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Waterjet slices lead, hazards.

Manufacturing with lead presents numerous worker safety and environmental concerns. But, says Chuck Yanke, "It is very misleading to describe lead as a dangerous material to work around. As with any hazardous material, manufacturing with lead requires diligence and constant concern for safety. With the proper safeguards and process controls, exposure to the worker is no more than standing on a busy street."

Mr Yanke is president of Vulcan Lead Products Co, a Milwaukee, WI, manufacturer that fabricates lead components for such applications as X-ray shielding. In business for 15 years, the company has won numerous awards as a quality supplier from such customers as General Electric, Picker International, Siemens, Eureka, and Varian Associates.

Vulcan Lead helps ensure worker safety with ongoing safety training programs, monthly blood tests, and regular analysis of shopfloor air samples. New equipment also contributes to reducing lead exposure.

An example of the latter approach is the Paser abrasive waterjet cutting system that Vulcan purchased last year from Flow International Corp, Kent, WA. Replacing sawing, the system minimizes airborne dust and particles and streamlines production by eliminating up to three processing steps.

The Paser also minimizes environmental compliance problems by using Flow's closed-loop water recirculation system to eliminate water discharge and reduce water consumption. The system removes all lead kerf and garnet abrasive solids down to 0.5 [mu]m from the water, deposits the solids in a 55-gallon drum for easy disposal, and recirculates the water to the waterjet's ultra-high pressure pump. The only additional water needed is a small amount of make-up to compensate for evaporation.

The closed-loop system frees Vulcan Lead from the need to apply for wastewater discharge permits, which can be a long and costly process. As an added benefit, the company reclaims the lead kerf generated by the cutting process and sells it back to the smelter for reprocessing.

Complying with environmental and worker safety regulations is one thing; meeting or exceeding customer expectations is another challenge. On the production side, the Paser system has provided multiple benefits, including tighter tolerances, reduced part cost, and faster product development.

The latter capability is becoming more and more important as customers look to Vulcan Lead to provide concurrent engineering and prototype development. An example is development and production of lead shielding for a new X-ray tube, which used to require two to three years. Customers are now demanding one-year product development cycles and improved quality as well.

For large parts such as lead shielding, Vulcan often designs and constructs tooling before the design is finalized and prototypes are built. Before incorporating the Paser system into its process, Vulcan used a die cutter or stamping press to provide a relatively inexpensive cutting method. Both approaches had disadvantages: the die cutter couldn't hold tight tolerances, and stamping, although more accurate, was expensive and time-consuming to set up.

The waterjet cuts twice as fast as the die cutter, with five to ten times more accuracy, says Mr Yanke. The system also is adaptable to rapid product changes because it uses no specialized tooling or fixtures. "Instead of having dies built, we can take a drawing and turn it into NC code in minutes, then go cut parts," Mr Yanke says. "The ability to accept customers' CAD files and go directly to cutting parts is a major breakthrough."

For information from Flow international Corp, Kent, WA, circle 316.
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Title Annotation:Vulcan Lead Products installs waterjet cutting system
Publication:Tooling & Production
Date:Aug 1, 1993
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