Impressed in Seattle

August 29, 2013
By: Vicki Bell

“Go to Seattle,” they said. “You’ll love it,” they said.

They were right.

Last week I spent a couple of days in the Seattle, Wash., area visiting OMAX, a provider of waterjet cutting systems. The company was celebrating its 20th anniversary and had invited the press.

While many companies hold similar events, I seldom attend. My co-editors usually make these visits; they’ve logged far more frequent-flyer miles than I’ll ever be able to before my demise, and that’s fine with me. Packed flights and no leg- or elbowroom are not among my favorite things. But I am so glad I made this trip.

Actually, no one had to tell me to go. When the invitation arrived, I requested this assignment. You see, I’ve had an 11-year, long-distance relationship with OMAX, and thought it was high time we met face-to-face. We’ve had brief encounters at FABTECH, but—in my opinion—the only way to truly get to know an organization and its culture is to spend some time in its home.

When I first became content manager for in 2002, I was given a list of recent article contributors. On that list was Dr. John Olsen, whose field of expertise is waterjet technology. Throughout the years, I’ve called on Dr. Olsen to write articles about waterjet cutting—the basics, technology enhancements, and applications. Dr. Olsen has been kind enough to comply with these requests and deliver some of the best-written, most informative articles on the

Had I known just how busy he is, I might have thought twice about imposing on his time. While working alongside OMAX co-founder Dr. John Cheung to oversee product development, Dr. Olsen has gone above and beyond to streamline the company’s operation by creating its enterprise resource planning (ERP) system from scratch. Why? Because doing so seemed better than trying to make an off-the-shelf package suit the company’s needs. The Kindle®-based system has been instrumental in allowing a two-week turnaround of orders for OMAX machines.

During our visit, more than one OMAX employee half-jokingly said to me that the software could be a commercial product on its own. I believe it.

Dr. Olsen’s talent and commitment and the ERP system are just some of the things that impressed me on this visit. Here are some others:

The OMAX facility is very large, bright, and well laid-out. Did I mention that it’s large? New hires—employees now number nearly 300—likely need a map.

Every employee I spoke with seemed genuinely pleased to be working at OMAX. They used words and phrases like “proud” and “great company.”

Those who showed us the latest waterjet software and hardware developments did so with pride and enthusiasm. They were excited about their work. Not a small thing in today’s world.

The developments themselves were very impressive (more to come in press releases). And most of the components used in the company’s machines are U.S.-made. Many are made at OMAX.

We heard from real-life users of waterjet machinery, including a young marine who had used an OMAX machine in Afghanistan to repair vehicles and equipment, and, in some cases, create new tools to be used by the military. Imagine the
conditions—the elements, the lack of certain materials, the critical nature of the work.

The evening event held at the Museum of Flight, which included dinner in Boeing’s original Red Barn, offered a view of Mount Rainier. A great way to cap-off the day. Note to self – go back to the museum and spend more time in the WWI and WWII exhibits.

By far the most impressive to me was being able to spend time with bright, forward-thinking individuals who take great pride in their products and workplace and have built a positive culture. U.S. manufacturing at its best.

Good job, OMAX, in so many ways.

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Vicki Bell

Vicki Bell

FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-227-8209