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Advancement of Versatile Waterjet Technology to Rebuild Competitiveness in Manufacturing

In the current economic crisis, several hundred thousand manufacturing jobs have been and many more are expected to be cut. This white paper attempts to help recover the manufacturing sector by creating new jobs while curbing outsourcing through rebuilding America’s manufacturing leadership and competitiveness. We propose to meet the above societal challenge through advancing and promoting one of the emerging and yet most promising manufacturing processes: ultrahigh-pressure waterjet technology. Since commercialized in 1970s, waterjet technology has gone through significant transformations, leapfrogging from merely a niche cutting tool to a precision machine tool competing on an equal footing with established machine tools. The versatile waterjet technology possesses several inherent merits that could not possibly be achieved by most of these established tools. As more and more waterjet systems are inserted into the manufacturing arena, manufacturers have discovered that waterjet machining fits well with the “just in time” practice of lean manufacturing. Using waterjet machining, most parts, small and large, could be completed from design to finish in two to three days or sooner. This could not possibly be achieved by outsourcing the same parts abroad. Testimonials from small and large customers have repeatedly indicated that installing waterjet machinery in their shops is one of the best moves to save their jobs from shipping abroad. According to Frost and Sullivan, waterjet machine tool had emerged as the fastest growing segment of the overall machine tool industry in the last decade and this same trend is expected to continue in the next decade.2 Surveys have shown that even faster growth could be achieved if the awareness of the technology were raised. Most importantly, the emerging technology still has considerable room for innovation with potential to expand its role into precision machining for advanced manufacturing. This white paper proposes a dual approach to develop the next-generation waterjet technology and to raise the awareness of the technology: (1) conduct high-risk, high-reward R&D and (2) promote waterjet technology by offering design and manufacturing course work in institutions of higher education (universities and technical/community colleges) and establish waterjet demonstration centers accessable to hobbyists and individual art and craft professionals. We have signed on collaborators from academic/nonprofit institutions, national laboratories, and manufacturers. Developing novel waterjet processes would broaden applications of waterjet machining toward high-value-added jobs, and raising the awareness of the tehcnology would encourage the ownership for waterjet machine tools by small and large businesses alike, which could then lead to creation of new manufacturing jobs. Only the reversing of the three-decade-long trend of continued shrinkage of domestic manufacturing workforce will lead to a lasting solution to revitalize the once prosperous manufacturing business and contribute to a recovery of America’s economy from its current crisis.

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