Insights from industry

Advanced Abrasive Waterjet Technology

In this interview, Steve Ulmer, Vice President of International Sales at OMAX® Corporation, talks to AZoM about advanced abrasive waterjet technology.

Could you please provide a brief introduction to the industry that OMAX works within and outline the key drivers?

OMAX Corporation is a leading total solutions provider of advanced abrasive waterjet technology with the broadest range of table sizes, pumps, accessories, software and support on the market. Because our waterjet technology quickly and accurately cuts through virtually any type of material, from composites to rubber to titanium, we are able to assist manufacturing companies of all sizes on a wide range of production runs. The industry segments we serve include aerospace, architecture, education, energy, government, medical and transportation.

Could you give a brief introduction and history of abrasivejet and waterjet cutting?

The concept of abrasive waterjet machining – which forces a high-pressure stream of water with an abrasive, such as garnet, through a small nozzle orifice to cut materials – has been around since the 1930s. However, users often deemed the process inaccurate, messy and difficult to control.

In the early 1990s, abrasive waterjet original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) began developing new technology that made the waterjet cutting process more practical, affordable and easy to use by harnessing control of the cutting nozzle. OMAX revolutionized the waterjet industry with the creation of its first JetMachining® Center, Model 2448, and the industry’s first PC controller for abrasive waterjet machining. Together, the 2448 and PC controller provided manufacturers with the first affordable abrasive waterjet system that offered consistent, precise results.

Today, abrasive waterjet technology is one of the most versatile machining options available. From processing fine details in stone to cutting holes in titanium, abrasive waterjets can slice through virtually any material faster than traditional cutting techniques. Plus, OEMs, including OMAX, continue to take the technology to new heights, allowing manufacturers to compete like never before. While waterjet cutting started as a strictly 2D process, new software and accessory advancements now make it possible for manufacturers to create high-precision, complex 3D parts using abrasive waterjet machines.

Consider the latest version of OMAX Corporation’s Intelli-MAX® Software Suite, which is free to all existing OMAX JetMachining® Center owners. Intelli-MAX 18 provides programming power and solutions together with functions and features that deliver increased compatibility, expandability and customizability for a wide variety of options. This software supports up to six axes of coordinated motion – X, Y, Z linear, two tilt and one rotary. With this enhanced functionality, shops can quickly and easily program and cut 3D patterns in a multitude of applications, from the peripheries of tubes and pipes and fitting operations to prep cuts and bevels.

What role does water quality play in the life of abrasivejet machining systems? How can this be maintained?

In abrasive waterjet machining, proper water treatment is critical because it influences the longevity of certain critical machine components, such as the nozzle orifice, on/off valves, seals, check valves and plungers.

In order to maintain the high-quality cutting of an abrasive waterjet machine, it is important to consider the following when it comes to water quality:

  • Contaminates in the water can create several problems for the nozzle orifice. These contaminates take the form of dissolved or suspended solids. Particles suspended in the water impact the edge of the orifice and can chip it, resulting in poor jet quality and cutting capability. Dissolved solids can collect onto the entrance of the orifice, creating a ring of precipitate buildup that will eventually break off and damage the orifice.
  • Water hardness, or the types of metals in the water, as well as PH levels can negatively impact the high-pressure components of an abrasive waterjet machine. In fact, water that is too pure can dissolve materials that it comes in contact with, while too much water treatment can also be detrimental. There must be a balance between pure water and a treated water supply. Testing of the local water supply should always occur prior to the installation of any waterjet system. Required water treatment may range from nothing to simple filters, water softeners or reverse osmosis machines.
  • Water temperatures above 21 degrees Celsius can shorten the lifespan of the seals on a waterjet pump. For those who struggle with higher water temperatures, a chiller system can help decrease high-pressure pump maintenance or replacement.

What are the major advantages of using OMAX waterjet machines?

Our intuitive Intelli-MAX® Software Suite helps set us apart from the competition. This proprietary software, which we continuously update and improve, makes it easy for customers to create precision parts faster and at a lower cost by automatically optimizing tool paths. Additionally, the software automates most programming and tool setup work, virtually eliminating the need for extensive operator training.

Furthermore, OMAX offers what it considers the most efficient abrasive waterjet machines on the market. Our machines operate with less electrical power, water and garnet consumption when compared to competitive designs. Part of what makes OMAX machines so efficient is our EnduroMAX® Pump design, which operates at 85 percent efficiency as opposed to the 60 and 70 percent range of intensifier pumps.

OMAX also provides cantilever, bridge and extended bridge JetMachining Centers – how do these differ and what industries would benefit from each?

Cantilever-style machines offer manufacturers a range of smaller table sizes that consist of only one X-axis and one Y-axis. Bridge-style machines, on the other hand, include larger table sizes and bigger supportive structures for machine axis movement.

With cantilever machines, it is important not to extend the cantilever too far; otherwise, vibration and drooping can occur, making it difficult to cut accurate, dependable parts. If cantilever extension is an issue, it is best to purchase a bridge-style machine. OMAX’s bridge machines feature either a 1.5 meter or 2 meter bridge. If a manufacturer needs a bridge beyond 2 meters, then a bridge extension should be considered.

