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Unveiling What is Waterjet Cutting: An In-Depth Guide!

Waterjet cutting technology is revolutionary that involves machining parts from various materials. And, this is done using narrow streams of pressurized water.

For many years, industries that specialize in automotive and aerospace manufacture have been utilizing the incorporation of abrasives. Stone engraving and custom fabrication applications also use it.

In this article, we will provide an in-depth analysis on the process which is perfect for machining components of all shapes and sizes, as well as explore its use across different industries and discuss what makes it versatile and cost-effective.

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What is Waterjet Cutting?

Figure 1 - Waterjet Cutting

Figure 1 – The Machine using

Waterjet cutting uses high pressure streams of water that cut through materials, including metal and plastic.

Well, the process works by mixing pressurized water with an abrasive substance to create a powerful jet stream capable of penetrating the material being cut.

Accuracy of the cut depends on several factors, such as jet speed, water pressure, and nozzle type. Waterjet cutting has minimal heat input.

Also, it has fast cutting speeds. Due to these features, it has become a popular choice, and is suitable for intricate designs. But, these designs require precise cuts in various materials.

Industries like aerospace and automotive manufacturing use this technology to cut complex shapes as well as creating high-precision parts.

Computer-controlled process does so quickly and accurately reducing material waste, and allows for intricate details in designs. Such details can be achieved with values as low as 0.001 inches (0.025mm).

Waterjet Cutting Methods!

Figure 2 - Types of Waterjet Cutting

Figure 2 –WC Tool

Waterjet cutting process gives users variations to select from their needs, and provides customized components using advanced technology.

Materials are cut accurately with reduced costs and time, which is useful for any manufacturing industry.

Let’s get into the details of each type and get details of what is waterjet cutting.

§ Abrasive Water Jet Cutting

A pressurized water stream with granulated abrasives is used to cut material instead of saw blades.

Moreover, this process offers pressurized and non-pressurized solutions for industrial applications that can work on thick or hard thermoplastic materials.

At the same time, cutting process requiring minimal heat generation can work on metal alloys with high speed and accuracy, making it ideal for temperature-sensitive materials.

Upon completion, it creates a clean notch. No need for secondary operations.

§ Pure Waterjet Cutting

A high-pressure liquid stream is used in the process of using pressurized water, which is similar to AWJ but without using abrasives.

Above all it shapes and cuts without external abrasives or machinery, providing many advantages such as reduction in contamination for delicate materials.

Although it is useful for foam plastics and produces no HaA transfer compared to AWJ, AWJ is perfect for cutting shallow depths due its ability to produce high levels of heat.

Pure pressurized water alone does not quite match abrasive streams. Higher pressure is required for effective cuts.

§ Robotic Waterjet Cutting

Rather than cutting with a fixed head, it is a robotic version which offers faster processing and accurate results at a lower cost.

Robotic waterjet cutting brings automation to industrial manufacturing processes and is helpful when dealing with complex 3D shapes, due to its useful unique cutting parameters achieved by interchangeable heads.

Multiple tools for secondary operations are provided which can provide higher quality results, better suited to intricate cuts or small precision machining processes such as beveled corners or rebates.

§ Micro Waterjet Cutting

The term Micro Waterject Cutting explains the utilization of a fine water jet for cutting small parts and intricate components with accuracy up to 0.5mm (0.02 inch).

Micro Waterject, powered by an electric motor, is widely used in industries such as electronics and medical.

Eliminating the need for traditional cutting methods and providing damage-free results, it is vital to have a technology that is especially useful when dealing with tiny parts which are used at different levels.

§ Dynamic Waterjet Cutting

A controlled dynamic cutting head is used with pressure up to 6,000 bars (87,014 psi), making it suitable for cutting thicker materials such as steel sheets.

By using its 5-axes mechanism, it offers greater accuracy and reduces cost while compressing the operating time, all of which is guided by an electronic system.

Dynamic Waterjet Cutting is the most advanced cutting technique today, having high output capabilities compared to other options and being suitable for metal material manufacturing industries.

§ Submerged Waterjet Cutting

Submerged Waterjet Cutting is uncommon yet effective for cutting thick materials with a small working space, requiring limited floor area and no additional cooling systems.

By reducing cutting speed and force, it can cut underwater soft areas of the material with more precision results, eliminating any need for additional manual processes.

Submerged technology can be applied for materials like concrete or soil which is impossible by other means such as heat or laser.

§ 3D Waterjet Cutting

3D type is an advanced form of AWJ, and enables the manipulation of three-dimensional objects.

Traditional cutting machines can only cut 2D shapes. 3D waterjet cutting goes deeper with more intricate designs.

