Big  Blue Saw


General Updates

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The evolution of a produced part from start to finish requires brain power and labor, first from the part designer and then to those who take the design and make it a reality. Big Blue Saw is a place where real people make the difference in producing great parts with the best technology possible.

One of the main assets in the Big Blue Saw shop is the TECHNI waterjet, TJ3000, which produces parts out of many different materials that include, for example, aluminum, steel, plastic and wood. The waterjet uses a water stream mixed with an abrasive garnet at high velocity and pressure, to make parts for robots, electronics, scientific equipment and much more. It can make a few parts or several thousand parts per production run, as well as both simple and complex part geometries. Its main benefit is that it uses material efficiently by nesting the parts tightly and can cut with no special fixtures or tool changes. The efficiency provided by the waterjet can often translate to quicker production time and lower cost for the customer.

Behind the waterjet, however, includes manpower in the shop. Two of those people at Big Blue Saw include Clint Sikes, shop manager and waterjet technician, and Simon Arthur, the company’s founder and president.

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  1. Ensuring appropriate designs

Parts start on the computer as a CAD (computer-aided design) file, which is a 3-D model or a 2-D drawing. The waterjet can cut in 2-D, or a flat pattern saved as a .DXF file. The design can be saved in millimeters or inches, so it’s important to confirm the unit type with the shop manager. In addition to checking the unit type, the shop manager has to ensure no scaling is applied, and the file is saved as a 1:1 ratio. Otherwise, something intended to be 1 ft. could come out as 1 in.

Sikes says the biggest issue he experiences in the production process is incomplete files. While the drawing might appear complete to the customer, the waterjet software will find any and every flaw in a drawing.

The most common (flaw) is unconnected or crossed lines at intersections and hard angles,” Sikes says. “This will create a ‘lead in’ or ‘lead out’ in the incorrect places. What I mean by that is the software will start its cut on a part surface instead of what we call the drop or unused material. We just ask that customers take the time to really inspect their files or drawings for any flaws before sending it to us.”

Above all, customers should be sure to do their research ahead of time to achieve success in their waterjet-produced part.

Whether it’s a work project, an art piece or jewelry, take a good hard look into everything that goes along with it,” Sikes says. “This includes material – its weld-ability, its weight and the finish of different metals. Make sure your drawing or print conforms to the capability of a waterjet in order to get realistic expectations on your finished product.”

Have more questions on how to make the process of making parts, start to finish, much smoother? Arthur says customers can find several more tips in the Big Blue Saw’s guide to designing on the waterjet.

  1. Getting the design to the waterjet

KA Waterjet Screen A

Once the part design is approved for cutting, the .DXF is imported into the waterjet software. From there, compensation is applied. The shop manager has to tell the software the size of the nozzle, which determines the diameter of the water stream (typically .040 in.). Without adjusting for outside or inside compensation (offsetting the stream inside or outside of the part’s appropriate dimensions) the part would not be cut correctly. It takes human skill to check the diameter and adjust on occasion, as parts wear out. Adjustments are crucial to ensuring the parts are correct in size.

In the software, the shop manager must enter the material size on the waterjet table, such as a 4 ft. x 8 ft. piece of steel. Then the waterjet will nest parts within that piece of material. Say a customer has 100 different parts to cut out of that piece of steel (25 of Part A, 40 of Part B, 15 of Part C and 20 of Part D). The software helps determine where to nest these while wasting as little of the material as possible (also called maximizing sheet utilization), but the shop manager can manually adjust the nesting as well. The key here is to maximize the number of parts cut out while leaving about 0.125 in. between each part.

Arthur says it’s important to note the company can do small and large quantities of parts! The top 5 percent of the Big Blue Saw customers amount to about 50 percent of the business, and individual orders less than $500 are about one-third of total sales. The Big Blue Saw team is willing and able to work prototype designs as well as production runs.

Thickness and type of material (steel vs. aluminum) is also important to enter into the software. Harder materials such as steel cut slower than softer materials such as aluminum. Also, the thicker the material, the slower the waterjet cuts. Big Blue Saw stocks a lot of common material, but the company also orders material for special parts.

Edge qualities are important to note in the software. Customers should let the shop manager know if they prefer a coarse vs. fine edge to the part. Obviously, the finer edge will take longer to cut, and the more time the waterjet spends on the part, the more expensive the part will be. The shop manager can preview the cut path on the waterjet screen before cutting the part, see the order of cutting and estimated cutting time, which helps with developing quotes for various projects.

