0.254 mm) on each side of the kerf. With Dynamic Waterjet a small articulated wrist is attached to the cutting head, enabling it to be positioned to compensate for this taper.

“The nozzle will tilt so the edge of the stream is coming down perfectly straight on the part side and all the offshoot spills into the waste material,” Emrich says. “When we were buying the machine Ed really pushed for this. You won’t get a squarer cut out of a waterjet than you will with this system.”

A waterjet does cut more slowly than a laser, which raises the cost per part produced. But the Dynamic Waterjet system means customers can save time and money when it comes to post-process machining. There’s no hardening along the cut the way there is with high-heat cutting, and the tendency of the material to bend or twist during cutting is reduced, adding a degree of precision to minimize post-process machining. 

“There is more labour involved in the waterjet cut part than, say, a plasma cut part,” Emrich says. “So if they were going to compare my price for cutting with the waterjet to a plasma doing the same piece, my cost will be higher. But where they’re going to save is at the machining stage. The waterjet cut piece can reduce post-process machining costs significantly.”

The Mach 3’s HyperPressure system helps reduce the speed penalty associated with waterjet processing. “Standard pressures for a waterjet are around 60,000 psi,” Emrich says. “With the HyperPressure on this machine we get pressures of 87,000 to 88,000 psi, and with the intensifier we can bump that to 95,000 psi. It makes the cutting faster, but you’re also not losing edge quality as a result of the higher speed.” 

The higher pressures also reduce the amount of garnet sand abrasive used during cutting. “Our waterjet goes through upwards of a pound of sand a minute,” Emrich says. “I’ve been told that on a conventional waterjet cutting at slower speeds you could be using one and a half times that amount.” Emtek has also switched from a 60 grit sand to a finer 80 grit to reduce consumption further and improve cutting performance. 

The high pressure did prove to be a challenge when Emtek was setting up. The building was formerly a warehouse, with roof joists 14-15 ft above the floor. Because the Mach 3 operates at such high pressures, the hose that takes the pressurized water from the pump to the cutting head, called the “wip,” has to be as straight as possible. Instead of twisting and turning through the machine, it arcs overhead, high enough to interfere with the roof joists. Flow made a custom wip and got it to Emtek in 48 hours, at no cost. 

“Having the waterjet’s ability to cut thick plate with high precision, we can focus on filling entire bills of material that a traditional laser house wouldn’t be able to entertain,” Emrich says. “We’ve targeted jobs that need that squareness of cut. I can name five or six applications where through our demonstrations we’ve converted the customer from plasma to waterjet, just in the short time we’ve been in business.” SMT

Andrew Brooks is a Toronto-based writer.

Emtek Processed Alloys
Flow Waterjet 



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