Because each industry operates under different certifications, it is difficult to pinpoint which style of machine is best for a particular manufacturing segment. If a manufacturer needs assistance in selecting the right machine for a specific operation, our expert sales and support staff can help determine the best possible solution.

What are the different types of taper that occur when using waterjet and abrasivejet. How can tapers be minimized?

Generally, there is one type of taper associated with a waterjet, occuring when the stream leaves the nozzle. This taper, inherent to all waterjet streams, occurs in the workpiece as the water works its way through the material. There are two ways in which manufacturers can minimize such taper. The more traditional way is by slowing down the jet enough to make perpendicular surfaces in both the workpiece and scrap material. This method, however, can increase cut time when working with materials that are more than 15 mm thick because the jet must slow down enough to compensate for the taper.

OMAX, on the other hand, offers a faster, more accurate means of minimizing taper. Our highly advanced Tilt-A-Jet® cutting head accessory enables OMAX JetMachining® Centers to achieve virtually zero taper with most materials for the precision cutting of parts with square, taper-free edges, including interlocking pieces and dove tail fittings. Through the company’s Intelli-MAX® control software, the Tilt-A-Jet automatically calculates and adjusts the angle of the nozzle to accurately remove the natural taper from the finished part by transferring it to the scrap part of the material—all while maintaining extremely high cutting rates.

How are pumps useful in the abrasivejet process? What are the different types of pumps that are required?

The pump provides the abrasive waterjet machine with the level of horsepower it needs for successful operation. (Pumps are available in different horsepower ratings depending on the application). A pump’s function in waterjet machining can be compared to a car engine supplying horsepower to the wheels. The pump converts electrical horsepower into hydraulic horsepower, which occurs differently with various types of pumps.

In abrasive waterjet machining, there are two common pump types: direct drive and intensifier. OMAX relies on direct-drive pump technology because it offers improved pump operating life and better efficiency when compared to intensifier designs.

How are the pumps from OMAX unique?

The EnduroMAX® Pump, which comes standard on all OMAX JetMachining® Centers, provides double the operating life of other designs, and makes for faster part processing, lower operating costs and easier maintenance.

The EnduroMAX Pump maximizes machine uptime with its 1,000-hour operating range between required pump rebuilds when run at 55,000 psi (3,800 bar). However, the pump can also effortlessly run continuously at 60,000 psi (4,100 bar).

Furthermore, the EnduroMAX Pump runs much more efficiently than intensifier pump designs. The EnduroMAX operates at 85 percent efficiency as opposed to the 60 percent to 70 percent range of intensifier pumps. The EnduroMAX also delivers more horsepower to the nozzle while using less electricity than intensifier pumps.

The combination of continuous 60,000 psi operation and 85 percent efficiency allows OMAX machines using the EnduroMAX to process parts faster. All models of EnduroMAX Pumps deliver 60,000 psi and are offered in various horsepower ratings. The available models are the 3060 (30 hp/22 kW), 4060 (40 hp/30 kW), and 5060 (50 hp/37 kW).

OMAX has expanded into Europe – could you tell us a little bit more about this and explain what it means to the company?

Europe is a key target market for OMAX® Corporation, and we are diligently working to expand our reach throughout the continent to meet the increased demand for our machines overseas. We are currently partnering with 12 European distributors, and these collaborations increase the availability of our high-performance OMAX JetMachining® Centers and versatile MAXIEM® JetCutting Centers in the region. We also rely on each European distributor’s highly trained support staff and field technicians to engage OMAX and MAXIEM customers on emerging technology and solution ideas for boosting productivity and profitability. Additionally, OMAX has its own technical support team members located in Europe.

How do you see the waterjet machining technology sector progressing over the next decade?

Our offerings moving forward will continue to develop as the market demands for machine sizes and capabilities continue to change. We see ourselves as continuing to offer the broadest spectrum of machines to the industry, all of which are manufactured in our Kent, Wash. headquarters.

In regards to specific technologies, especially in Europe, we are seeing an increase in demand for higher productivity with less human intervention. Because of this trend, we see OMAX merging more with automation operations.

Steve UlmerThis change in demand will require high functionality of the machine with better communication between the systems within the machine and the machine with the production staff.

About Steve Ulmer

Steve Ulmer joined OMAX® Corporation in 2004 and has served as the company’s Vice President of International Sales for the past four years. He is responsible for continuing to grow the company’s market share and product availability in more than 50 countries by establishing new sales territories and fostering world-class distribution partnerships. As part of his role, Ulmer oversees internal staff members, more than 30 distributors and countless agents. Currently, international sales represent over 40 percent of OMAX Corporation’s overall machine sales revenue.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily represent the views of AZoM.com Limited (T/A) AZoNetwork, the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and Conditions of use of this website.

G.P. Thomas

Written by

G.P. Thomas

Gary graduated from the University of Manchester with a first-class honours degree in Geochemistry and a Masters in Earth Sciences. After working in the Australian mining industry, Gary decided to hang up his geology boots and turn his hand to writing. When he isn't developing topical and informative content, Gary can usually be found playing his beloved guitar, or watching Aston Villa FC snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

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