Supersonic water jet keeps Hercs flying

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Amber E. N. Jacobs
  • 934th Airlift Wing

MINNEAPOLIS-ST PAUL AIR RESERVE STATION, Minn. -- Capable of Mach 2 speeds and more precise than the width of a human hair, it’s not a new aircraft but rather a high velocity stream of water mixed with garnet.

Recently, the 934th Maintenance Squadron aircraft metals technology shop installed a new waterjet cutting machine, also known as an OMAX Computer Numerical Control Waterjet Machining Center. The machine helps Airmen increase maintenance capabilities by accelerating their ability to fabricate tools and custom parts to help get the mission done.

“Our main mission is to provide machining and welding support for aircraft, as well as many of the other shops on base,” explained Master Sgt. Eric Johnson, 934th MXS aircraft metals technology NCO in charge. Although many of the aircraft look the same they are all somewhat unique, because what most people don’t realize is a lot of them are built by hand. This means that many of the aircraft need custom parts or tools. Prior to getting this machine, it could take an Airman eight hours to produce one new part.

One of the secrets behind the OMAX’s efficiency is that it relies on a computer system allowing Airmen to design custom pieces in a digital layout. Once the blueprint of the part or tool is created the technician can save the blueprint on the computer and reuse it the next time a custom piece needs to be replaced. This allows Airmen to cut a wide variety of materials ranging from steel, carbon fiber, granite, glass and everything else in between in a matter of minutes.
Not only does the machine reduce the amount of time Airmen spend creating a new part or tool but it also reduces the amount of time needed to finish a piece.
“Because the machine uses pressurized water and garnet to cut, the process produces satin-smooth edges on the metal. This saves us time grinding, cleaning, and removing of oils from the metal surface," Tech. Sgt. Tyler Horner, 934th MXS aircraft metals technology technician, explained. “Once the water dries we can literally weld the new piece right away.”

Not only is the waterjet cutter more time efficient, but it is also more environmentally friendly.
“This machine is very green,” Horner continued. “It features a water filtration system that continuously cleans and reuses the water so we are not producing waste water. Additionally, there are no noxious fumes, liquids or oils used in or caused by the machining process.”
By embracing a more environmentally green and time efficient process, the 934th metals shop is not only changing the way custom parts and tools are produced, but they are also making strides toward the vision of the wing, ‘only the best – today and tomorrow.’

“The biggest takeaway is, we have moved our shop into future with the way metal work is processed and I think it’s going to revolutionize the way that we do our job around here,” Johnson concluded.