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Cutting With Water: Major Purchase Allows For Sideways Growth

WPC Services, LLC

These excerpts are from "Cutting with Water," an article written by Rick Williams and originally published in Sign Business, March 2009. Copyright National Business Media, Inc.

Just at the time when the national economy seems to be going in the tank, we are finishing up with an expansion that has been two or three years in the making. Is that timing or what?

Actually, our local sign business is growing "sideways." That is we are branching out into another field, which is only partly connected to the sign business. Though we have subcontracted these services for years, we have done a very nervy thing and are going into the business of cutting metal (and other materials) and powder coating, under the name WPC Services, LLC, across the street from our sign shop in Longview, Texas.

For cutting services, we will use two technologies, waterjet cutting and plasma cutting, both on 5′ x 10′ CNC equipment. But, for signwork, the waterjet will do the bulk of the tasks for ours and other sign companies. And at the moment, setting up this amazing equipment, and learning its operation and the software that drives it has become a major focus for us.

A waterjet machine is much like a CNC router, except the cutting is done with a stream of water approximately the thickness of a credit card (0.030 of an inch), moving nearly twice the speed of sound and under roughly 50,000 pounds of pressure at the cutting nozzle.

What does this mean for the sign maker? It means that thin metals can be cut with no distortion and a wide variety of substrates, from metals to plastics, from glass to stone, can be cut with amazing accuracy.

To be honest, we have nearly always used waterjet cutting services to cut plate metal letters and logos, and sometimes for very thin metal cutting when making custom stencils for industrial applications for some of our clients. But, as we have been experimenting with while breaking in our OMAX waterjet, stone, ceramic tile, and other substrates are readily cut by waterjet.

Sign makers who want to do custom signs using more creative substrates can work with a local waterjet service to provide some amazing work to their clients. Also, since a waterjet makes very fast work of thin materials, cutting letters from 0.080 or 0.063 aluminum, or even prefinished 0.040 thin aluminum sheet, the cost to the signmaker may be quite reasonable for waterjet cutting of these substrates.

Here's one thing to remember, if you need a job duplicated, such as letters to go on two sides of a sign or building, exactly the same, they can probably be cut at the same time by staking two sheets of material and making just one cut. A waterjet contractor can advise you on this, but he will likely be able to price your work very favorably if two sheets can be stacked and cut simultaneously.

Some of the photos show test cuts we've done while setting up our equipment, including some tweezers cut from 1/4" aluminum as a sample of the type of detail and accuracy that can be maintained with today's water-cutting equipment. It is amazing to me that a machine that can cut nearly microscopic grooves in the small jaws of tweezers and do other very meticulously accurate work. Of course, this high degree of accuracy is more important to industrial customers than sign makers, but it is still nice to know what is possible with today's CNC technology.

The real issue, of course, is how can waterjet services help a commercial sign shop improve their bottom line? Like anything else, it has to do with improving the efficiency, productivity and capability of the sign company. The "Hope's Closet" job shown in the photos is a typical example. These letters, cut from pre-finished 0.040 alum, were done at a friend's waterjet shop. The whole job, with us providing the material, was cut for less than $200 because cutting thin material like this was done quickly, and our file was totally setup and ready to go. The bulk of our work was just in the installation, so we could invoice that job and go on with the next.

From plate metal to sheet metal, from stencils to stone, waterjet cutting is a service that most sign companies are going to need from time to time. These modern cutting tools are workhorses and they can help today's sign maker get the job done and show a healthier bottom line.

WPC Services, LLC
Owner: Rick Williams
Location: Longview, Texas. Specializes in: Waterjet and plasma cutting services and powder coating
Founded: 2009
Website: www.wpcservices.com

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