TypeCutting MethodKey AdvantagesCommon Applications
Abrasive Waterjet (AWJ)Pressurized water stream with granulated abrasivesHigh speed, accuracy, minimal heat generation, no secondary operations requiredThick/hard thermoplastic materials, metal alloys
Pure WaterjetPressurized water stream without abrasivesReduced contamination, no heat generation, ideal for shallow depthsFoam plastics, delicate materials
Robotic WaterjetAutomated, interchangeable heads, multiple toolsFaster processing, accurate results, 3D shapes, complex cutting parametersComplex 3D shapes, beveled corners, rebates
Micro WaterjetFine water jet for cutting small partsHigh accuracy (up to 0.5mm), damage-free results, suitable for tiny partsElectronics, medical industry
Dynamic WaterjetControlled dynamic cutting head, pressure up to 6,000 barsReduced cost, faster operation, greater accuracy, 5-axes mechanismThicker steel sheets, metal material manufacturing
Submerged WaterjetUnderwater cutting, reduced cutting speed and forceRequires limited floor area, no additional cooling systems, precise resultsConcrete, soil cutting
3D WaterjetAdvanced AWJ for manipulation of three-dimensional objectsPrecise finish on complex geometrical structures, 6-axes cutting head, optimal cost and time for unique piecesComplex geometrical structures, customized pieces

Waterjet Cutting Types

Waterjet Cutting – Superb Advantages!

Figure 3 - Benefits of Waterjet Cutting Machine

Figure 3 – Waterjet Cutting Makes Life Easier for Manufacturers

When it comes to benefits, there are several. Let’s delve deeper into them!

§ Precision And Accuracy

Accuracy is key in waterjet cutting, offering high-precision levels and tight tolerances as low as 0.03 inches.

In comparison to traditional materials like saws or lasers, the ambient temperature and generous depth of cut help provide a more efficient machining process.

There is also a lack of excessive material force, which means materials suffer fewer internal modifications or fracture points and have less adjustment fatigue too.

Most machines have an automated cutting head equipped with a neodymium magnet that reads application requirements from code files.

Swiftly performing the necessary cuts, this technology reduces the time spent on manual fabrications.

§ No Heat-Affected Zone (HAZ)

HAZ technology relies on shearing materials without building up high temperatures on the base material, which prevents warping and distortion.

However, the process doesn’t reach harmful heat levels, allowing operators and production personnel (PP) to work with sensitive materials such as thermoplastics, aluminum alloys, and ArcelorMittal chrome vanadium (CROMVAN).

There is no need for additional protocols or coolant baths when working with thinner or thicker sheets, as they can be handled directly.

§ Material Versatility

Straight waterjet cutting isn’t the only method. Abrasive mixes can be used on thick materials like steel and titanium.

Machines can handle various thicknesses and the abrasive mix vortex is loaded inside the nozzle.

Also, it pushes out material at impressive speeds of up to 900 mph, allowing it to penetrate hard or impossible materials for standard cutting methods.

§ Environmentally Friendly

Waterjet cutting is eco-friendly as it doesn’t produce emissions or toxic pollutants, and the byproduct offcuts can be recycled or disposed of.

Since it uses less electrical power than traditional methods, the high-pressure stream in straight waterjet reuses most of the same material creating no wastage from new materials.

§ Minimal Material Waste

Most importantly, the goal of fabricators is cost efficiency and maximum returns, which can be achieved through waterjet cutting as it allows them to cut nesting parts at varying sizes.

It’s excellent for producing intricate profiles and shapes, making it ideal for projects that require accuracy as there can be 20-30% wastage in other methods like saws; it also removes much rework, guesswork or wasteful activity.

§ No Warping Or Distortion

CNC waterjet cutting applies no external pressure or heat, reducing the risk of distortion and making it great for thin-walled objects that might distort from high-temperature factors.

Not to mention, this factor alone can remove the need to rework parts and also reduces the need for experimentation with cutting paths, thus saving time and improving quality.

§ Cost Efficiency

Waterjet machine automation reduces labor and fabricating material costs per part, creating savings for both the plant and its customers.

For short-run or large-series machining projects, accuracy, precision and repeatability are paramount for ideal results.

§ Safety

Latest waterjet technology shields operators from hazardous contact, including flying debris or toxic substances.

Still, the process is safer than its traditional counterparts, so tall safety cages and operational guidelines aren’t needed.

§ Human Input Unnecessary

Much of the process is automated. Human involvement is only needed to inspect parts or change operations programs, allowing for easier scaling of production activities.

Also, it removes room for costly errors by operators, preventing hazardous or even life-threatening situations.

Waterjet Cutting – Broad Applications!

