Laughlin fabrication flight gets new water jet cutting machine

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Keira Rossman
  • 47th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs

Sounds of whirring and cutting are commonplace in the fabrication shop at Laughlin Air Force Base. Creating precise plane parts is a large and gradual job that the shop undertakes, which has typically been completed with cutting machines or a propane torch. The fabrication team recently acquired a new system that will keep up with the demand for quick, high quality work.


The shop now utilizes a new water jet machine, which will allow for the creation of components in various materials for numerous projects.


With the addition of the new piece of equipment, fabrication of components will be faster, more precise, better for the environment, safer to make, and allow for the redistribution of manpower throughout the small shop.


“A couple of years ago, we only had a few pieces of old equipment that we could use,” said David Mercer, 47th Flying Training Wing fabrication shop supervisor. ”So we needed to find a way to make things run smoother and make more parts better, faster, and with less manpower. This machine makes it easier on our three machinists in the shop to get the job done.”


The water jet uses a natural fine-garnet abrasive, which acts kind of like sandpaper to boost cutting power, and high water pressure to cut through a wide range of materials including metals, composites, glass, and plastic. 


“Once the garnet is used, it goes into the water hopper. So it's very eco-friendly,” said Mercer. “The waste is just garnet and whatever you cut out of the metal. There are no toxic chemicals involved at all.”


In addition to being eco-friendly, the machine is also operator friendly. With a few edits in the design program and a key click, the entire process is automated.


“There shouldn’t be any operator interaction where the operator can get hurt from this equipment,” said Mercer.


Since the material is submerged underneath water, not only is the machine quiet, but the water jet avoids creating heat-affected zones or mechanical stress on the components. Heat-affected zones in materials can create areas of metal that are changed in brittleness or pliability.


This equipment will redistribute manpower in the fabrication shop and support the bigger mission of providing safe and excellent aircraft for our pilots to use every day.


“I’d say we’re working on about ten different aircraft every day,” said Mercer. “The easier we make it on ourselves to build this stuff the better. It's going to be better for productivity because we’re working smarter and faster to get things done.”