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Learn By Doing: Cal Poly Integrates Compact Waterjet into Engineering

By Joshua Swainston Content Marketing Writer, OMAX Corp.

Waterjet opens up new design and manufacturing possibilities for engineering students.

Students Steven Hoover and Nina Menon working with the ProtoMAX waterjet. (All images provided by OMAX)

California Polytechnic State University’s (Cal Poly) Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering (IME) Department is ensuring its students are prepared for the future of fabrication by integrating abrasive waterjet into its curriculum. In 2018, the IME department added a ProtoMAX abrasive waterjet from OMAX to its Materials Removal lab, showcasing non-traditional cutting methods for students from all majors. As part of Cal Poly’s “learn-by-doing” philosophy, the ProtoMAX will be available to engineering students, allowing firsthand experience on the applications, operations, and versatility of abrasive waterjet technology.

Educating Practical Engineers

In 2015 and again in 2018, U.S. News and World Report ranked Cal Poly’s IME program first for undergraduate engineering programs. Trian Georgeou, an IME Lecturer, said, “state-of-the-art facilities and laboratories form the core of engineering’s project-centered curriculum. Ranging from the Aircraft Design Lab to the Gene Haas Advanced Manufacturing CNC Laboratory, these facilities offer advanced technological systems that allow students to link theory with practice.”

From programming CNC mills to project and data management, the IME program gives students a solid foundation to be competitive for a career in today’s engineering world.

The California Polytechnic State University College of Engineering building.

Steven Hoover, a senior in the IME program, said, “I really like that there is a lab associated with every class. I learn the theory, then jump right in and do it in the lab.”

Many IME undergraduates go on to graduate school. Others move directly into positions where they are designing and prototyping new products. With an opportunity to experience cutting-edge manufacturing methods, IME graduates are ready for tomorrow’s workforce.

“The IME manufacturing service courses are designed to teach all of the college’s freshman engineering students key Design for Manufacturability (DFM) concepts early on in their engineering education,” said Georgeou. “Our main focus is to prepare graduates for practice in professional engineering.”

The experiences at Cal Poly’s IME program prepare graduates for careers in diverse fields such as manufacturing engineering, facility design, human factors design, data analysis and more.

Fabricating for the Future

The addition of OMAX’s ProtoMAX abrasive waterjet to the school’s materials removal lab is part of a bigger undertaking to carry the IME program into future machining. As Georgeou explained, “We are currently in the process of re-writing and modernizing our freshman manufacturing engineering service course curriculum to parallel the prevalent manufacturing topics and technologies we are seeing used daily in industry.”

An image of the U.S. cut at Cal Poly on the ProtoMAX waterjet

Students will be using the ProtoMAX to cut 3/8″ (9.53 mm) aluminum plate in the construction of a Geneva Wheel. The ProtoMAX is also slated to be used as a cutting medium to inspect geometric dimensioning and tolerancing (GD&T) on finished parts.

Compact, safe and easy-to-use, the ProtoMAX is an ideal teaching tool and a great waterjet option for labs, makerspaces or for personal use. The pump and cutting table are integrated into a single unit creating a footprint of 41.5 x 39.5″ (1.05 x 1 m). Cutting area is 12 x 12″ (304.8 x 304.8 mm) and up to 1″ (25.4 mm) thick. With free software available at, and unlimited software seats at the machine’s operation terminal, the ProtoMAX is a good choice for a classroom environment. “[The ProtoMAX has a] very simple [machine] setup,” said Georgeou. “You can be up and running, cutting parts in half a day.”

The IME program currently has 700 engineering students a year taking the freshman manufacturing service course, making safety and ease-of-use paramount concerns when operating the ProtoMAX. The clamshell cover and submerged cutting ensure that the machine is safe and quiet (it operates at approximately 76 dB).

Since its installation in the spring of 2018, IME students have produced results on the ProtoMAX that were previously not possible. “Adding abrasive waterjet to our engineering lab’s curriculum has opened up a world of design possibilities we have been unable to obtain in-house until now,” said Georgeou. “We can now easily cut stainless steel plate for student and club projects as well as ‘show-off’ the technology to students instead of letting them just read about it in a textbook or see it in a video on YouTube.”

Enthusiastic Versatility

“So far, the students have been enamored with the ProtoMAX’s capabilities as we have been using it to test cut many different prototype senior and club project parts,” Georgeou continued. From the Aerospace Engineering department cutting 10 gauge stainless steel to the Manufacturing Engineering students using the machine for their class projects, the ProtoMAX is quickly becoming a student favorite—so much so that the lab had to limit usage on the machine because students were waiting in line to get their projects cut. Currently, Cal Poly has one ProtoMAX but is looking to add more as the machine finds a home in the freshman manufacturing course curriculum.

Steven Hoover cutting the Cal Poly logo on the ProtoMAX waterjet.

Over the summer, Hoover worked as a shop technician for the IME department. That’s where he was introduced to the ProtoMAX. After watching a few videos online, and working with other students, he was machining.

“If I am making a mounting plate, I don’t have to worry about it,” said Hoover. “It’s perfect every time. I don’t have to use secondary methods.” He was immediately impressed at how flexible the waterjet could be. Cutting arcs is now a single-state process; before, Hoover would have to break out the grinder to get the part to the desired finish.

“I usually design in SolidWorks, then move the file into MAKE,” said Hoover. Intelli-MAX LAYOUT for ProtoMAX supports files from other CAD programs, including .dxf, .dwg, .ord, .ai, .pdf and .svg formats. Importing into LAYOUT is a one-step process. This makes the software aspect of the ProtoMAX particularly attractive to educators, as users don’t need to learn another CAD program to run the machine. If users are already proficient in another CAD program, chances are they can export and upload their preferred file directly into the Intelli-MAX software.

Members of Cal Poly’s SME student chapter have been the primary testers of the machine. “I cut 5/8 aluminum, but we also cut pretty much everything, such as carbon fiber and stainless,” said Hoover, who is also the president of the SME student chapter. “We have been cutting key chains and bottle openers for the club,” he said. The ProtoMAX, like most abrasive waterjets, can cut virtually any material, including composites, fiberglass, and steel.

The hands-on manufacturing experience Hoover and his classmates receive makes it easier for them to assimilate into the engineering workforce. It may be keychains for giveaways today, but tomorrow, who knows what the students of Cal Poly will be producing. As for the ProtoMAX, Hoover enthusiastically said, “I love it. I want one in my garage.”

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