Chris Ashworth is a Sr. Software Engineer for FlexJet who’s been developing the fastest, most efficient waterjet in the market. We sat him down for an interview to learn about his background and what goes into creating the world’s fastest waterjet.
The first waterjet Chris saw was in 1994. He had already been actively involved in CNC machines since 1988 and has been hooked on them ever since. He started with post-processing and nesting systems and became actively involved in retrofitting existing machines (controls, motors, drives, etc.). The first waterjet he worked on was an old ASI. The first thing he did was take the whole thing apart to figure out how it worked. That machine ran for 18 years before it was decommissioned. Since that time, he has been an independent integrator for the last 27 years. Over the years, working with waterjets and 5-Axis designs, he got to the point where he always promoted a better way to do it but hadn’t officially created the better way. Chris states that “The industry has been brainwashed, into thinking the focal point design is the way to go, and now I have the opportunity to prove otherwise. I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do with the FlexJet, and to see the ideas that I have had over the years come to life out in the real world.”
What can you tell us about the FlexJet?
Chris explained that “Part of what goes on within the industry is that these machines are sold as cutting machines, it can cut parts, but it’s not designed around high production. The reality is that if you have 28,000 holes to cut, milliseconds means something, and with what you have out in the field right now, you don’t have that. One of the first waterjets I retrofitted with my software compared to the original software ran 3 hours faster.” The company that built the machine called him to see what he did to make it so much faster. He explained that he put the control in the hands of the operator and didn’t try to dictate how the machine is supposed to run. For people that want high production, that’s what’s required. “If you just want to cut parts, then you don’t care. With FlexJet, we more or less want to create a cutting solution and high production solution, not just a machine that cuts. That is why the speeds are so much higher. The idea is that the cutting will take care of itself, but to make it high production and split hairs and milliseconds that requires more talent.”
What makes it faster than other waterjets on the market?
Chris explained that the design of the machine and electronics make the FlexJet faster than other waterjets on the market. Part of it has to do with the post-processing, and the other part has to do with what is going on internally inside of the controller. “Some of the special sauce, right now, we are pushing water only. Water only is a good place to start, and that’s where the biggest opportunity is for high production. When you are cutting foam 1500 inches a minute or 2000 inches a minute or whatever the product allows, you are usually limited by the waterjet itself when it comes to how much you can push through the material. As far as the abrasive side, there is a lot to come. We haven’t even exposed some of what we have been working on. So, I am looking forward to having the opportunity to bring that out into the marketplace and show off a better or more productive way to do it.”
Who would be a good candidate for the FlexJet?
A good candidate for the water only is going to be anyone who cuts. Whether you are cutting soft materials such as foam, gaskets, textiles, plastic, or hard materials such as metal, ceramic, stone, or glass, the FlexJet would be a good fit.
Is there something that you are really proud of creating the FlexJet that you want to tell everyone?
“Just getting some of it out of my head and seeing it in the real world. When I was first conceiving the current 5-axis head design, the technology wasn’t there, and we weren’t far enough along. In my head, I knew what I wanted it to do, but the hardware was not available yet. Now, with some of the newer designs on direct drives, it’s there, and the performance is there to go with it. We have much better servo-tuning available than what we had back in the day. We used to have to tweak the little screws to get the tuning just right. Today we are much better than that”.
What can you tell us about the 5-Axis head?
– Both axes are direct drive. The positioning is extremely accurate and very fast.
– It has an infinite c-axis so it can spin up to 60 rpm.
– This 5-axis head doesn’t have the mechanical alignment issues that other waterjets in the market have.
– Calibration requires less effort with the FlexJet.
– FlexJet isn’t limited by nozzle length; you can use any length you want.
– The FlexJet 5-axis head is treated as a 5- axis rotary tilt milling head.