Figure 4 - Application of Waterjet Cutting

Figure 4 – Using Waterjet Cutting in the Aerospace Industry

Increased demand for high-precision metal fabrication is evident due to changes in the manufacturing industry.

Traditional cutting tools often lack the required precision. That’s when waterjet cutters become useful.

Fast cutting speed, precise accuracy and lack of heat-affected zones are the reasons why these industries including aerospace, automotive manufacturing, metal fabrication and textiles have taken to using laser technology.

§ Aerospace and Automotive Industries

Aerospace engineers use waterjet technology for complex projects. High-precision cuts are needed in these projects.

Traditional methods like laser cutting create too much heat. Automotive manufacturers appreciate the accuracy of waterjet cutters, and value their ability to reduce scrap costs.

When creating complex parts, it is important to consider the materials used (including aluminum, titanium or others) and their varying thicknesses which range from 0.5mm up to 150 mm.

§ Metal Fabrication and Manufacturing

Waterjet cutting is great for sheet metal fabrication projects that require complex design features and tight tolerances.

Examples of CNC capabilities for waterjet cutters include molds for car engines, brass components for valves and the ability to create complex shapes easily in nuclear power plant projects.

Small dimensions and precise accuracy are possible. Turnaround time is reduced significantly that can go from days or weeks down to hours.

Thanks to heat radiation and minimal vibration, material waste is also reduced with waterjet cutting.

§ Glass and Stone Cutting

High-pressure liquid streams are effective tools for cutting glass and stone, enabling them to cut marble or other types of stone with incredible precision.

Smooth surfaces are created, needing no extra finishing. Waterjets can cut intricate shapes and patterns with ease.

On the top, they are better than laser or plasma cutters because of their lack of heat generation, which easily warps and melts glass surfaces when exposed for long periods.

§ Electronics and Semiconductor Manufacturing

Impeccable precision is necessary for many applications. Tiny components need to be cut with up to 0.1 mm (0.004 inches) precision. Waterjet cutters can achieve this.

Electronic and semiconductor industries widely use this technology to precision cut materials like copper, aluminum, or carbon fiber plates which have incredibly thin thicknesses.

Due to its ability to be precise and gentle, it makes it ideal for delicate tasks in medical device manufacturing where components must be handled carefully.

§ Foam & Rubber

Rubber strips or foam inserts that need delicate treatment due to their heat-sensitive nature can be cut with Waterjets, which vary thickness in a single pass without the use of heat.

Waterjets can produce cuts with minimal distortion or warping thanks to the non-introduction of thermal energy into the cutting process.

Comparing Waterjet Cutting with Other Cutting Techniques!

Figure 6 - Maintenance Practices for Waterjet Cutting Machines

Figure 5 – Waterjet Cutting Tech Comparison

Industrial cutting includes waterjet cutters, laser cutters, and plasma arcing. Each method is suitable for specific purposes.

Besides, they have their pros and cons depending on the material, thickness, and complexity of shapes. Let’s look at the differences.

§ Laser Cutting

Laser technology has proven to be an efficient method for cutting thin metals, and have thicknesses of up to 6mm (.25 inch). Complex shapes needing high-precision cuts are also a good fit.

Laser cutters can quickly cut and leave a smooth finished edge, which is common in medical device manufacturing.

However, high heat production can cause issues which eliminates internal stress in thicker materials and leads to bowing or bending over time.

§ Plasma Cutting

Plasma cutting can work for materials up to 25-50 mm(1 to 2 inches) thick, and it has the advantage of working faster due its lower precision.

Jet stream is wider and less concentrated than laser cutters, however one downside to this technology is its tendency for linear warping.

If not cooled properly after cutting, parts may become weak or distorted during the heat process.

§ Mechanical Cutting

Mechanical cutting uses drilling, sawing, or milling bits to effectively cut materials and tackle big and thick components well.

However, its accuracy isn’t as high as waterjet systems due to its slower cutting speed.

Furthermore, when cutting medium to thick metals, it creates internal stress on materials.

Although this is undesirable for precision work, it requires tight tolerances and dense components with high structural integrity.

Cutting MethodMaterial ThicknessPrecision and AccuracyCutting SpeedSide Effects
Laser CuttingUp to 6mm (.25 inch)HighFastBowing or bending of thick parts due to high heat production
Plasma Cutting25-50mm (1 → 2 inches)MediumFasterLinear warping, weak or distorted parts if not cooled properly
Mechanical CuttingVarious, best for big and thick componentsLow to MediumSlow to ModerateInternal stress in materials, less suitable for precision work
Waterjet CuttingVariousHighModerateMinimal heat affected zone, less distortion and stress in materials

Comparison of Industrial Cutting Techniques

Selecting the Right Waterjet Cutting Machine for Your Business!

