Compressed by painful maintenance cost, foam fabricator bounces back with a better waterjet system
Package inserts, mattresses, seat cushions, floor mats, knee braces, pillows, and surf boards. The list of items made completely, or at least partially out of foam, is close to endless. That’s no accident. Foam’s low cost, lightweight, and durability make it a popular choice for a vast number of items.
A dizzying amount of foam—polyurethane, polyethylene, polypropylene, neoprene, in all shapes, colors, densities, and types—is fabricated every year. Fire retardant, weather resistant, anti-static, military grade, anti-microbial, color-fast, expanded, beaded, cross-linked, reticulated, or felted. You name it. They’ve got it.
“They” is American Converters, more commonly called Amcon. From its inception in the mid-70s, Amcon worked to set itself apart by taking on projects that would intimidate most. Their expertise in foam and construction techniques allows them to build assemblies and encasements that are attractive and functional. The customer simply provides parts or dimensions, and Amcon does the rest. In-house designers, engineers, and fabricators are adept at quickly turning an idea into something tangible.
Nearly 150 Amcon employees, all owners of the company, work two shifts a day, five days a week, in two different states—Colorado and Minnesota. Walls of brightly colored foam line three facilities; forklifts at the ready to move the foam here or there. More than 85 different machines help the company quickly process orders. Waterjet systems, flash and die cutters, band saws, roll and vacuum splitters, abrasive and hot wire, CNC horizontal and vertical blades, and routers. Amcon can cut, laminate, label, and heat-weld foam.
For more than quarter century, Amcon cut all its foam using flash and die cutters, band saws, and routers. As the company matured however, it found those available cutting processes rather limiting. “With saws and cutters, we cannot perform internal diameters, geometric shapes, or cut-outs without getting a visible seam…With die, we cannot get narrow channels,” explains Amcon’s General Manager, Tom Hall.
Therefore in 2003, the company added waterjet. The system and its four water-only cutting heads helped Amcon immensely. Over the next decade, the company experienced rapid growth as it expanded its capabilities and increased its operational efficiency. Suddenly the company was able to take on jobs it would have once turned away. “Sending out for die can be time consuming, laborious, and expensive. Waterjet opened the door for short- runs. It suddenly became cost-effective to take on smaller jobs,” comments Hall.
Unfortunately, the company had one problem that was getting worse by the year: maintenance. “The maintenance on the previous pump was costing us a lot, approximately $10,000 annually,” explains Jason Hanson, Amcon’s Production Manager. “Every day something was wrong with it.”
In other words, Amcon was sold on waterjet but not entirely happy with its current system. The company began to shop around. After researching several waterjet manufacturers, Amcon chose a WARDJet L-3018 table with a Hypertherm HyPrecision 150D dual intensifier pump and four water-only cutting heads in April of 2014.
Hall says the advantages of the WARDJet / Hypertherm system were quickly apparent. Better cut quality, faster cut speeds, and reduced maintenance costs to name a few. “The waterjet allows us to make complex internal cut-outs that are crisp and seamless.” The new system provides acceleration and deceleration speeds of up to 7,000 inches per minute so jobs are completed in no time. Hall adds speed is improved in another way as well. “A major benefit of waterjet is the rapid in-house prototyping. A lot of times we can turn around a sample on the same-day.”
The new system also helped Amcon say goodbye to its maintenance woes. “I know that we have only had the Hypertherm pump for a little over a year now so it is new, but we have only had to change the seals one or two times,” Hanson says. “There has been virtually zero downtime with the Hypertherm pump. Also, because it is cooled by air and hydraulic oil, we are not wasting water.”
Operating costs are improved in another way as well. When Amcon added its new WARDJet table, it began using cutting orifices from Hypertherm’s AccuStream brand. To Amcon’s surprise, it discovered those ruby orifices were better as well. “The AccuStream ruby orifices are lasting us four times longer than the rubies that we used on the previous machine. And the biggest impact is that we have figured out how to handle our orifices. We are no longer damaging or losing them by dropping them during a change in orifice size.”
Amcon is so pleased with the performance of its WARDJet system that it’s in the process of adding two more tables. A single cutting head with 5-axis rotation is mounted on one table, while the second contains four cutting heads. A single HyPrecision 100D intensifier pump will power both tables. Because Amcon cuts relatively soft material—foam—using a water-only cutting process, a single pump can easily power the two tables and multiple cutting heads. Click here to learn more about HyPrecision waterjet.