  1. Prepping the machine

KA Waterjet Simon Clint

Manpower is needed to check the waterjet over, ensure the water is turned on and confirm abrasive is in the abrasive hopper. The abrasive garnet is a really fine sand material that assists with cutting.

Garnet is essentially sand paper grit minus the paper,” Sikes says. “It all starts with making sure our garnet hopper is full and ready to run. Garnet comes in 55 lb. bags that get dumped into the hopper, which can hold about 2,000 lbs.”

When the waterjet is cutting, water goes into a pump to pressurize to 55,000 PSI, and then the abrasive mixes with water stream before it comes out of the nozzle. The abrasive intensifies the water to cut through the materials. The abrasive removal system (ARS) with the waterjet helps circulate water out of the tank through filters and strain the abrasive out to keep the machine clean and operational.

The garnet ends up in the bottom of our tank,” Sikes explains. “The removal of our garnet from the base of the tank is handled with our ARS. With help from a pumping system, garnet and water are pumped into a separate tank where the abrasive is allowed to settle and the water is returned to the waterjet tank. Considering we run through close to 3,500 lbs. of garnet a week means this is a constant but necessary process.” 

In addition to making sure the hopper is full of garnet, manpower is also needed to load the material onto the waterjet table before cutting can begin.

  1. Completing the parts

After the waterjet does its magic in cutting the parts, the shop manager must pick up those parts out of the machine and may have additional post-processing based on the customers’ needs. This could include grinding, deburring, tapping threads, etc. for that specific part. Then the parts will be on their way to the customer!

  1. Maintaining the waterjet

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The shop manager must perform machine maintenance so that it is calibrated appropriately and parts will be within tolerance. Abrasive flowing through the machine and nozzle causes wear and tear and erodes away edge of nozzle. Components in cutting head become worn out and need replaced. The stream can cut through slats in table that holds the material, and these need to be replaced on occasion as well.

Sikes says those consumables – nozzles, orifices and high-pressure valves – are replaced most frequently. Determining when these consumables need to be replaced means monitoring proper water pressure and part tolerances. The most time-consuming component of waterjet maintenance, however, is working with the garnet.

Machines such as the waterjet are important for creating parts, and while we are all thankful for these technologies, it still takes a team of people to get the job done!

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This week, Big Blue Saw is offering massive discounts on custom aluminum parts. During the sale, custom parts from your designs will be available for as little as $8.90. As if this wasn't enough, we're also offering FREE SHIPPING on small orders. We've never had a sale like this before, so if you haven't tried our waterjet cutting services, now is definitely the time.

During the sale, all parts waterjet cut from ⅛ inch thick aluminum 6061 will automatically receive same discounted price as if you were ordering quantity 10. There's no need for any coupon codes, just order using our exclusive online quoting and ordering system.


Questions and Answers about Big Blue Saw's Sale

  • What is on sale?
    Custom parts from your designs made using  aluminum alloy 6061  in 0.125 inch (about ⅛ " or 3.175 mm) thickness.
    Low-taper and laser cutting are not on sale.
  • How much will I save?
    Orders as small as 1 part will automatically receive the quantity 10 discounted price. The dollar amount depends on the design and quantity ordered. Prices start at $8.90 for small, simple parts.
  • How can I order with the sale price?
    Just upload your design to our online quoting and ordering system, and check out through the website shopping cart. You will automatically receive the discount price when placing your order. No need to use coupon codes or other tricks.
  • How do I get FREE SHIPPING for my order?
    Waterjet cut orders weighing less than 1 pound and shipping to the USA will automatically be eligible for free shipping. Just select the shipping method "Waterjet Ship Special <1 lb" when checking out.
  • I don't have a design. How can I make one?
    Use your favorite CAD or vector image software. If you don't have this kind of software, check out our list of free or low-cost alternatives. Also, be sure to  read about how to format your CAD files for use with Big Blue Saw
  • I didn't hear about your sale until just now and don't have time to get my design ready. When is your next sale?
    Sign up for our mailing list to get early notifications about the next sale.
  • I have special requirements for shipping, secondary machining, or rush processing my order. Can I still get the sale price?
    To get the sale price, orders must be placed through the website. So typically we cannot accommodate special requests for sale parts.
Hurry, this offer ends Thursday, March 28, 2019, at 11:59 PM Eastern Time.

