Making Dreams Into Reality With Waterjet Productivity
WaneShear Technologies LLC
Last year all the technological pieces fell into place for WaneShear Technologies LLC, enabling the company to successfully fabricate the world's first WaneShear. The unique lumber-cutting system was a longtime dream of Ron McGehee and his son Clark and only recently became a reality as a result of today's advanced servomotors and high-powered computers.
With the sale of its first WaneShear system, the shop opened the doors of its new Ukiah, California facility. Headed by Clark McGehee, the shop is in full production of WaneShears and is currently able to build about four systems per year. But with the help of increased efficiency delivered by OMAX® abrasive waterjet cutting technology, output could increase to six or even eight machines a year.
Unlike regular saw mill edgers where rough lumber moves into stationary saws, the WaneShear passes saw blades through lumber as it remains stationary. The result is what could be considered the fastest system of its kind and one that processes approximately 60 boards per minute –17,000 boards per shift, and does so at a cut accuracy within 0.015". The completely electric system cuts boards much faster than existing edgers, lowering a saw mill's manufacturing and processing costs.
A complete WaneShear system can measure up to 80' long and either 35' or 45' feet wide. One system is comprised of several hundred fabricated and machined components. Many of these are made from 8' x 20' plates of common and 4140 steel, aluminum and other materials such as fiber felt and Delrin®, in thicknesses ranging from 0.250" to 1.5". Individual part sizes can be as small as 1" x 1" x 1" or as large as 94" wide and 36' long.
WaneShear Technologies initially considered laser cutting for processing parts. However, a machine capable of handling the shop's material thicknesses would have been very expensive. Also, a laser machine would have had a difficult time cutting the shop's 1.25"-thick pieces of aluminum, let alone its non-metal materials. It was because of these various part sizes, thicknesses and materials that the shop decided to incorporate the versatile OMAX 120X-3 JetMachining® Center.
With an abrasive waterjet system, the 12-person shop easily processes all its metals and other part materials. The OMAX 120X-3 also helps reduce the amount of machining done on the shop's conventional CNC machine tools, making it possible for the shop to streamline its welding fabrication operations and cost-effectively increase production of both the shop's lower and higher volume parts. WaneShear Technologies' 120X-3 features a DualBRIDGE and dual 50-hp pumps, which doubles the machine's production output. The shop also opted for OMAX's Collision Sensing Terrain Follower accessory that automatically adjusts the machine's nozzles for collision avoidance, and the Tilt-A-Jet® that eliminates taper along cut walls of parts.
Because its plate thicknesses vary day to day, WaneShear Technologies typically uses the DualBRIDGE to simultaneously cut two different sheets/plates of material. For instance, while one bridge is cutting parts out of 4140 steel that is 1" thick, which can take hours, the machine's second bridge works on other shorter run parts.
According to Clark McGehee, most of the parts cut on the OMAX 120X-3 come off the machine and are ready to be assembled, which has tremendously shortened part-processing times.
"We have a well-equipped conventional machining department with advanced horizontal and vertical machining centers, as well as a multi-tasking machine. However, the waterjet generates such smooth straight finishes that the need for finish machining or secondary operations has been eliminated for many of our parts," explained McGehee. "The Tilt-A-Jet works amazingly and is mandatory for producing smooth straight cuts. With the waterjet helping to eliminate secondary machining operations – especially when it comes to a lot of our thicker aluminum parts – our conventional CNC machines are more available to process the other parts. This, in turn, eliminates having to farm out such machining work."
Another key benefit of the OMAX machine's speed and accuracy is that WaneShear Technologies can design its parts to include certain features that help streamline the shop's welding fabrication operations. For instance, mating parts are quickly and easily positioned and joined for welding via keys and slots.
"It's not only the machine's speed, but also its accuracy that makes this welding fabrication practice feasible," said McGehee. "With the OMAX 120X-3, we easily hold the tolerances on these locating features to within 0.001" or 0.002". As a result, our welders rarely have to reference blueprints or measure and scribe guidelines. The process basically involves inserting key A into slot B and welding, which makes our welding fabrication fast and practically flawless. Plus, we etch part numbers on each part using OMAX's Intelli-ETCH® software feature. This allows us to easily identify parts or produce replacement ones if needed."
From start to finish, it takes about six months to build one WaneShear. But as the shop ramps up to full-speed production, it expects that amount of time to drop significantly in the future. To help further shorten leadtime, two WaneShear systems are produced simultaneously. The shop will cut two of every part, with the extra parts used to build the next system. The 120X-3's speed allows the shop to do this without adding a significant amount of time to production.
By building an inventory of parts, the shop would be able to reduce materials purchasing costs as well machine set up times. Plus, with its newer CNC machines, the shop will increase its lights-out machining operations.
McGehee sees the shop achieving, within the next four years, an annual production level of six WaneShears. But to reach its ultimate goal of eight systems per year, the shop would normally expect to have to double the size of its machining department. McGehee added that the OMAX machine, on the other hand, which currently runs from 6:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. six days a week, would easily handle that increase in production by simply being run 24/7.