Base employs robotic water jet cutter to cut sheet metal

  • Published
  • By Wayne Crenshaw
  • 78 ABW/PA
When Bernard Stevens started working in the Sheet Metal Manufacturing Flight in 1979, most of the sheet metal was cut with a band saw. 

Today, that work is done by a 3 Axis CNC robotic water jet cutter, a high-tech piece of equipment that cuts sheet metal precisely with a tiny stream of water and fine abrasive blasted at 55,000 pounds per square inch. 

A computer on the machine follows a program that tells it how to cut each part. The program uses data created by Stevens and his co-workers in the layout shop with equally high-tech measuring equipment which reverse engineers sample parts. 

At 68 years old and approaching 50 years doing sheet metal work, including during service in the Air Force, Stevens has never been one to shy away from learning new technologies and trying new techniques. 

"It's just interesting and it's fun," he said. "If it peaks my interest, I like to do it." 

Known as "Sarge" to his co-workers, Stevens started working in the shop immediately upon retiring from the Air Force as a master sergeant. His military career began in 1960 and included a year in Vietnam. 

David Foskey, deputy director of the flight, said Stevens combines "old school work ethic and technology" to be one of the unit's best workers. 

"I need more like him," Foskey said. "Even though he is around 70 years old, he outworks just about everybody in the shop. He's an inspiration to all of us." 

Virgil Murry, who works in the layout shop with Stevens, also had high praise for his co-worker. 

"That's what you call a cornucopia of knowledge over there," Murry said, motioning toward Stevens. "Any time we have any question about anything, we always go to Sarge." 

He and his wife have been married for 45 years and have three children, including a son who recently retired from the Air Force. A native of Massachusetts, Stevens came to Warner Robins in 1977 while he was still in the Air Force. When he retired, he saw the job opportunities here and decided to stay. 

He doesn't claim any hobbies, except for what he calls "puttering." He likes to fix things, especially music boxes and clocks, but that's about it. 

He keeps working, he said, because it keeps his mind sharp, but most of all because he enjoys it. 

"I like it because it's a challenge," he said. "It's something new every day." 

Stevens also said a talk given by one of his first supervisors in the Air Force has had a lifelong impact on how he approaches his job. 

"He said 'You don't work for me, you work with me,'" Stevens recalled. "I think that's the way our organization here is - we are a team and we all work together. If it wasn't that way I wouldn't stay." 

He admits that he isn't always brimming with enthusiasm. 

"I get angry a lot of days and threaten to quit and go home," he said. 

But he has learned that if you just wait, things will get better. 

"I've been out here for weeks and just felt despondent and frustrated for day after day and day after day," he said. "Then finally maybe a weekend goes by or overnight, and you wake up one morning and it all goes away."