Most modern industries are eager–sometimes even too eager–to embrace new forms of automation. This has especially been true in manufacturing, so Jim Richards (vice president of Total Security Solutions) has been curious as to why the bullet resistant glazing industry has been so slow to embrace automation. Specifically, Jim has found that very few bullet proof fabricators have invested in water jet cutters, despite the popularity of these machines throughout the fabrication sector, and the obvious cost and quality advantages that come with the investment.
THE OLD BULLET RESISTANT GLAZING PROCESS
Until recently, fabricating bullet proof glazing, fiberglass, and steel has been a multi-step process, almost all done by hand. Raw materials–be they steel, fiberglass, monolithic acrylic, or glass-clad polycarbonate–arrived as large sheets, not unlike plywood or drywall. These sheets would be cut into large “blanks”–the basic door or window shape–using a granite saw, and then hauled to a separate shop to be routed, drilled, and milled by hand.
BRINGING COMPUTER CONTROL TO BULLET RESISTANT GLAZING
A computer-controlled water jet cutter can reduce almost all of this to a single step. Total Security Solutions’s water jet cutter uses a stream of water and abrasive particles (in this case garnet) sprayed at ultra-high pressure (between 30,000 and 90,000 psi) through a narrow nozzle. Because water jet cutters reproduce the natural process of erosion–at a greatly accelerated pace–they can cut through any thickness of most materials given sufficient time. Total Security Solutions’s water jet cutter can quickly slice through four-inch titanium. So, stacks of steel, fiberglass, or bullet proof glazing can be cut at once, rather than having to work each individual sheet. Since this unit is computer controlled, almost all of the notching, drilling, and routing can be done by the same machine in a single step, rather than shuffling pieces from shop to shop. And the computer-controlled device also makes it possible to execute long smooth curves and other cuts that would have previously been prohibitively expensive, or even impossible.
A GREENER BULLET RESISTANT GLAZING SYSTEM
The key advantage of a water jet cutting–the one that makes it a winner in any industry dealing with expansive materials–is that the jet itself can be made very narrow (far thinner than the thinnest saw blade), and the computer control is extremely precise and accurate; in the end, much less material ends up as scrap on the floor or dust in the air. This efficiency makes for a significantly “greener” cutting process. Not only is there less waste, but the water and garnet used in cutting are naturally inert, and can easily be filtered for immediate reuse or safe disposal. Finally, the water jet eliminates fumes, smoke, dust, and other particulate matter, making for a much improved work environment.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Despite the higher cost of running the water jet cutter (which runs between $100 and $120 per hour in electricity, water, and the garnet abrasive), the increased efficiency has created real savings that allow Total Security Solutions to expand their offerings and quality without increasing their prices. They can now slice a four-foot by eight-foot sheet of fiberglass into 10 or more pieces in less than 15 minutes, including all cutouts, notches, and mounting holes. From there the pieces can go straight to laminating or the spray booth for finishing, with no further hand fabrication. This is half the time the job used to take. Total Security Solutions now cuts and notches all of their fiberglass and steel on this device.
Water jet cutting has also allowed Total Security Solutions to fabricate steel in ways that were previously not possible, and to cut, drill, and add details (like speak holes) to glass-clad polycarbonate–work that cannot be done with conventional tools. All said, this has meant a real expansion in the quality and breadth of their Level Three and above offerings.