Trailblazing with waterjet

How one manufacturer broke ground with new technology

The FABRICATOR November 2005
November 8, 2005
By: Sonja Bellem

For Johnson Enterprises of New Brunswick, Canada, the waterjet cutting system with shuttle table has opened the door to business opportunities more diverse than the materials it can process.

With waterjet cutting, Johnson Enterprises has been able to attract new customers outside of its core sawmill industry customer base.

A long way from its modest machine shop beginnings 20 years ago, Johnson Enterprises Inc. in Val D'Amour, New Brunswick, Canada, has become a leading supplier of debarking tools for the wood, pulp, and paper mills scattered across Canada and New England.

Because the forestry sector typically downshifts in the summer months, Johnson recently looked to expand into the transportation and hydroelectric industries by offering product refurbishment and repair services. To realize this goal, the company needed to expand its capabilities, and it chose to do so with waterjet technology.

Operations Manager Joey Johnson explained the decision to purchase a Bystronic Byjet waterjet cutting system with a shuttle table: "We considered laser cutting systems but learned that certain materials, such as aluminum and carbide-coated steel, were best cut on a waterjet. Aside from being able to process a greater range of materials, we realized that we could save money on the initial investment if we were to purchase a waterjet. Additionally, as waterjet systems are scarce in this region of Canada, we thought this technology would help us develop a niche in the marketplace."

An Expanded Frontier

After installing the waterjet in September 2004, Johnson Enterprises became one of less than a handful of companies in the Atlantic provinces to own one, and it was the first manufacturer in North America to own a Byjet waterjet with a shuttle table.

Johnson Enterprises was founded more than 20 years ago after Yvon Johnson realized the need for a debarking tool that minimized the removal of fiber from logs. Today the company serves customers across Canada and New England.

Director of Marketing Andre Rivard explained, "The Byjet waterjet put us on the map. It enabled us to penetrate new markets, as well as introduce ourselves to companies that had never heard of us before. People would travel to our facility just to see our system in action."

While Rivard admitted that the surge in new business was partly because of the novelty of the technology, it mostly stemmed from the company's newfound processing flexibility.

"We are serving entirely new customers," he said. "Now we handle orders from ambulance and ATV manufacturers and specialized machine shops that work with materials that are difficult to process."

In addition to attracting new customers, curiosity seekers, and technophiles, the waterjet has helped the company reduce costs and increase its per-part profitability. With reduced tank and pump maintenance, dynamic nesting, the shuttle table for parts and materials, and an automated conveyer for garnet removal, the system is designed to minimize human intervention. It can process parts safely and accurately without an operator.

Reduced Material Waste

Johnson Enterprises is the first North American owner of a Byjet waterjet with a shuttle table. Because the machine can be loaded while it is also cutting, it should be able to take on more work as business expands, according to company management.

With the universal rise in steel prices, New Brunswick has suffered because of a scarcity of local suppliers and its relatively small economy. Local manufacturers often must turn to Ontario or the U.S. for raw materials—an unsavory solution as taxes, shipping, and customs delays make orders costly and delivery times unpredictable at best. Material utilization is critical in maintaining healthy profit margins.

"Our sheet utilization is 60 percent higher than what we achieved before installation of the [waterjet]," Johnson said. "Not only are we equipped to dynamically nest parts, we are able to process more parts out of one sheet of material."

As the system maintains tight tolerances, users can employ common-line cutting to process parts quickly and with less wasted material. This was especially important in processing debarker tips. Previously workers would machine four sides for each tip; now they nest parts to achieve one-pass cutting of two parts simultaneously.

Johnson said, "Where we used to get 800 pieces out of a single piece of steel on a CNC cutting machine, we now are up to 1,300 parts per sheet on the waterjet. This has reduced our per-part cost by 30 percent."

Shortened Part Cycle

In addition to reduced waste, overall part throughput has nearly doubled at the facility. Johnson explained that this was largely because of the reduction or elimination of secondary processes.

"The waterjet has helped us take away from the manufacturing process. It has effectively deleted four to five manufacturing steps on our patent-pending spiked debarker," he said.

Precisely cut parts, such as this rotary disk, can be cut more quickly on the waterjet than when they were cut on more traditional CNC machines.

Also, because waterjet processing produces no heat-affected zone (HAZ), twisting and crystallization of the debarker's spikes have been eliminated. Before cutting the parts with the waterjet, the company had to machine or press straight, refinish, and then anneal every cut spike. The waterjet now eliminates an average of 15 minutes of refinishing per unit.

Labor costs have been reduced as well. Rather than five or six people touching each debarker, now it is produced solely by the waterjet operator.

Reduced Overhead

The waterjet has reduced the work load of the shop's other cutting systems and reduced their routine wear and tear when processing thick materials, simply because there is less that needs to be cut. The company's CNC machines typically were booked three weeks in advance, which was a big hurdle in processing challenging orders or dealing with pressing lead-times. The waterjet can cut a part in three hours rather than the six or seven hours that a cutting torch needs.

"We bought the shuttle table because we anticipate in the near future running the system around the clock. This option is the most effective way to increase processing time," Johnson said. "While you switch materials or remove finished parts, the machine continues to cut."

The company also has enjoyed a reduction in replacement tooling costs. Because more precision cutting is shifted to the waterjet and less is being cut with the carbide cutting tools, the tooling is experiencing less wear. In a typical week, the shop could burn through $5,000 to $6,000 in tooling.

"Now that we are cutting parts more accurately on the waterjet," Johnson explained, "we have reduced our carbide tooling costs by $1,500 per week." This does not include time savings in processing.

A New Horizon

The company now hopes to establish a strategic partnership with a Canadian shop that has a Bystronic laser or press brake. "We want to align ourselves with contract manufacturers that use [these] systems and software. [If] we use the same software, ... for example, we could program their part into our waterjet, cut it to the appropriate length for their bending process, and then transfer the file back to their press brake."

For Johnson Enterprises, the waterjet cutting system with a shuttle table has opened the door to business opportunities more diverse than the materials it can process.

Johnson Enterprises Inc., 69, Chemin Lac des Lys, Val D'Amour, NB E3N 5E7, Canada, 506-753-5574, fax 506-753-7536,, www.

Bystronic Inc., 185 Commerce Drive, Hauppauge, NY 11788, 631-231-1212, fax 631-231-1040,

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The FABRICATOR is North America's leading magazine for the metal forming and fabricating industry. The magazine delivers the news, technical articles, and case histories that enable fabricators to do their jobs more efficiently. The FABRICATOR has served the industry since 1971.

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