A quick heads up: next week we're doing a sale on 1/8 inch aluminum. This sale will be especially great if you haven't tried Big Blue Saw yet, as we're also going to be offering discounts on shipping. Keep watching this space.

Recently I was invited to talk at Kittredge Magnet School's 4th graders for career day. I talked about starting Big Blue Saw,  running a business, and, of course, fighting robots. Here are a few of the wonderful thank you notes they sent me afterward, including great robot designs, action packed robot fights, BattleBots tributes, and curious questions.

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  • If you're interested in making a fighting robot, check out the SPARC Getting Started Guide.
  • I think my favorite thing about being the founder of Big Blue Saw is being able to help our customers create wonderful things.
  • I have 2 robots the work currently.
  • Our lasers do not kill people.
  • I'm not sure. Did you know that there's a laser inside every DVD player?

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It was fun talking to the kids. I had a great time!

If you’ve heard me talk about Big Blue Saw before, you know I’m a passionate guy. The story on why I created the company has been told before, but I often find people who are also curious about today’s story.

In other words, what goes on during a typical day at Big Blue Saw? How do our waterjet cutting services work?

There’s a lot more to our shop than what meets the eye. Learn what we do, how we do it, and who makes it all happen as we go behind the scenes at Big Blue Saw.

An Average Day

It’s difficult to describe an average day at Big Blue Saw. On a Monday, we might be working on several robot parts. Tuesday might bring custom motor mounts and the rest of the week could be a mixture of electronic components and prototype parts.

While projects change from day to day, one thing that doesn’t is my dedicated team. I set up shop in 2005 in the great city of Atlanta, Georgia and I’ve been fortunate enough to employ some of the area’s industry experts.

Big Blue Saw’s customer advocates, Channie and Julie, bring creativity and customer service together while Clint, our shop manager, oversees all our part development, backed by his 20 years of manufacturing experience.

The Big Blue Saw family is a reliable constant that ensures a seamless experience for our customers. Here’s how it all comes together.

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Sorry to disappoint, but we don’t actually use a “big blue saw” to cut out parts. The company name sounds better than “large teal machine” though, don’t you think?

From Vision to Reality with Waterjet Cutting Services

Every part that leaves our shop starts with a customer’s vision. Whether they need a part for a custom motorcycle or a fighting robot, our free CAD design tool can make their vision come to life. We’re always updating and improving our software to make it easier for customers to use, even if they’ve never virtually designed a part before. If someone is designing and needs some help, there are several resources available. Designers can:

Once a designed part has been submitted for fabrication, we review it, address any questions or concerns, and add the project to our queue.

Next, the design is put into the waterjet cutting machine, which fabricates the part from a specified material.

Waterjet Screen A

Even though we let our machine do the heavy work, we’re always involved during the fabrication process through our software.

If you’ve never seen a waterjet machine in action before, the first time is always impressive. While some machine shops are operating with antique equipment, we use a state-of-the-art waterjet cutting machine that can effortlessly carve through a variety of materials with incredible power and accuracy.

Once the part is finished, we inspect it and carefully package it for shipping. In just a couple weeks, a customer can be holding a part or tool that only existed in their mind before.

We’re far from the only machine shop out there. But that doesn’t mean our waterjet cutting services are the same as all the rest. Here’s what makes us unique.

  • Our software is always available and evolving.
  • Our machinery is continuously maintained and upgraded.
  • Our customer service is prompt, personal, and professional.

Together, these commitments to excellence create the Big Blue Saw experience.

The Future of Big Blue Saw

The Big Blue Saw team works every day to exceed expectations. We follow industry news to stay ahead of the competition and believe there’s always room for improvement.

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Clint and I are always looking for ways to improve industry technology. We understand the success of a project relies on its design, which is why we spend so much time focused on our design software and integration.

As the owner and founder of Big Blue Saw, I’m thrilled with where we are today. But I want tomorrow to provide our customers with even faster, better parts. I’m always looking to improve without compromising the personal touch customers appreciate.

If you’ve been shut out or disappointed by a machine or fabrication shop before, but still have big dreams, Big Blue Saw can help. You’ll experience a simple design process, fair prices, and quick delivery, whether you need one part or a thousand. We’re genuine people passionate about our waterjet cutting services. To put it simply, we provide real parts, made by real people, that provide real solutions.

Join our mailing list to stay updated on what’s happening at Big Blue Saw. When you’re ready, start the waterjet design process and create on your own terms.