Kerf Cuts Bottleneck Out Of Subcontractor’s Business


As a subcontract manufacturer, Q-Laser offers laser, waterjet, press brake and fabrication services throughout the UK. When the main division at Washington realised its waterjet cutting department based in Hebburn, South Tyneside was reaching full capacity, the company needed a solution – Kerf Developments provided the answer with a Semyx Optima 420 twin abrasive waterjet cutting machine.

Located on the outskirts of Newcastle upon Tyne, Q-Laser provides its rapid-turnaround cutting services to the marine, offshore, automotive and general manufacturing sectors, cutting everything from exotics, stainless and mild steel to aluminium, armoured plate and virtually any material the customer requires. Founded in 2012, the company set up its waterjet cutting division in 2019 to complement its laser, press brake and fabrication services, starting with a 5-axis waterjet machine. Except for the pandemic, the waterjet division has grown exponentially, and the existing waterjet machine was struggling to meet the capacity demands of the business, so Q-Laser turned to Rochdale-based Kerf Developments for the solution.

The Kerf solution was the Optima 420 twin abrasive waterjet machine with two cutting heads. With two cutting heads, the 4m by 2m bed machine instantly doubled the cutting capacity in comparison to the existing machine. In a sector where clients expect a quotation in hours and components cut and delivered in less than a week, the addition of the machine has alleviated the bottleneck, created additional capacity and immediately reduced lead times.

Discussing the evolution of the waterjet division of Q-Laser, Company Director Mr Colin Hewitt says: “We set up the waterjet department for two reasons. Firstly, a laser is typically limited to cutting material up to 25mm thick. Secondly, unlike laser, waterjet cutting does not generate excessive heat that can impact the structural integrity of the material – this is of critical importance in aerospace, MoD and many automotive applications. We started our waterjet division with a 4,000sq/ft facility, one man and a machine, this rapidly became 3 staff. We have to react to the ‘round the clock’ demands of customers and as the business has grown at pace, we had to invest in additional capacity.”

Alluding to why Q-Laser chose Kerf as its waterjet supplier, Colin adds: “We have a longstanding relationship with Paul at Kerf, so we opened discussions regarding our requirements. We were assured that Kerf could meet our needs for impeccable service and support with guaranteed consumable supply, so the next thing was to trial the machines. We gave Kerf a range of trial parts. The productivity, precision, cut quality and edge finishes were beyond anything else we had seen, so our decision to invest was made. A few months after the installation, Kerf has excelled in its service and consumable supply – this was a critical element for us. Kerf stocks all spare parts for the machine in the UK and they are available on a next-day service. This gives us complete confidence.”

As a company that manufactures anything from one-off to production runs for clients, machine uptime and productivity are as critical as cutting speed. The two cutting heads in the same machine footprint of the Optima 420 have slashed cycle times by more than 30%. However, the benefits are far further reaching. Unlike the cantilever design of the existing technology at Q-Laser, the Optima incorporates twin-sided drives that deliver astounding acceleration and machine kinematics. With features like 40mm diameter precision ball screws, the Optima delivers exceptional levels of precision and speed with unparalleled rigidity and stability. This is complemented by a powerful 50hp hydraulic intensifier pump that leads the industry in performance and reliability. As Colin continues: “Some of our customers are machine shops that want pre-machined profiles. We can cut these to tight machining tolerances which means that many of our customers no longer need to rough machine their components. This level of precision is winning plaudits from our customers and generating additional business.”

From a productivity standpoint, the Optima 420 has accelerated throughput by cutting production times by more than 30%. Furthermore, the acceleration and speed of axes travel also contribute to reduced cutting times. As Colin adds: “Our lead times can typically range from 24 hours to 7 days depending upon our workload. Before the arrival of the Optima, the lead times would extend beyond 10 days, so the machine has made a huge impact on our throughput. Additionally, we can fulfil our order book with fast turnaround for customers without putting demands on our staff to work around the clock.”

From a shop floor perspective, the Optima 420 has a greater bridge clearance than the current machine at Q-Laser. This enables the Optima to cut material up to 300mm thick, regardless of the material type. As Colin adds: “Our existing machine only has a cutting height of 170mm, so the additional capacity of the Optima 420 is another major plus point. It futureproofs our business to cater for whatever demands the industry throws at us. This also provides greater accessibility for the shop floor staff to access the workpieces and cutting heads. The machine also has a larger hopper for the abrasive material than our existing machine, this means we can fill the machine and it will run for extended periods without operator intervention or downtime. Furthermore, the machine also incorporates the latest IGEMS CAD/CAM software suite, which our staff find intuitive and very easy to use.”

The IGEMS CAD/CAM suite provides market-leading nesting with automatic and adaptable CAM features. It also provides customised and detailed reports on jobs and nesting plus intuitive technologies that enable customers like Q-Laser to retrieve more parts from each sheet of material – generating significant material cost savings. The software also has an extensive material database with optimised feed rates and compensation tables to increase productivity whilst operators can simulate their jobs with comprehensive NC code previews and crash control features to eliminate errors.

Concluding on the acquisition of the Optima 420, Colin says: “We are delighted with the new machine. The build quality and performance of the machine are outstanding and the service from Kerf is everything they promised it would be. The machine will be a cornerstone for the growth of our waterjet division as it offers the flexibility and productivity to cater for the diverse demands of the marketplace.”