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Waterjets Bring Serious Improvements to Toymaker

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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Any questions on the versatility of waterjet-cutting machines? Bennie I and Bennie II have the answers for you. The Bennies work for Yoxo, a St. Paul, MN, toy manufacturer. The two are charged with helping the company meet skyrocketing demand for its creative toy construction kits. And one more thing…Bennie I and Bennie II are waterjet cutters, named after an Elton John song, “Bennie and the Jets.”

This high-rail gantry-style waterjet-cutting system, installed at Yoxo in 2015, boosts the toymaker’s manufacturing capacity big time via its 10 cutting heads and a custom-engineered shuttle system.
Yoxo produces construction kits designed to fuel kids’ creativity, according to the company’s founder and CEO, Jeff Freeland Nelson, by letting them design and build their own toys. They use Yoxo’s Y-, O- and X-shaped links to connect with everyday household items such as toilet paper tubes, paper towel rolls and cereal boxes. These links also can be attached to other connector toys, including Lego, Kre-O and Mega Bloks.

The company commits to environmental responsibility, with the recyclable connectors made in Yoxo’s wind-powered workshop. The part material of choice is recycled wood fibers, which is where the flexibility inherent in waterjet-cutting technology rears its head. These machines can cut a variety of materials without the need for conductivity of the workpiece, or without creating burnt edges or heat-affected zones. They allow fabricators who may have thought only to work in metal to take on laminates, stone, glass, plastic, even food. In Yoxo’s case, locally sourced recycled wood sheets in various colors. In fact, cardboard and product waste from Yoxo’s own operations are re-used to make the links.

Alternative Cutting Process Needed

Initially, Yoxo cut its connectors using laser cutters, but the lasers burnt the edges of the material, forcing the Yoxo team to spend hours cleaning parts. Buying multiple lasers to increase production would have been cost prohibitive.

"Parents don’t want their kids playing with sooty toys, so we needed a better solution,” Freeland Nelson explains.

Again, the company seeks sustainable, eco-friendly production, so the thought of switching to easier-to-manufacture plastic was a nonstarter.

“Most toys are made from plastic on the other side of the planet, and will eventually end up in a landfill,” he said. “We decided to do it differently. We wanted to make a product from sustainable, recycled and recyclable material, and we wanted to manufacture it in the U.S.A.”

Prior to employing waterjet technology, Yoxo cut its connectors using laser cutters, but the lasers burnt the edges of the wood-fiber part material, forcing the team to spend hours cleaning parts. "We saw a 15 to 20-percent productivity gain without sacrificing any of the quality of our products after switching from laser cutting to a waterjet machine,” recalls Trevor Burns, Yoxo’s director of production.
With contracts then in negotiation with large retailers and production set to scale upward, Yoxo toyed around with the idea of using other methods to cut its parts. The company tested a variety of cutting technologies before concluding that cutting its water-adverse material with 55,000-psi jets of water was, oddly enough, the most effective solution.

With this knowledge, Yoxo reached out to its neighbor, St. Michael, MN-based Jet Edge, for a custom waterjet-cutting setup, delivered to Yoxo in late-2014.

Quality, Productivity Boosted Via Custom Waterjet Cutters

"We saw a 15 to 20-percent productivity gain without sacrificing any of the quality of our products after switching from laser cutting to a waterjet machine,” recalls Trevor Burns, director of production for Yoxo.

Fast-forward a year, and Yoxo’s growth required ramped-up production…a second waterjet cutter was needed.

“We needed the production capacity, redundancy and efficiency,” says Burns.

Bennie II, the second waterjet cutting machine, was installed in 2015. The Jet Edge high-rail gantry-style waterjet shuttle system boosts Yoxo’s manufacturing capacity big time, with 10 OmniJet cutting heads and a custom-engineered shuttle system that boosts productivity by allowing Yoxo machine operators to continue cutting as parts unload.

With a shuttle system on Yoxo’s newest waterjet cutter, machine operators can continue cutting as parts unload. Loading and unloading of the table resulted in lost production time. With the shuttle, loading/unloading time has dropped from
10 to 20 min. to 1 to 2 min.
“We had observed that our longest loss of production time was due to the loading and unloading of our table,” Burns says. “With the shuttle, loading/unloading time has dropped from 10 to 20 min. to 1 to 2 min.”

The newer waterjet-cutting machine also features a custom slanted tank with blow-down control, a feature that Yoxo had retrofitted to its first waterjet. The slanted tank eases clean-out of pulp debris, while the blow-down control helps hold workpiece material in place during the cutting process.

“This has drastically cut down on tank cleaning and increased the quality of our cuts by almost completely eliminating ‘splash-back’ onto our products,” Burns says.

As a result of these features, he continues, “the investment in another waterjet-cutting machine has more than doubled our production output quickly, with an increase in quality of our product."

Simple to Run, Maintain

The waterjet cutters operate 100 hr./wk. on average, and Burns offers positive reports on ease of use and maintenance, and reliability.

“Waterjets by their nature take a higher level of maintenance than other modes of production,” he offers. “However, the maintenance itself is fairly quick and well described by the manuals and in the Jet Edge training program. Our ‘off-the-street’ operators with no prior experience were quickly able to perform the necessary daily and preventive-maintenance requirements to an adequate level. We have used inexperienced operators from the get-go. After the install training we were ready to begin full production within days. And, with the second machine, we were ready within hours of the final installation testing.”

Integral Part of the YOXO Mission

Beyond naming the machines, Yoxo has fully adopted them into its culture and mission. Each Yoxo kit features Jet Edge’s logo and explains how the kit parts are made using water. In addition, Yoxo has installed a window to the waterjet-manufacturing area so that kids, during visits to the workshop during the company’s popular Play Dates, can watch how parts are made. FPN

Information for this article supplied by Jet Edge, St. Paul, MN; tel. 800/JET-EDGE, www.jetedge.com.


As seen in Fabricating Product News: Jet Edge Waterjet Systems