Kerf cures capacity conundrum

As a subcontract manufacturer, Q-Laser offers laser, waterjet, press brake and fabrication services throughout the UK.

When the main division at Washington realised its waterjet cutting department based in Hebburn, South Tyneside was reaching full capacity, the company needed a solution. Kerf Developments stepped in with the Semyx Optima 420 twin abrasive waterjet cutting machine.

Located on the outskirts of Newcastle upon Tyne, Q-Laser provides its rapid-turnaround cutting services to the marine, offshore, automotive and general manufacturing sectors, cutting everything from exotics, stainless and mild steel to aluminium, armoured plate and virtually any material the customer requires.

Founded in 2012, the company set up its waterjet cutting division in 2019 to complement its laser, press brake and fabrication services, starting with a 5-axis waterjet machine. Since then the division has grown exponentially and capacity was becoming a problem. 

The Kerf solution was the Optima 420 twin abrasive waterjet cutter machine with two cutting heads and 4m by 2m bed – which instantly doubled the cutting capacity in comparison to the existing machine. In a sector where clients expect a quotation in hours and components cut and delivered in less than a week, the new addition has alleviated the bottleneck, created additional capacity and immediately reduced lead-times.

Company director Colin Hewitt says: “We set up the waterjet department for two reasons. Firstly, a laser is typically limited to cutting material up to 25mm thick. Secondly, unlike laser, waterjet cutting does not generate excessive heat that can impact the structural integrity of the material – which is of critical importance in aerospace, MoD and many automotive applications. We started our waterjet division with a 4,000ft² facility, one man and a machine which rapidly became three staff. We have to react to the round the clock demands of customers and as the business has grown at pace, we had to invest in additional capacity.

“We have a longstanding relationship with Kerf, so we opened discussions regarding our requirements,” Mr Hewitt continues. “We were assured that they could meet our needs for excellent service and support with guaranteed consumable supply, so the next thing was to trial the machines.

“We provided a range of trial parts and the productivity, precision, cut quality and edge finishes were beyond anything else we had seen so our decision to invest was made. A few months after the installation, Kerf has excelled in its service and consumable supply – they stock all spare parts for the machine in the UK and they’re available on a next-day service.”

As a company that manufactures anything from one-off to production runs for clients, machine uptime and productivity are as critical as cutting speed. The two cutting heads in the same machine footprint of the Optima 420 have slashed cycle times by more than 30%.

However, the benefits are far further reaching. Unlike the cantilever design of the existing technology at Q-Laser, the Optima incorporates twin-sided drives that deliver impressive acceleration and machine kinematics. With features like 40mm diameter precision ballscrews, the Optima offers exceptional levels of precision and speed with rock steady rigidity and stability. This is complemented by a powerful 50hp hydraulic intensifier pump.

“Some of our customers are machine shops that want pre-machined profiles,” Mr Hewitt explains. “We can cut these to tight machining tolerances which means that many of our customers no longer need to rough machine their components.”

From a productivity standpoint, the Optima 420 has accelerated throughput by cutting production times by more than 30%. Furthermore, the acceleration and speed of axes travel also contribute to reduced cutting times.

“Our lead-times can typically range from 24 hours to seven days depending on our workload,” Mr Hewitt says. “Before the arrival of the Optima, they would extend beyond 10 days, so the machine has made a huge positive impact on our throughput.”

From a shopfloor perspective, the Optima 420 has a greater bridge clearance than the current machine at Q-Laser which enables it cut material up to 300mm thick, regardless of the material type.

“Our existing machine only has a cutting height of 170mm, so the additional capacity of the Optima 420 is another major plus point – it futureproofs our business to cater for whatever demands the industry throws at us. This also provides greater accessibility for the shopfloor staff to access the workpieces and cutting heads.

“The machine also has a larger hopper for the abrasive material than our existing machine which means we can fill the machine and it will run for extended periods without operator intervention or downtime. Furthermore, the machine also incorporates the latest IGEMS CAD/CAM software suite which our staff find intuitive and very easy to use,” Mr Hewitt affirms.

The IGEMS CAD/CAM suite provides nesting capabilities with automatic and adaptable CAM features. It also provides customised and detailed reports on jobs and nesting plus intuitive technologies that enable customers like Q-Laser to retrieve more parts from each sheet of material – generating significant material cost savings.

The software also has an extensive material database with optimised feed rates and compensation tables to increase productivity while operators can simulate their jobs with comprehensive NC code previews and crash control features to eliminate errors.

Kerf Developments


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