Flow dials up the pressure on waterjet competitors with 87,000 psi

  • 06-Aug-2008 02:47 EDT
Flow - Westec - IFB.jpg

Flow International demonstrated its IFB product using HyperPressure at Westec. (Patrick Ponticel)

Flow International, an exhibitor at the recent Westec show in Los Angeles, has announced plans to establish a single facility to design and build advanced waterjet cutting systems. The Advanced Waterjet Systems Center will be located at Flow’s existing Jeffersonville, IN, facility, which will be expanded. Engineering and production will take place at the facility, which also will serve as an interactive customer demonstration center.

Robotic waterjet cutting cells and slitter systems production will be moved to Jeffersonville from the company’s manufacturing plant in Burlington, Ontario. That plant will be closed.

The move is designed to help the company “drive the technology forward faster,” said Flow President and CEO Charley Brown.

One of the company’s most impressive advances is its HyperPressure technology, which delivers water and abrasives at 87,000 psi and a speed of over Mach 3. The company promises even higher pressures in the future. Compared to a traditional system operating at 60,000 psi, the HyperPressure system can cut a material 20 to 30% faster, resulting in a part cost reduction of about the same amount because of greater throughput. In addition, the higher pressure requires less abrasives—up to 50% less, Flow says.

At Westec, Flow demonstrated HyperPressure in its IFB (integrated flying bridge) product. The IFB on display used a 100-hp, dual-intensifier system to generate the 87,000 psi. The IFB incorporates pump, motion control, and ultra-high-pressure components in one machine, the work envelope of which ranges from 2 x 4 ft to 6.5 x 24 ft. Z-axis travel extends up to 8.0 in, and accuracy is about 0.003 in.

Flow products can cut soft or hard materials of almost any type. The company in March announced that Mitsubishi Heavy Industries awarded it a contract to supply a Flow Composite Machining Center (CMC) to cut the carbon-fiber wing skins and stringers for a major commercial jet aircraft program. To be built at the Jefferson plant (with pumps supplied from Flow’s plant in Kent, WA), the CMC system will measure 118 ft long and 21 ft wide.

Conventional cutting tools such as handheld diamond or carbide-tipped routers, bandsaws, cutoff saws, and abrasive wheels tend to damage composites either by overheating or by leaving frayed or delaminated edges, according to Flow, requiring rework. Low-temperature waterjet cutting eliminates such problems, the company says. In addition, waterjet cutting exerts far less lateral force on the material than does conventional machining, resulting in simpler and less expensive tooling and fixturing.

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Boeing and Airbus forecast a worldwide demand for up to 40,000 new aircraft over the next two decades. With a 10-year production backlog and new aircrafts increasingly counting on lightweight composites, manufacturing companies are developing advanced sandwich-structure composite solutions to fill the production gap.

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