Rapid Sheet Metal (Nashua, NH) has added two waterjet cutting systems to its impressive lineup of subtractive manufacturing technologies for production of prototype and short-run sheet metal and machined parts. At Rapid, which also manufactures wire harnesses, cable assemblies, and box builds, the quick in quick turnaround means that quotes are started right away, orders are processed immediately, and sheetmetal and machined prototype parts are programmed within 24 hours and out the door in days, not weeks.
A veteran of the fast-paced 3D printing/additive manufacturing world, James Jacobs was accustomed to getting things done quickly for his customers. Then he took a job as a manufacturer’s representative for a metal fabrication shop. He couldn’t believe that he had to fight to get quotes back within two weeks and that it could take four to six weeks to get parts to his customers. Others might have thrown up their arms in frustration, but Jacobs saw a huge opportunity. He knew he could do better.
With the help of family, friends and a local bank, Jacobs put his and his wife’s life savings on the line and bought a small sheetmetal shop in Nashua. As luck would have it, Jacobs opened Rapid Sheet Metal for business on Sept. 14, 2001, three days after the 9/11 attacks. But he rolled up his sleeves and got to work transforming the sheetmetal prototype and short-run business.
Jacobs persevered through the downturn that followed 9/11, growing Rapid Sheet Metal and adding two divisions, Rapid Machining in 2009 and Rapid Wire Cable in 2012. Today, Rapid as a whole employs more than 325 people in 140,000 ft2 (13,006 m2) of manufacturing space and has achieved ISO 9001:2008 certification for all its short-run facilities. The full-service prototype manufacturer serves a wide variety of clients in many industries including aerospace, automotive, consumer products and everything in-between. Its customers have ranged from entrepreneurs to Fortune 500 businesses.
Jacobs recognized that product designers and new product developers need metal prototype parts just as quickly as other prototype components. Jacobs quickly eliminated the delay for quotes by employing the deadline-sensitive business principles of the quick-turn additive manufacturing, stereolithography (SLA) service bureau world he knew. Then he banished long queue times by investing in dedicated machines and 3D CAD data to streamline the process.
Rapid’s metal fabrication and machining equipment includes over 40 CNC milling and turning centers, multiple laser cutting systems, press brakes and other equipment. Most recently the company installed two 5 × 8′ (1.5 x 2.4 m) Jet Edge Mid Rail Gantry waterjet cutting systems to increase productivity at its Rapid Machining division. Rapid uses the waterjets to cut a variety of materials including plastics, aluminum and mild steels with thicknesses averaging between 0.030 and 5″ (0.76–127 mm).
Jet Edge’s Permalign abrasive waterjet cutting head, when used with the Jet Edge OmniJet cutting head, is rated for pressures up to 60,000 psi (4100 bar), orifice sizes ranging from 0.003 to 0.020″ (0.0762–0.508 mm), and nozzle sizes from 0.020 to 0.065″ ID (0.508–1.651 mm). The Jet Edge waterjets are credited with tremendous efficiency gains. Machining hours have been dramatically reduced by having blanks cut to near net shape, thus eliminating the time required to mill excess material from the typical rectangular blank. This has also had an impact in reducing tooling costs as the tools are not cutting as much material and last longer. In addition, the waterjets have allowed Rapid Machining to diversify its services.
“We are now able to offer more machining capabilities which has allowed us to increase the number of projects that flow through the machine shop,” Jacobs said. “The waterjet systems help accommodate the machining of more detailed products with multiple setups and operations. The waterjets have also allowed us to offer more to the customer. What is unique about our systems is we use the waterjets to enhance our machining capabilities. We are able to use the systems at various stages of a part’s process from start to completion and increase the materials offered.”
“The biggest positive about the Jet Edge waterjet is the reliability,” he said. “This appeals to us because the tool is there when we will need it, and it has the capacity to handle specialized projects in the timeframe we need. The reason we would recommend Jet Edge, aside from reliability and dependability, is because of their customer service. The Jet Edge team understands the business and provides prompt customer service. Jet Edge has a great, reliable team, just like the machine. When we have questions or need to call, there are always people ready to assist no matter the question. The great customer service is one of the reasons we are so satisfied with the machine.”
Jacobs attributes the company’s success to its large team of experienced employees who understand their customers’ sense of urgency. “Rapid has grown and will continue to grow because we recognize that our team of employees is key to the success of the business,” Jacobs said. “Part of having a great team is their commitment to always exceeding customer needs. The attitude to grow, and improve customer experience has allowed us to offer more services for a frictionless customer experience.”
According to Jacobs, Rapid’s consistent quick-turn service requires a large and highly skilled workforce. “This size gives us the capacity for large projects. We are better positioned to meet peak demand periods, and employee vacation and sick days don’t have an impact on lead times or deliveries. Rapid operates at a minimum 24/5 and, in some divisions, 24/7. Parts are always moving through our shops, permitting us to ship expedites within 24 hours if necessary.”
“On the experience side, our employee bench is incredibly deep with dozens of master CNC machinists and sheetmetal mechanics, do-it-all guys, with the critical knowledge gained through years of experience. We ship well over 100 unique parts every day, and the majority are parts we have never made before and will never make again.” In 2015, Rapid manufactured more than 33,000 unique parts. Rapid recently developed a free add-in for Solidworks, eRAPID, that allows users to quote sheetmetal parts within Solidworks instantly. Its add-in also provides design feedback regarding proper sheetmetal design for manufacturing. This addresses a very common problem for many mechanical and design engineers with tight deadlines to get quotes and parts instantly.
Edited by Senior Editor Jim Lorincz.
This article was first published in the September 2016 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. Read “Waterjet Technology Joins Shop’s Quick-Turn Lineup” as a PDF.