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Rise of Makers Will Bring a Waterjet to Every Garage

John Cheung
By John Cheung CEO, OMAX Corp.

Who are the makers? Since the founding of Make: magazine in 2005 and the first Maker Faire in San Francisco in 2006, the loosely knit group of inventors, entrepreneurs, tinkerers, and crafters has grown massively. In 2016 alone, almost 200 Maker Faires took place around the world, and so-called “makerspaces” have sprung up in cities across the United States and beyond.

Adam Savage, the former host of Mythbusters and one of the intellectual fathers of the Maker Movement, described makers in simple terms in Make: “Humans do two things that make us unique from all other animals; we use tools and we tell stories. And when you make something, you’re doing both at once.” However, while makers rarely have trouble telling stories, finding effective tools can be a challenge.

Makerspaces rarely have the square footage or budget of traditional manufacturing facilities, and despite the fact that most makers have significant experience as builders and creators, they often lack formal training in manufacturing technology and techniques. But what they lack in experience, they make up for in the drive to learn. In other words, tools built for makers must be able to grow with the users—ideally at a price point that lets them bring one home from the makerspace themselves.

For companies like OMAX, serving the growing maker sector meant approaching abrasive waterjet technology from an entirely different direction. For example, large industrial waterjet systems can require significant floor space and specific water sources. To meet the needs of this new market, machines must be small enough to fit through standard doorways and equipped with casters to make it possible to relocate them without a team of trained engineers and machine riggers.

To achieve this cabinet-sized form factor, manufacturing OEMs like OMAX have pushed personalization to the limit, such as the company did with its recently developed ProtoMAX. That meant taking 100-hp pumps optimized for delivering 60,000 psi of cutting power and putting them in a package that fits in the average garage. To achieve that, the OMAX research and development team determined 5 hp as the “sweet spot,” and with the same direct-drive technology and energy-saving variable frequency drive as OMAX’s other machines, the ProtoMAX delivers 30,000 psi using the same 240-V AC 30-A single-phase power source used for normal large household appliances.

Software for New Users

These new maker-focused machines, like the ProtoMAX, must also come equipped with software capable of meeting the needs of new users while providing experienced professionals with a robust, comprehensive tool kit. For ProtoMAX, OMAX offers users the same intuitive Intelli-MAX software it installs on its industrial-sized waterjet systems. Using the same software ensures interoperability, a particularly beneficial feature for educational institutions and makerspaces where young people are taking their first steps in the world of manufacturing technology.

In a few short decades, the face of abrasive waterjets has changed. The systems have transcended the bounds of rough cutting tools in the world of fabrication shops to become clean, powerful and accurate machines that save energy and produce complex 3D parts out of every material under the sun. And with the rise of the makerspace, waterjets continue to advance, shrinking in size even as they grow in terms of capabilities and value.

Perhaps soon, the day will come when waterjets and other traditional manufacturing and fabricating machinery are like hammers and screwdrivers—tools for every family’s garage and a vital part of the everyday storytelling that is making.

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