Increasing Flexibility And Business
Founded in 1950, Central Cal Metals is the largest family-run laser cutting facility in the United States. Initially they used punch presses to cut out their sheet metal work such as air conditioning ducts.
About 20 years ago, they bought their first laser to be more flexible and reduce the setup time required of a punch press. Their business grew and they now have 29 Mitsubishi and Mazak lasers along with press brakes, shears, welders, grinding and finishing equipment.
They also expanded their offering to reverse engineer parts or calculate the bend allowance of a formed part. Their customers include aftermarket automotive, farm equipment, marine parts, anything made out of metal.
"We offer a variety of services such as cutting out their drawings whether they are cardboard cutouts or dxf files," says Patrick Matarazzo, production manager.
Aluminum Cutting a Problem
They had no problem cutting sheet metal, whether carbon or stainless steel. However, aluminum offers challenges for laser cutting. Because aluminum is so reflective, more powerful and expensive lasers are needed because a large percentage of the laser's cutting power is reflected away from the surface.
But there are two other disadvantages to cutting aluminum with laser.
"The light reflection from the surface of the aluminum could blow up the lenses on our lasers and the melting process often created a burr that we had to grind down," says Matarazzo. "Anything over a half-inch was a real struggle for our lasers. If we were going to grow in this area, we had to find a solution."
Initially, they considered deburring equipment but the cost for the equipment was substantial for its sole purpose.
"That's when we started considering a waterjet," explains Matarazzo. "We had heard in the past that they were slow, messy and unreliable, but as we got more information about them, we found that wasn’t necessarily the case. Waterjets have come a long way."
Searching for the Right Waterjet
They carefully examined their options, identifying and meeting with several waterjet manufacturers.
"We designed a part that is fairly simple but difficult to cut on a laser," Matarazzo explained. "We then took field trips to their locations, handed the drawing to their demo lab personnel and carefully monitored the whole process from programming through finished part. How easy was it to program? How fast was the process from start to finish? What was the quality of the cut?"
Central Cal Metals considered systems with direct drive and intensifier pumps with pressures ranging from 55,000 psi to 94,000 psi.
They selected a Mach 3 four meter by two meter (13’ x 6 1/2’) waterjet from Flow International with Dynamic Waterjet® and a HyperJet® pump rated to 94,000 psi.
"Dynamic Waterjet impressed us with its ability to eliminate taper without sacrificing speed," says Matarazzo.
"The HyperJet pump was also a clear winner. Having a variety of lasers with power ranging from 1000 to 4000 watts, we understood the concept that higher water pressure, just like a laser’s higher wattage, cuts material faster. The combination of Dynamic Waterjet and the HyperJet pump is unbeatable for fast, accurate parts."
They were also impressed with the FlowMaster® software's easy to use point-and-click programming. Another benefit they identified was Flow's extensive support network of Field Service Engineers so that if a problem did arise, an expert could be quickly dispatched to solve it.
They let their customers know of their new machine tool and their waterjet business grew quickly. Material thickness is no longer an issue.
They now have a capacity of cutting material 5" and more and are now typically cutting 1" aluminum and stainless as well as 1 1/2" mild steel on their waterjet.
It has also allowed them to cut exotic materials such as Inconel and composites as well as titanium and rubber. "With lasers, we have to worry about the quality of the material we are cutting. With a waterjet, we don’t need premium material," says Matarazzo. "It cuts aluminum like butter with no burr so it's really improved our throughput."
The ability to now cut rubber has allowed them to quickly produce virtually any shape. There is no need to have a die made so small lot sizes are cost effective for their customers.
Their waterjet business grew so quickly that a second was added ten months later. "We were pleased with the system, training and support we received from Flow. So, we bought the same equipment, just with a larger bed."
Their second system is a seven meter by two meter (24' x 6 1/2') Mach 3, again with Dynamic Waterjet and a HyperJet. Both systems now run eight to ten hours a day five days a week.
Thicker materials, a wide variety of materials, and fast throughput have increased their customer satisfaction and their business.
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