A diagram of a water jet cutter. #1: high-pressure water inlet. #2: jewel (ruby or diamond). #3: abrasive (garnet). #4: mixing tube. #5: guard. #6: cutting water jet. #7: cut material
A water jet cutter, also known as a water jetor waterjet, is an industrial tool capable of cutting a wide variety of materials using a very high-pressure jet of water, or a mixture of water and an abrasive substance. The term abrasive jet refers specifically to the use of a mixture of water and abrasive to cut hard materials such as metal or granite, while the terms pure waterjet and water-only cuttingrefer to waterjet cutting without the use of added abrasives, often used for softer materials such as wood or rubber.
Waterjet cutting is often used during fabrication of machine parts. It is the preferred method when the materials being cut are sensitive to the high temperatures generated by other methods. Waterjet cutting is used in various industries, including miningand aerospace, for cutting, shaping, and reaming.
All waterjets follow the same principle of using high pressure water focused into a beam by a nozzle. Most machines accomplish this by first running the water through a high pressure pump. There are two types of pumps used to create this high pressure; an intensifier pump and a direct drive or crankshaft pump. A direct drive pump works much like a car engine, forcing water through high pressure tubing using plungers attached to a crankshaft. An intensifier pump creates pressure by using hydraulic oil to move a piston forcing the water through a tiny hole. The water then travels along the high pressure tubing to the nozzle of the waterjet. In the nozzle, the water is focused into a thin beam by a jewel orifice. This beam of water is ejected from the nozzle, cutting through the material by spraying it with the jet of speed on the order of Mach 3, around 2,500 ft/s (760 m/s). The process is the same for abrasive waterjets until the water reaches the nozzle. Here abrasives such as garnet and aluminium oxide, are fed into the nozzle via an abrasive inlet. The abrasive then mixes with the water in a mixing tube and is forced out the end at high pressure.
An important benefit of the water jet is the ability to cut material without interfering with its inherent structure, as there is no heat-affected zone (HAZ). Minimizing the effects of heat allows metals to be cut without harming or changing intrinsic properties. Sharp corners, bevels, pierce holes, and shapes with minimal inner radii are all possible.
Water jet cutters are also capable of producing intricate cuts in material. With specialized software and 3-D machining heads, complex shapes can be produced.
The kerf, or width, of the cut can be adjusted by swapping parts in the nozzle, as well as changing the type and size of abrasive. Typical abrasive cuts have a kerf in the range of 0.04 to 0.05 in (1.0–1.3 mm), but can be as narrow as 0.02 inches (0.51 mm). Non-abrasive cuts are normally 0.007 to 0.013 in (0.18–0.33 mm), but can be as small as 0.003 inches (0.076 mm), which is approximately that of a human hair. These small jets can permit small details in a wide range of applications.
Water jets are capable of attaining accuracy down to 0.005 inches (0.13 mm) and repeatability down to 0.001 inches (0.025 mm).
Due to its relatively narrow kerf, water jet cutting can reduce the amount of scrap material produced, by allowing uncut parts to be nested more closely together than traditional cutting methods. Water jets use approximately 0.5 to 1 US gal (1.9–3.8 l) per minute (depending on the cutting head’s orifice size), and the water can be recycled using a closed-loop system. Waste water usually is clean enough to filter and dispose of down a drain. The garnet abrasive is a non-toxic material that can be mostly recycled for repeated use; otherwise, it can usually be disposed in a landfill. Water jets also produce fewer airborne dust particles, smoke, fumes, and contaminants,reducing operator exposure to hazardous materials. Meatcutting using waterjet technology eliminates the risk of cross contaminationsince there is no contact medium (namely, a blade).
There are six main process characteristics to water jet cutting:
Uses a high velocity stream of Ultra High Pressure Water 30,000–90,000 psi (210–620 MPa) which is produced by a high pressure pump with possible abrasive particles suspended in the stream.
Is used for machining a large array of materials, including heat-sensitive, delicate or very hard materials.
Produces no heat damage to workpiece surface or edges.
Nozzles are typically made of sintered boride or composite tungstencarbide.
Produces a taper of less than 1 degree on most cuts, which can be reduced or eliminated entirely by slowing down the cut process or tilting the jet.Distance of nozzle from workpiece affects the size of the kerf and the removal rate of material. Typical distance is .125 in (3.2 mm).
Temperature is not as much of a factor
Edge quality for water jet cut parts is defined with the quality numbers Q1 through Q5. Lower numbers indicate rougher edge finish; higher numbers are smoother. For thin materials, the difference in cutting speed for Q1 could be as much as 3 times faster than the speed for Q5. For thicker materials, Q1 could be 6 times faster than Q5. For example, 4 inches (100 mm) thick aluminium Q5 would be 0.72 in/min (18 mm/min) and Q1 would be 4.2 in/min (110 mm/min), 5.8 times faster.
A 5-Axis Waterjet Cutting Head
A 5-Axis Waterjet Part
In 1987, Ingersoll-Rand Waterjet Systems offered a 5-axis pure-water waterjet cutting system called the Robotic Waterjet System. The system was an overhead gantry design, similar in overall size to the HS-1000.
With recent advances in control and motion technology, 5-axis water jet cutting (abrasive and pure) has become a reality. Where the normal axes on a water jet are named Y (back/forth), X (left/right) and Z (up/down), a 5-axis system will typically add an A axis (angle from perpendicular) and C axis (rotation around the Z-axis). Depending on the cutting head, the maximum cutting angle for the A axis can be anywhere from 55, 60, or in some cases even 90 degrees from vertical. As such, 5-axis cutting opens up a wide range of applications that can be machined on a water jet cutting machine.
A 5-axis cutting head can be used to cut 4-axis parts, where the bottom surface geometries are shifted a certain amount to produce the appropriate angle and the Z-axis remains at one height. This can be useful for applications like weld preparation where a bevel angle needs to be cut on all sides of a part that will later be welded, or for taper compensation purposes where the kerf angle is transferred to the waste material – thus eliminating the taper commonly found on water jet-cut parts. A 5-axis head can cut parts where the Z-axis is also moving along with all the other axes. This full 5-axis cutting could be used for cutting contours on various surfaces of formed parts.
Because of the angles that can be cut, part programs may need to have additional cuts to free the part from the sheet. Attempting to slide a complex part at a severe angle from a plate can be difficult without appropriate relief cuts.