Water-Jet Cutting: An untapped technology for MSMEs | SupportBiz

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Water-Jet Cutting: An untapped technology for MSMEs

 
A full-sized statue of Lord Ganesha carved on a granite base welcomes the visitors at the Aqua Technologies’ stall at Intec 2013, Coimbatore, which is the perfect proof of the concept A. Gokulakrishnan wishes to unveil in front of the small and medium businesses in the engineering sector. He proposes a simple theory for the MSMEs: Embrace abrasive water-jet machining to reduce cutting cost, shorten lead time and lessen scrap material.

Aqua Technologies has a history of over 50 years of expertise in sheet metal service. The firm, founded by Gokulakrishnan’s grandfather, has grown over the years to be the leading job-shop provider in the South Indian manufacturing industry; specialising in products ranging from electrical control panels to rice mill machineries, textile spares, truck containers kits, acoustic enclosures and more. The company together with its sister concern GK Industries, run by Gokulakrishnan’s brother Ganesh Kumar,  manufactures and supplies customized sheet metal sections and components to all OEMs, ship building industry and provides architectural works for buildings.  

Although the advantages of water-jet profile cutting are plentiful and clear, the technology remains largely untapped and often understated by most MSMEs. Talking exclusively to SupportBiz.com on the side lines of the recently held Intec trade show, Gokulakrishnan opined that most of the SMEs in South India are unaware of the effectiveness of this technology. According to him, Aqua Technologies is the only company that provides water-jet cutting services to the OEMs in the industrial city of Coimbatore.

Why should SME manufacturers opt for Water-Jet Cutting?

Gokulakrishnan says, no other technology can offer the versatility that the water-jet cutting machines provide. In engineering, it can cut through all types of materials ranging from stainless steel and mild steels, cast iron, titanium, brass, aluminium, cardboard, composites, carbon steel, cement steel, gaskets, plastic, PUC foam, rubber, nylon, poly carbonate, paper, woods and polyurethane. In architectural cutting, water-jet machine can be used to cut acrylic, foam, carpets, granite, marble and stone apart from the above mentioned materials. In addition, abrasive water-jet machining is routinely used to cut high-temperature alloys and exotics including Inconel, Waspaloy and Hastelloy.

The environmental impact of this technology is rather negligible as it is pretty eco-friendly with hardly any heat generation and seldom use of any chemical in the process. With no carbon build-up, water-jet cutting is purely a green manufacturing sector. It does not create any smog, dirt or grime and causes no warping or discoloration. Garnet abrasives can be recycled later or readily disposed of.

With water-jet cutting machine, materials can be cut with an accuracy of motion up to ±0.005 inch, a factor that should attract more SMEs to the technology. In simple terms, a conventional water-jet machine typically cuts components from +/-0.003 to +/-0.015 inch (.07 to .4 mm) in accuracy and a dynamic water-jet machine can cut parts as accurate as +/- 0.001 inch.

Above all, Gokulakrishnan says water-jet is a lot more cost effective technology than the traditional ones, enabling the SMEs to save as much as 50 per cent of costs over the conventional cutting methods.

Aqua Technologies lists a few water-jet cutting specifications as follows:

Challenges:

Although the customer base of Aqua Technologies’ water-jet cutting solution is entirely from the MSME sector (nearly 70 per cent medium and 30 per cent small scale businesses), this is just a fraction of the potential and requirement of the entire industry. Even with all the visible benefits of the technology, small and medium business in the engineering space are not yet ready to adapt to this newest method, let alone the unaware masses. “We have to educate the people, introduce the machine, explain the process, address their fears and articulate the benefits they would gain from water-jet cutting. This is the biggest challenged we are facing now,” Gokulakrishnan says. “However, once the customer gets the first project in hand, rest assured he is going to be a repeat customer and will never go back to the conventional methods,” he adds.

The other major challenge is that, only skilled employees can work with the machine. Gokulakrishnan, an engineer himself, had undergone a training session in Taiwan along with one of his supervisors. Gokulakrishnan has now eight employees, trained by him, working with the machine.

While Aqua Technologies’ efforts to educate the small and medium businesses are slowly yielding the right results, the MSMEs in the engineering space should see the water-jet cutting solution as the best way to bridge the gap between the advancement in technology and their businesses. Yes, a sudden change is quite hard to comprehend, especially when it demands an intentional derailing. However, shying away from a prolific technological advancement is, indisputably, the worst choice an MSME can make.