Howe and Howe's U.S. Army all terrain vehicle adjacent to their Flow Mach 3b watejet
Howe and Howe's Flow waterjet
2 Howe and Howe all-terrain vehicles
Howe and Howe brothers

Howe & Howe Technologies

Howe & Howe Discovered a Perfect Fit with Their Newest Team Member: The FlowJet

Taking fabrication to the extreme is an everyday occurrence at Howe and Howe Technologies. In fact, it’s a requirement. This Waterboro, Maine fabricator featured on the Discovery Channel designs, develops and builds 'extreme' vehicles featuring unprecedented capabilities. Their business is about 60% military, and 40% private, and 100% awe-inspiring.

Michael and Geoffrey Howe, twin brothers who have always been inventive, founded Howe and Howe Technologies in 2001, and continue to push the limits day and in day out. They have three prerequisites for everything they build: it has never been done before, it is cost effective, and it has to serve the common good.

Making vehicles used to remove individuals from dangerous elements such as fires and enable first responders to be more effective at saving lives is just another day's work at this shop. "Geoff and I were the kids in school that were taking everything apart from alarm clocks to microwaves," explains Mike Howe. "We built a full size log cabin at 8 years old and robotic arms at 10 out of bicycle parts. We serve markets varying from the military to Hollywood. It's not about making money, it's about making a difference."

Other vehicles include the manned and unmanned Ripsaw tanks that travel over 60 mph, the PAV 1 which is the world's smallest armored all terrain vehicle designed for law enforcement, and the MiniRip, a tracked off-road vehicle designed for the consumer with a top speed of over 40 mph.

It's no secret that Mike and Geoff, as well as their talented staff, are passionate about innovation. They understand that, in order to bring their unique ideas to life, they need machine tools that perform on a daily basis with as much reliability and efficiency as they do. Howe and Howe discovered a perfect fit with their newest team member, the FlowJet.

Plasma cutting not meeting all their needs

Howe and Howe Technologies has many types of different fabrication equipment. For metal plate cutting, their initial machine tool was a plasma cutter. They were not completely satisfied with the process. Not only does the plasma beam create a thick kerf and burned edge, but also much of that melted material collects at the bottom of the cut.

"We had to hand grind down the slag on any plasma cut part before we could start welding, costing us money and time," says Josh Spaulding, engineer. "And when designing components, you had to take into account how tolerances change while it's cutting. Everything had to be scaled to take into account the additional material being removed during the grinding process. We needed a way to efficiently cut parts that didn't make the mess and extra work."

Parts did not always fit together correctly so additional work was needed during assembly. Howe and Howe is all about innovation and production speed, and those secondary processes ate up employee time and limited the company's productivity.

In addition, ballistic steel, high carbon armor or any material with high carbon content would warp from the heat of the plasma. As Spaulding points out, "The amount of hours spent reworking things or jigging the material up to counteract warpage wasted a lot of time and made the work more difficult."

Their plasma system was not only causing additional work and wasting material, they simply didn't like working with it. Smoke filled the shop when cutting plate that had a coating of oil to prevent rusting.

"Plasma cutting is messy," explains Mike Howe. "It restricts the types and thicknesses of materials we can cut, it creates nasty byproducts including noxious gas, and it’s not very accurate."

Waterjet, a faster and more productive tool

They considered a laser table but realized that the material they could work with, as well as thickness, would still be limited. Several Howe and Howe personnel had been aware of waterjets but took special notice of its versatility and power when they saw it in action on the program American Chopper.

After seeing the waterjet cutting live, and experiencing its capabilities, they knew this was the answer to their production needs.

"I was blown away that water could cut such a wide array of materials. As soon as I saw them in action, I knew I wanted to work with one," says Tyler Hentz, fabrication manager. Howe and Howe selected a Mach 3 2513b (8' x 4' cutting table) with Dynamic Waterjet®.

"The plasma often created a beveled edge so we wanted a system that would give us clean, straight cuts," says Spaulding. "When we saw the accuracy of the Dynamic Waterjet, we knew that it would make a huge difference."

Invented by Flow in 2001, Dynamic Waterjet was designed to counter the two types of issues that plague abrasive waterjet cutting: stream lag and taper.

Stream lag occurs because the exit point of the abrasive jet beam lags behind the entrance point causing geometry errors as it sweeps out cone shapes instead of circles and causes corner washout.

V-shaped taper naturally occurs as the power of the waterjet dissipates while cutting through material. The faster the cut speed, the greater the kerf taper error, up to 0.010" per side. Some operators try to minimize it by significantly reducing cut speed, but cycle time and cost per part rise.

Dynamic Waterjet automatically tilts the cutting head to the side to eliminate taper and forward to control the stream. Parts are produced two to four times faster than conventional waterjet and with tolerances as tight as one to three thousandths of an inch 0.025 to 0.07mm mm).

The operator only needs to enter basic cutting parameters of material type and thickness, cut speed, and desired edge quality and everything else is handled automatically. Using Dynamic Waterjet significantly improves part quality, often eliminating secondary processing completely.

The Flow waterjet has allowed Howe and Howe to work much faster without increasing manpower. Will McMaster, project manager, gives an example.

"It's redefined our whole assembly process. Now parts are designed to interlock using notches. Then they are cut on the table so accurately with Dynamic Waterjet that the notches easily slide together and the parts are ready to weld with minimal holding jigs. Unlike plasma cutting, the parts go directly from the table to assembly. A full chassis can be designed requiring only one person to assemble it instead of the three or four previously needed. It's really opened a whole new means of assembly for us."

The waterjet has also opened up a new world of materials from which to choose. Besides hardened and stainless steel, they can now cut bulletproof glass, Lexan, high-density polyurethane and wood. Soft materials such as gaskets are literally cut in seconds with just pure water.

"Since we got the waterjet," says Spaulding, "we have built several vehicle chassis entirely from aluminum. You can't do that with any other machine. We've cut drive sprockets out of HDP (high-density polyethylene). It's no problem for this machine. I don’t know what we would do without our FlowJet. It's just become that important to us."

As Geoff Howe explains, "Being an R&D shop, you really need something that will set you apart from the rest. When your engineers are designing something and have to specify certain materials because that's all you can cut, it limits your end product. If you can cut anything, then you can design whatever you want and use the appropriate materials. That's another aspect that the FlowJet provides us. We are able to design systems with any appropriate material because we can cut them."

He goes on to say that recently they test cut some ceramic armor plate that is classified as a 9 on the Mohs hardness scale. "The material is very brittle and we were concerned that the jet stream might crack the material, but it cut it perfectly with no fractures."

FlowJet makes it easy to go from art to part

Another benefit of the FlowJet is how easy it is to go from art to part. “You just design the part and are cutting it five minutes later. It has improved our production speed tenfold, and that is where you make your money," says Mike Howe.

"We are now able to complete projects in three weeks that used to take 3 months or more. And now that machine shops and fabricators in the area know we have a waterjet, they have started outsourcing work to us. The table is always busy."
Howe and Howe technologies are very pleased with the results of installing their FlowJet: improved efficiency, increased options on material types and thicknesses, more business, and a clean environment.

As Mike Howe sums it up, "I can't imagine a machine working better than our FlowJet to cut the materials we are cutting. The fact that it doesn't add heat to the material is so important as well as its high accuracy. No current technology could cut our materials better than a Flow waterjet. You should see what we can now do in three weeks. Designed, cut and fabricated!"

You will have the opportunity to see just what a waterjet can do when the second season of Howe and Howe Tech airs on the Discovery Channel (December 15, 2010, at 10 p.m.) because the rule is "if we need something cut, it first goes to the FlowJet."