The choices are all pretty impressive when it comes to CNC machines. There’s no clear winner out of the Plasma-Laser-Waterjet trifecta. It’s only when you apply your specific needs to the equation that a clear leader emerges. And for each different person or company, the machine that comes out on top will be different.
We’ve looked at the pros and cons of the three different CNC machines before. But, with the rapid changes in technology brought on by the Industry 4.0 juggernaut, we know the answers aren’t going to remain in stasis. All it might take is a single improvement to launch one of the three machines into a considerable lead.
Austech’s 2017 expo gave us the perfect opportunity to update our knowledge on the CNC saga. Our quest led us to Glenn Langdon, co-owner and sales director of TECHNI Waterjet. The Aussie company has been in business for 28 years and specialising in waterjet CNC machines for 20.
Why do we consider TECHNI Waterjet experts?
While they have branches in the US, Thailand, and Germany, TECHNI Waterjet do all their design and engineering work in Melbourne. We figured they were the perfect experts to weigh in on our question as they are one of very few manufacturers in the world who make every single piece of their own componentry. As Glen explains:
“We manufacture our own pump, XY cutting table, abrasive feeder, removal systems, unique 5 axis PAC cutting head. Everything. We’re proud to be able to say we truly manufacture the complete waterjet system.”
Most other machines you’ll find on the market are made up of different components from different companies. So if something goes wrong, they don’t know who to call. With TECHNI, it’s as obvious as the Ghostbusters theme song. You know who to call. All the spare parts and service is based in Australia too, so if you need anything it’s a quick delivery.
Glen and his business partner, Darren, started 28 years ago as Turnkey Automation, making robotics for the automotive industry. Then 20 years ago, they were asked to build a robot waterjet system for a soft trim manufacturer. That one order led to 15 more and they realised they were onto something revolutionary.
Treading the same path as massively successful companies like Twitter and Paypal, who started with a good idea but then pivoted to an even better one when they spotted an opportunity, Glen and Darren developed their own XY motion system and brought it to market in 1999. By 2002, all of their engineering research and development was focussed on waterjet cutting systems and Turnkey officially transitioned to TECHNI Waterjet.
Now, 20 years on, they are the only company in the world with a quantum servo pump (and they have the patent to prove it).
“The energy efficiency you get from this servo pump is enormous when compared to a hydraulic intensifier pump. It saves thousands of dollars a year in power costs and cuts down on greenhouse gas emissions.”
Their PAC 60™ 5 axis head is also a world first. These two massive advances place them at the forefront of development in the world of CNC tech.
Who should invest in waterjet machines?
People are beginning to realise that waterjets offer a lot more now compared to both their past selves and their laser and plasma counterparts. According to Glen, the waterjets’ biggest standout feature is their flexibility.
“They can cut almost any material known to man—steel, aluminium alloys, gaskets, materials soft and hard—virtually anything. Waterjet is a non-heat process, so you’re not burning and there’s no distortion of the material.”
With laser and plasma, on the other hand, your only way to cut the material is to burn it. And then you need a second operation to prepare it for welding. This lack of heat forms part of why waterjets can also do ‘lights out’ cutting.
“Our waterjets can literally cut overnight without an operator standing by the machine.”
This sneaky extra work time, coupled with the quick setup time of waterjet machines has seen them edge closer to laser in terms of productivity. However, Glen warns they are still more suited for relatively low volume manufacturing. While laser takes a considerable amount of setup time, it’s speed and accuracy make it good for long runs of high volume.
“Waterjets still can’t compete with laser on the speed and volume front. But, for jobs requiring a few parts at a time, the long setup time and extra cost of laser isn’t worth it.”
So, even with the advances in the waterjet systems, according to the experts, you still need to weigh up your needs and choose wisely. It’s refreshing to see business owners like Glen who are concerned about making sure people get the right machine, and who will tell you if they think you’d be better suited to a different setup than what his business offers.
What he’s been finding recently is, many businesses who already have a laser cutter are coming to him to add a waterjet to their arsenal.
“With a laser and waterjet side-by-side, they have the speed and high volume capacity of laser coupled with the versatility of waterjet and this allows them to do a wider variety of work and retain more customers.”