Fast-cutting waterjet machine improves productivity for emergency vehicle fabrication work
by Mary Scianna
The Problem: Unreliable outsourced fabrication work.
The Solution: Investment in waterjet cutting equipment to bring fabrication work in-house.
Ever since repositioning his business from automotive electrical repair and maintenance to emergency vehicle repair, maintenance and fabrication in 2000, Scott Rowland has wanted a waterjet cutting machine.
“I’ve dreamt about a waterjet machine, but we didn’t have room for it in our old building,” says the owner and president of Rowland Emergency Vehicle Products Inc., Mississauga, ON.
For years, the company had been outsourcing much of its fabrication work, but Rowland says it wasn’t working.
“I’m a custom shop so I don’t buy 20 or 50 of one product, and production shops want the high production orders so my work gets put to the side. I would give them three months lead time for five metal boxes and I’d call at the end of three months and they hadn’t even started on them. It was terrible.”
When the company sold its 4,600 sq ft facility in Etobicoke, ON, and moved into a new 18,000 sq ft plant in Mississauga, ON – where Rowland could fit in fabrication equipment – it was time for the waterjet machine.
So Rowland and his son Blake – a 24-year-old computer science graduate who was instrumental in designing products for the waterjet – dropped by Westway Machinery’s open house in Mississauga. Westway, a Flow waterjet distributor, had sold Rowland some fabrication equipment – shears and band saws.
“We went to a seminar, saw the waterjet in action and met ‘Flow Joe’ as we call him [Joe Bodorkos, Flow’s regional manager]. I saw the machine cut and it was amazing.”
Rowland had sent out for quotes to other waterjet suppliers, but ultimately decided on Flow’s Mach 2 abrasive waterjet cutting machine because
“of Joe’s knowledge of waterjet machines – he knows these machines inside out – the service and the support. Flow has three technicians just in Southern Ontario so I felt comfortable because I knew the company could provide the technical support and service we needed.”
By the time he purchased the waterjet machine, Rowland had already severed his ties with the shops doing fabrication work and was fabricating in-house using existing shearing and bending equipment.
“After we purchased the machine but before it was delivered, we purchased SolidWorks and my son designed the boxes using the CAD program. We were cutting them manually on the shear and with the band saw and then bending them. It was taking one person about three to four days just to make these boxes. Now the waterjet can do it in 20 minutes.”
The Equipment: Flexible waterjet cutting
What appealed most to Scott Rowland about waterjet cutting was its ability to cut a range of materials and material thicknesses. As a custom shop, work orders can change quickly and Rowland wanted fabrication equipment that would allow his company to respond just as quickly to customer needs.
Most of the products Rowland now fabricates are aluminum ranging in thicknesses from 1250 ga to .25 in., but the waterjet also cuts plywood, used to replace the floors of ambulances and emergency services vehicles, and is also placed on the back of aluminum storage units that serve as a mounting surface for radio equipment, GPS units and other electronics.
Flow’s Mach 2 2031b series waterjet is equipped with the FlowMaster software package and the company’s JetPlex 55,000 psi direct drive pump. The unit features solid steel casting construction and precision reciprocating ball screws. Rowland’s machine has a cutting envelope of 2 m x 3.1 m (6.5 ft x 10 ft) to allow for full size 5 ft x 10 ft metal sheets.
Joe Bodorkos, Flow’s territory manager, says the FlowMaster software package is an easy to use program that “sets the correct acceleration, speed and piercing parameters” and all of it can be done “with three simple steps without the need for any G code knowledge.”
Another key feature on the waterjet is the direct drive pump. Flow’s pump features a patented Pac-V technology which uses a simple automatic venturi mechanism to react when the cutting head closes or when adjusting pressures. The method minimizes wear and tear on the pump and on other high pressure components, says Bodorkos.
Morphing into manufacturing
Rowland Emergency Vehicle Products Inc. began as a repair and maintenance business, but its reputation for developing, designing and manufacturing products that address the needs of its customers has grown steadily. The new abrasive waterjet cutting machine is the start of what essentially is a morphing of the business from repair and maintenance to OEM fabrication work for the emergency vehicle services (EMS) industry.
“My business plan is to supply customers with everything in the ambulance,”
The company is well on its way to fulfilling his vision. In addition to repair and maintenance work, the company is a distributor of a wide range of medical devices and fabricates some of the metal components used to outfit the emergency services vehicles and ambulances.
During Shop Metalworking Technology’s visit to the shop, one of several vehicles being worked on was an ambulance for York Region. The ambulance is equipped with several compartments to house emergency supplies but the paramedics wanted a new storage shelf to sit atop a metal storage box to let them access supplies more quickly.
“York Region found out about our waterjet and they asked us if we could build them aluminum trays on which they could place medical supplies such as needles and bandages. We’ve designed the aluminum tray and York Region is approving them now.”
In another example of how Rowland is winning business – and why Rowland expects an ROI on his waterjet of one and a half years – is a radio head plate he designed for ambulances.
“The manufacturer designed the dash with the radio head, but it was too far away for the paramedics and when they needed to use it they’d have take their eyes off the road to change it. They wanted to move it closer so we made a plate that goes from the dashboard towards the paramedics. I made it by hand – drilled it, inserted the nuts and it worked great. The paramedics liked it and we got a call for 50 of them. Then other municipalities heard about it and we got more calls. It’s just a piece of metal that needs to be cut, drilled and sanded, but it was time consuming.
“Now with the Flow waterjet and the software for part programming, I can pull the file and cut 80 of these plates in a couple of minutes. “
Rowland is now also building special response units that have aluminum bodies. The shop built two of them last year, has two more on order and expects more orders in the near future.
“We’ll outsource the fabrication of the aluminum bodies and finish the inside ourselves, but gradually we’ll begin to build our own bodies.”
To accommodate the growing fabrication work it expects to do in-house, Rowland says he’s also looking at upgrading other fabrication equipment.
“We’re thinking about a new hydraulic press brake and a better bender. We’re doing a lot of fancy work with the waterjet and the press brake seems to be holding us back a bit. After that we’d like to purchase some CNC machines for machining. We outsource some product now that’s machined – a collaspsible defibrillator pole that holds the defibrillators on the stretchers. It would be nice to bring that in house; we’re doing all the drawings for it anyway so it would be a matter of purchasing equipment to do the work.” SMT