Mark Yamamoto has a degree in electronics, but in 2008 he found himself in need of a waterjet. Almost ten years later he has added an Okuma 3-axis mill to expand capabilities at his Tempe, Arizona manufacturing facility.
A decade ago Mark was working with his friend at an electrical company. They manufactured electrical panels. These panels that go behind the circuit breaker panel were made one at a time, by hand, using only a sheet metal shear, hand-held plasma cutter, and a box brake. Mark engineered a few smaller parts like corner cutters and jigs to make the process simpler. They did 1000’s of these a year, and needed a better option. The search began with laser, plasma and waterjet options. “The plasma and laser cutters were a little limited for the scope of work we needed,” tells Mark. “They can’t do multiple sheets without fusing them together, but the waterjet could.” Impressed with the flexibility of the waterjet technology Mark began researching the different manufacturers. “OMAX happened to be having a show in Las Vegas,” explains Mark. “I hopped on a plane and went to talk to the OMAX people. The OMAX brand really impressed me and the next day I asked them to find me a machine and Premier Waterjet was born.”
Mark purchased an OMAX model 80160. It has a 6’x12’ table, the OMAX Tilt-A-Jet head and a SRS (Solid Removal System). Mark is a self-taught, but has always been good with his hands and critical thinking, but diving head first into CNC machining he had a few small doubts. “Having never machined anything before getting the waterjet I was a little apprehensive,” explains Mark. “I did the research and was sure I could figure it out, but in how long.” Mark got assistance from a local waterjet company in the beginning, both with jobs and with instruction. “My friend had a smaller waterjet machine so they would send me work. They also shared some tips on running it. They were very helpful when I needed it most.” Turns out that Mark actually needed very little help thanks to OMAX and their easy to use software and controls.
OMAX software is amazingly simple; Mark even thinks he could teach a child to operate it. “The control is easy to use,” details Mark. “As a novice, simplicity was a huge advantage for me. Now, after eight years using it, you see how powerful it actually is. OMAX designs all their software and hardware in-house and it is very intuitive.” Draw a circle, tell it the size, where to place it. There is a drawing program and a cutting program. Once you have your shape set, you open it in the cutting program. From there it steps you through all the information you need. Tell it the file, tell it the material and tell it the thickness and it figures out all the parameters it needs. Premier’s machine has the optional Omax Tilt-A-Jet to help eliminate the taper you might get off a standard waterjet head. The finished part has a squared edge and the scrap part has the ugly taper. The software takes this into account for the best possible cut. “The head alone is a huge upgrade,” explains Mark. “Many of the other local companies only have a standard head so I get a lot more business because of it. The precision and accuracy are increased dramatically by the tilt head so I can do jobs that others can’t.” Mark’s strengths are in composites, ultra thin material, and taking the time to make sure the customers parts are well below the stated tolerance. “We will cut anything here,” continues Mark. “The composites require a little different approach to cutting, but all jobs are welcome at Premier Waterjet. I routinely cut sheets of brass only 0.005 thick.”
Premier Waterjet moved into their new 4300 sq. ft. location about a year and a half ago. It is still a one-man operation, although Molly, his co-worker and shop dog assures customers of quality parts with on time delivery. “It is just me here,” tells Mark. “When I moved into the new shop I knew I wanted to expand and add value to my customers. A mill was the next progression for me as a company. A lot of the waterjet work I do is cutting a profile out of a chunk of stainless. It then gets sent to a milling house for finishing. With a mill, my hope is to keep it all under my roof.” Mark went to Arizona CNC, who he has a great relationship with, to see what they had. They are the local dealer for OMAX and carry the full line-up of Okuma machines. “I’ve had great service and support from Arizona CNC over the years, so I was hoping they had a machine that matched my want list. I have a good relationship with them and trust them, and that is what I want from a distributor.”
After researching the different brands and options, Mark was drawn to the Okuma’s quality. “Since this was my foray into milling I was open to recommendations,” tells Mark. “I wasn’t locked in by any brand loyalty. Some of the other products I looked into might be more popular, but didn’t have the quality and stability of the Okuma. Okuma’s feature list was impressive, and the build quality was first rate. Having a stable well-constructed machine was important to me.” Four months ago Mark took delivery of an Okuma GENOS M560-V 3 axis vertical mill. Designed on the Thermo-Friendly Concept and controlled by the open-architecture, user-friendly OSP-P control, the GENOS M560-V is touted by the manufacture as delivering “affordable excellence.”
Mark didn’t have any specific products in mind when buying his mill so a machine that offered a wide range of capabilities was preferred. The Okuma GENOS M560-V fit the bill nicely. A driving factor in adding a mill to Premier Waterjet’s capabilities was his family’s business making fishing lures. The fishing lure company offers 70+ different products and was sending molds out to shops around the country. “There is only one shop in the small Arizona town where my parents live,” explains Mark. “That shop is overloaded and couldn’t get to the new molds for another six months. By adding the mill, I had already gained my first customer.” He is just finishing up the first test molds and will begin production on the rest of the new products in the coming month. “It is a win for me to already have work, and a bigger win for my parents because the molds stay nearly in house. Copying molds is a big problem in the fishing business so even though they have their business and I have mine, it still keeps things in the family.”
Mark has found the transition to the new Okuma is a little different than running his OMAX waterjet. There has been a learning curve for him moving from 2D to 3D, but with a little assistance he is figuring things out. “We have a copy of SolidWorks, but ended up pairing up with SolidCAM software,” details Mark. “There are numerous CAM software companies out there, but SolidCam’s integration into SolidWorks is what sold me on it. Their tech support has been phenomenal. Say you have a part and you don’t know what feature you should use in their software, give them a call if you struggle more than five minutes. They hop on your system via GoTo Meeting and take you step by step through the process. I have a machinist friend who helps me out and even he is blown away by SolidCAM.”
Premier Waterjet has had the Okuma only a few months, but has been steadily making strides forward. The first part Mark machined was a bracket for his porch light. He couldn’t find a lighting kit that incorporated the “dusk till dawn” feature so he modified a standard light to fit his needs. “I did a simple program to cut a new backing plate,” explains Mark. “I machined it, added a sensor, painted and now I have a porch light again. It was important to me to start with a basic part and work my way up to more complex operations. Everyone has to start somewhere and I needed a new light – it was a win-win.” Darin, Mark’s machinist buddy dropped by the shop and was quick to offer his 2 cents on Mark and Premier’s latest addition to the shop. “I was glad to see Mark purchase a machine like the Okuma,” explains Darin. “So often people just buy the cheapest mill they can get, but Mark put a lot of time into researching his options. He might have spent a little more money, but overall he got a way better product. I love the Okuma…it is fast, accurate, well built, has thermal compensation. You know when you cut something it is nuts on. It really is leaps and bounds ahead of its class.”
Mark and Premier Waterjet are pretty well set for the immediate future and whatever parts come their way. As a one man show he punches well above his weight class both in services and in abilities. Premier Waterjet is one of the only companies in the local area willing to cut ultra thin brass and aluminum and Mark has spent the last 8 years building a solid reputation in the industry. “It is never a dull day,” concludes Mark. “We have jobs ranging from medical stainless, and aerospace aluminum to composites and glass wall tile. It keeps things fresh and challenging. It is a good feeling to be known as “the guy” in town with unique capabilities on the waterjet side. Now with the Okuma mill I hope to expand on that reputation.”