There’s something about the water at WardJet, a growing Tallmadge company — it’s pressurized and streams out of a nozzle, traveling at a rate about three times the speed of sound.
The 18-year-old company makes water-jet cutters, machines that use high-pressure streams of water that can be used to cut everything from airplane wings to intricate medical devices to chicken wings.
The computer-controlled water jets’ ability to cut super fast and cut anything from soft rubber to 12-inch thick steel puts them in demand in a variety of industries.
Water-jet cutters do in seconds what takes nature millions of years: “It’s basically accelerated erosion,” the company’s Benjie Massara said as water-jet cutters whirred around him.
Massara, WardJet marketing manager, spoke as he was giving a tour at a company open house this week. It was the first ever for the traditionally low-profile business on South Avenue, south of the city’s landmark traffic circle.
Company founder and president Richard Ward said it was time to give people a first-hand look at what the company does.
“The technology we’re achieving here is unique in some cases to anywhere in the world,” the 56-year-old Ward said. “We’re getting stronger and stronger demand from people wanting to learn more about what we do.”
Ward stresses that his 65-employee enterprise is a soup-to-nuts operation.
Employees include engineers, welders, software programmers and assembly workers. They do everything from designing the machines to building them to installing them on a customer’s factory floor.
WardJet employees also write the computer programs and design the components for the machines’ computerized controls.
“We even make our own circuit boards,” Ward said. “We don’t know of any competitor making its own circuit boards.”
The majority of engineers received their degrees from the University of Akron, Ward noted.
In addition to engineers, the company employs skilled trades workers, such as machinists and welder/fitters for myriad jobs.
Welder/fitter Dan Jackson, 56, found work at the company about two years ago, after the structural steel fabricator where he had worked shut down. “I didn’t know anything about water-jet cutting,” he said.
Now he’s experienced at fabricating the steel cross beams used to hold the cutting heads and welding the machines’ tanks — where the water ends up.
“I think we should be excited about made-in-America,” and providing local jobs, Ward said. “What better than made in America by Akronites.”
Employees — including Ward — typically dress in jeans and T-shirts featuring the WardJet logo in yellow.
Ward said he “hates to wear anything but a T-shirt.” Plus, he said, the absence of a suit and tie encourages prospective customers to “look deeper into what drives WardJet.”
Many of the current employees were hired in the past three years.
Ward credits a lot of the growth to customers learning about WardJet’s focus on doing as much as it can in-house.
The one-stop operation allows for employees to quickly make the water-jet machines — which range in size from about 2-feet-by-2-feet to other units that can fill a room.
Employees also can more easily customize the cutters.
Just last week, he noted, the company got an order from electric car maker Tesla Motors. The machine was finished in time to be shipped out Friday to Tesla in California.
The water-jet cutters aren’t cheap — ranging in cost from $100,000 or so to several million dollars or more.
But that initial cost can be quickly recovered, Ward said.
Tesla Motors, he noted, will save on production costs by cutting six of the same identical parts at once — instead of one of a time.
The company’s future growth, Ward said, lies in custom automation of production processes. “We don’t have to always put a water jet on a machine,” Ward said. “Our target is that 60 percent of total revenue will come from customer design and automation that has nothing to do with water jets.”
Ward declined to disclose company revenues.
WardJet also is touting its patented system used to recycle the finely ground abrasive that is added to the water to cut through some materials, such as thick metal.
Ward said a company can save big bucks when using recycled abrasive — finely ground garnet (the semi-precious stone) — as opposed to always using new.
At this week’s open house, WardJet also showed off its new venture — a water jet with a robotic arm that allows for intricate cuts that can’t be made with many other jet cutters.
For these machines, WardJet is teaming up with Yaskawa Motoman, the West Carrollton, Ohio, subsidiary of the Japanese company Yaskawa Electric.
Ward, a native of Zimbabwe, started his company as a water-jet consulting business in 1995 in his Tallmadge home. He had moved in 1991 to the United States from South Africa, where he had worked as a civil engineer.
“I’m living the American dream,” Ward said. “Just without any sleep.”
Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or firstname.lastname@example.org.