A water jet cutter is an important investment. Choosing the right one impacts your bottom line. Consider key factors when selecting a waterjet machine.

Consider material type, size, and thickness. Take into account cutting speed and precision. Look at operating costs and maintenance requirements.

Software compatibility is important too. Additional features can make a difference in efficiency and accuracy.

§ The Material Needs Consideration

Different materials require different abrasive feeds and flow rates. Specialized nozzles can handle tougher substances.

Ensure the machine you choose suits your business needs and avoid wasting time and purchasing extra components by making sure it is one of the many materials that are available, such as granites, metals or composites.

§ Size and Thickness of the Material

Consider maximum material size and thickness capabilities. Larger projects require more nozzles for efficient operation. Cutting speed is important too.

Consider the longest edge or largest diameter. Think about the thickness of the materials you’ll cut. Both factors affect the speed and accuracy of the waterjet machine.

§ Cutting Speed and Precision

Speed and accuracy are essential for effective waterjet cutting. Your requirements may vary. You might need to process thicker materials at faster speeds.

Or, you might need higher precision for thinner sheets and the machine should deliver efficient performance that meets operator expectations.

A good waterjet cutting machine has advanced control systems that can achieve precise angles and curves while working with CAD software for maximum accuracy and repeatability.

§ Operating Costs

Consider machine operating costs. Choose a system with minimal maintenance needs. Look for low power consumption. Easy replaceable abrasive technology minimizes cost over time.

§ Maintenance Requirements

Machines need proper maintenance for optimal performance and safety. Consider how often the waterjet cutter needs servicing.

Check repair parts availability in your area. Some manufacturers offer maintenance plans which may be worth considering for 24/7 operation.

§ Software Compatibility

Waterjet cutting machines need specialized software. Ensure the machine is compatible with your business software.

If not, check for training and technical support. Manufacturers or third-party services may offer help.

§ Additional Features & Accessories

Different machines have different features. You need to research which features benefit your business.

Some waterjet cutters have automatic pallet changers and vision systems that shorten the setup times. User-friendly control systems and touchscreen interfaces save operator training time.

§ Technical Support & Training

Consider long-term support before purchasing. Some manufacturers offer technical support and employee training.

Considering warranties and service parts availability in case of issues is helpful for staff turnover or job challenges.

Waterjet Cutting – Maintaining and Troubleshooting Ideas!

Waterjet cutters are known for precision and accuracy. However, proper maintenance is essential.

Regular maintenance prevents downtime and material waste. Keeping these machines running optimally requires key steps. Let’s take a look.

§ Ensure Proper Maintenance Schedule

Prevention is better than cure for maintaining waterjet machines. Change filters, flush coolers, and replace muddy rubber seals to prevent major problems during operation.

A regular maintenance schedule is important. Check for dirt and debris in the tank to avoid damage to parts like wrenches or tubing.

Do this when starting up a machine after idle days to ensure a strong cutting stream, which produces more precision and lasts longer.

§ Monitor the Water Quality

Using non-potable water can affect performance due to impurities in the liquid. Regular checks on water quality are needed, such as pH and chloride levels.

Test water for bacteria every 6 months, whether it is recycled or tap water, as its quality degrades after contacting the cutting stream.

  • Check Abrasive Levels Regularly

Higher flow rate waterjet cutters allow faster feed rates. Different abrasives have dissipation ratings. Too much abrasive can cause a drop in performance.

Also, the material is removed from the nozzle too fast. Too little abrasive results in insufficient cutting velocity.

Regular experiments with water pressures are needed. Test abrasive flow rates and nozzle feed speeds. Each affects the cutting characteristics of materials.

§ Keep an Eye on High-Pressure Hoses & Seals

High pressure in a machine requires checking oil seals, connecting points and hoses as they wear over time. When faults occur, it could be leaking between seals or low pressure from a nozzle, so the cause needs to be determined. 

Using an ultrasonic leak detector to find faults in hoses, tubes and other components can pick up vibrations from air bubbles.

§ Troubleshoot by Checking for Common Issues

Common problems with waterjet cutters include pressure, clogging, and throughput rate. Focus on these factors to troubleshoot. Too much extrusion may indicate insufficient pressure.

Clogging occurs when materials are processed incorrectly. Dust or impurities can cause clogging. Pay attention to these details to restore performance and reduce downtime.

Conclusion

Waterjet cutting is a sought-after technology offering precision and accuracy with minimal labor effort.

Applications ranging from aerospace engineering to automotive component manufacturing, metal fabrication, glass and stone cutting, as well as electronics manufacturing are used across many industries.

Long-term cost-effectiveness of waterjet services is due to increased efficiency and minimal waste, making them popular. Visit KdmFab for your waterjet cutting needs today!

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