Armed with only a business plan, a shop owner selects the right machines to take on rising demand
BY GRETCHEN SALOIS
Indianapolis, known as the Racing Capital of the World, is the city where competitors burn through parts as quickly as they complete laps. Drivers who complete the course achieve such feats of speed due to carefully engineered and reliably constructed vehicles. Demand is high for meticulously cut parts, and so are expectations.
“I worked with a waterjet for an old employer, but was ready to start out on my own,” recalls Michael Trapp, owner of Waterjet Cutting of Indiana. After seeing an Omax Corp. waterjet cutting demonstration at a trade show, Trapp formed a business plan, purchased his first waterjet machining center “and set to work with zero customers. My Tristate Machine Sales representative helped me hook up my first machine and we got started.” That was more than 15 years ago in a 2,200-square-foot facility. Trapp has since purchased an additional three more from the waterjet manufacturer. These includean Omax 80160 specifically for an aerospace customer requiring rings 70 inches in diameter with multiple pockets and timing slots, and Omax 55100 models used for anything customers throw at him. “What fascinated me was that unlike when cutting with plasma or a torch, the waterjet lets us cut each part within tolerance, up to +/- 0.001 inch,” Trapp says.
The Indianapolis shop cuts carbon and stainless steels, Inconel, Hastalloy and exoticalloys. “We’ve cut skid plates for Indycars as well as 9-inch-thick manganese steel that was shipped to Europe to be used for high-speed trains,” Trapp says. “We’ve cut magnets for the oil industry down in Texas, signage, and steel weights used in elevators for a good portion of the buildings here in Indianapolis—we’ve touched a lot of this city.”
Omax software is “so very easy to use” that his then 8- and 10-year-olds could complete drawings without issue, Trapp muses. The software simplifies the drawing- to-cut part process but “it’s not just sticking a piece of metal in there and cutting it. That [ease of use] was a No. 1 issue for me, besides having the right criteria to help with the quoting process.”
Operators can figure out how to best use sheet for a job and run it easily. An experienced operator can handle the loading and offloading and any specialized fixturing needed, “and once it’s drawn, it takes 20 seconds to get it running on the machine,” says Trapp.
The model 55100 comes standard with EnduroMax pump and IntelliMax premium software and is compatible with taper-eliminating, tilt-a-jet cutting head and rotary axis for 6-axis cutting. “It is a cantilever style abrasive waterjet with easy access to the work area and has a relatively small footprint compared to other waterjets,” claims Stephen Bruner, vice president of marketing at Omax.
The machinery builder has created a new customer dashboard that features easy spare parts ordering, online manuals, software downloads and eLearning resources. “The machine tool industry has begun its digital transformation and we are investing in useful tools that our customers are starting to expect,” Bruner says.
Making it work
In the 15 years using Omax machines, Trapp hasn’t once called in a service technician. “When pumps need replacing or the occasional wire change-out, I can do that myself,” he says. “That’s how simple the machines are and Omax’s tech support helps me troubleshoot any issues I run into without a problem.”
The waterjets’ accuracy opened up new avenues of demand. “We get customers who ask us to fix or insert pockets that their milling center couldn’t get right—we’re able to do it with our Omax,” Trapp says.
Trapp uses a mini jet with a 0.01-inch jewel and a 0.02-inch diameter mixing tube to execute especially precise work. Cutting parts for the afterburners of an F18 fighter jet required product to be cut, bent, welded and serialized.
Customers often come to Waterjet Cutting of Indiana to complete stages they are unable to produce in house. “I have one customer that does the processing and we complete the final operation of trimming the part to size called out in ISO certifications,” Trapp says.
The addition of the 55100 allows Trapp to maintain accuracies so customers receive exactly what they’ve ordered. “I’ve had customers come to me after dealing with other fabricators that delivered a shipment where one half of the pieces are to specification and the other half … they’re not sure what they did,” Trapp says. “The cheapest quote doesn’t mean you’re going to get the consistency and quality you need.”
Customers often come to Trapp because they know they can hand over drawings for an intricate job Friday afternoon, and receive them first thing Monday. “Two weekends ago a guy from another waterjet shop brought us a job he didn’t have the capacity to fulfill,” recalls Trapp. “We pushed out in three days what would have taken them a few weeks to complete. We ran three different machines and managed to get orders out whether same or next day. We do what we can to make it fit into our schedule.”
Forces used in cutting typically release stress within the material. “If you cut too close to the edge, the metal warps,” explains Trapp. “You end up with pieces that are not level. An operator must also be mindful of material shifting while being cut—there’s a lot of training that goes behind how an operator adjusts to those conditions. “Customers often recognize the value of talking to their job shop to see how we might be able to save them money,” he continues. Although a customer may not take the advice, Trapp says an important part of his job is demonstrating how to approach a job differently in order to save material, time and money.
If the customer doesn’t accept the new approach, “it’s fine, but the next job, the engineer will come back to us because they know we’re looking out for them,” Trapp explains. “Having people who understand not only machining and the waterjet industry, but also materials, comes in handy.”
During his off hours, Trapp mentors high school and college students while promoting metal fabrication education. For example, the FIRST Robotics competition (www.firstinspires.org), a volunteer program comprising 3,200 student engineering teams worldwide, has worked with Trapp to fabricate race cars. Through education, Trapp hopes that machine operation skills will lead to rewarding manufacturing careers. “[Waterjet cutting is] a training process. Over time, you learn about how material reacts to machining.