All About Waterjet Cutting

All About Waterjet Cutting

Those who have operated a pressure washer know the incredible cutting power of water. Waterjet cutting, which uses a stream of water to cut through metal, stone and other solids, takes this concept to the next level by using water pressure more than 20 times higher than that of a pressure washer.

This technology came about in the 1970s and has advanced rapidly ever since. With the aid of computers, waterjet cutting has become a necessity for many industries. It is one of the most versatile processes for cutting shapes and has a narrow kerf width, which gives the cutter more agility. For this reason, it is often best for detailed work and can produce figures that are quite small.

As opposed to laser or plasma cutting, both of which involve high-temperature streams of energy, waterjet cutting is done entirely with water and an optional grit. It is a cold-temperature process, which is important in several ways, but most notably, it forms a different type of edge than its hotter counterparts. The cold-temperature method results in less stress on the metal and no warped or hardened parts.

At Laserfab, we offer waterjet cutting to our customers with a fair price, the highest-quality workmanship and quick delivery time. If you’re wondering why you should choose waterjet cutting, let us explain exactly what goes into it, how it works and what applications it has in today’s world. It truly is a technology without bounds — and with its ability to cut through nearly any substance, it still has plenty of untapped potential.

What Is Waterjet Cutting, and What Does It Entail?

Waterjet cutting is another means of cutting metal, plastic, stone and many other materials. Different than laser cutting and plasma cutting, waterjet cutting uses a high pressure stream of water and garnet to cut through material.

What is the waterjet cutting process? First, the workpiece is placed on the machine’s table, where a series of clamps hold it in place. Then, an operator communicates to a computer exactly what will be done. In a process that is entirely pre-programmed and guided by the computer, the waterjet cutting machine then begins to blast through the workpiece. The water that cuts through it gets recycled and reused, making the waterjet cutter much more environmentally friendly than if the water went to waste.

The thicker the workpiece, the longer a waterjet cutter will take to get through it. Waterjet cutting is an inherently slower process than laser cutting, and working with thicker materials lengthens this process considerably.

Though waterjet cutting is a slower process, waterjets can cut through more substances than not — here is a sampling of some of the typical work media:

  • D2 tool steel
  • Stainless steel
  • Steel
  • Aluminum
  • Bronze
  • Copper
  • Brass
  • Nylon
  • Polypropylene

As you can see, waterjet cutting can cut through a diverse set of material. Now let’s look at exactly how the apparatus works to get a better understanding of the technology.

How Does Waterjet Cutting Work?

The process starts with a high-pressure pump, which can be either a hydraulic intensifier pump or a direct drive pump. Industrial waterjet cutters use the hydraulic intensifier pump, in which a series of hydraulic rams increase pressure in the system to the desired level. The high-pressure water then passes through a series of valves and pressure gauges before moving through the intensifier, which ramps up the force even more using plungers. Hydraulic intensifier pumps have a higher upfront cost and are less efficient, with a maximum efficiency of around 65 percent. However, they cost less to maintain over time.

Direct drive pumps, on the other hand, use mechanical crankshafts to create high pressure in the system. Because there is less energy lost to friction, these pumps boast efficiencies close to 90 percent. Because direct drive pumps are more suited for lighter duty cutting, they cost less up front, but more to maintain in the long run. They are inherently simpler than hydraulic systems and have fewer moving parts.

At this point, the water is ready to move into the nozzle area.

The first gateway the water must pass through in the nozzle is the jewel orifice. This orifice is typically made of a precious gem such as sapphire, which is highly resistant to corrosion, heat and pressure. Additionally, the jewel is exceedingly low-friction — which is useful because a buildup of heat due to friction in this high-pressure environment could quickly lead to part failure. It would also result in a loss of energy and efficiency.

The jewel orifice focuses the stream of water downward through the nozzle. This point is where the abrasive inlet might allow grit to enter — in that case, the abrasive would be rapidly accelerated along with the stream of water and would aid in the cutting process. Pure water systems do not have an abrasive inlet. In any case, the water stream shoots downward and out the tip of a nozzle, where it begins the cutting process.

How High Is the Pressure?

One of the greatest debates in waterjet cutting is the optimal level of pressure in the water system. This debate generally falls into two schools of thought: the 60,000 psi team and the 90,000 psi team. Essentially, those who advocate high pressure note that the speed of cutting increases when pressure approaches 90,000 psi. In fact, the faster velocity of water does increase the speed of cutting by a factor of 1.5, and it has the added effect of requiring less abrasive.

On the other hand, the lower-pressure team argues high pressure decreases efficiency. They claim a waterjet cutting machine might achieve the same cutting capabilities running a direct drive pump at 60,000 psi as a hydraulic intensifier at 90,000 psi.

At Laserfab, we use the high-pressure system with garnet abrasive because it works more quickly, which results in a lower cost for the consumer. Laserfab uses Dynamic Waterjet cutting technology combined with the Lantek Expert software, which produces optimized results while still allowing faster cutting speeds.

The Benefits of Waterjet Cutting

Industry experts typically compare waterjet cutting to laser cutting and plasma cutting, both of which can achieve similar results. However, waterjet cutting offers some benefits that set it apart from its competitors:

  • It is a cold-cutting process. Because waterjet cutting does not produce the intense heat plasma and lasers do, it does not melt, harden or warp the edge of the material it is cutting. Waterjets result in a smooth, visibly undisturbed edge that is not disproportionately strained or affected by heat.
  • It can cut in all directions. The waterjet cutting nozzle is not limited to a two-dimensional set of axes. It can rotate and swivel to cut at all sorts of angles, thereby making it incredibly versatile.
  • It usually does not require starting holes. Many times, metals require starting holes for a jet to cut through them. Waterjet cutting typically does not, which results in less labor, less time and less cost to the customer.
  • It cuts through almost anything. As mentioned before, there is a very short list of materials waterjet cutting will not penetrate.
  • It can easily produce a finished product. Though this varies with the application, it is often the case that a waterjet cutting process will produce a finished product that does not require further work.
  • It is environmentally friendly. The water used in waterjet cutting gets recycled in a closed-loop system, and at high pressures, a smaller amount of abrasive is necessary, which results in less waste.
  • It does not produce much dust or dangerous gas. Water and abrasives blast through the material and carry the majority of the debris down into the drain, which reduces the amount of potentially breathable gas produced.
  • The machine programming is flexible. One of the greatest strongpoints of waterjet cutting is its ability to adapt to many different parameters and needs. It results not only in creative uses of the system, but also the ability to alter the process at any point as needs dictate.
  • The small kerf width means less waste. The wider the kerf width, the more waste material the cutter removes from the workpiece. With waterjet cutting, a kerf width of around 0.01″ means less waste and more recyclable scraps.
  • It is faster than traditional cutting methods. While waterjet cutting may be a bit slower than laser or plasma cutting, it is still much quicker than other cutting methods. Additionally, what it lacks in speed, it makes up in pinpoint accuracy and smooth edges.

Uses and Applications of Waterjet Cutting

Waterjet cutting creates intricate, precision designs without the application of heat. It is useful for many different industries and applications, including the following.

  • The aerospace industry: Waterjet cutting creates the bodies of military aircraft, which are generally made of titanium, as well as parts of their engines. Because many of these components are heat-resistant, waterjet cutting does not interfere with their intrinsic resistance. It is also useful for cutting aluminum components and for panels inside the cabins.
  • The automotive industry: This technology is perfect for cutting floor liners, dashboard and door panels, carpets and many other parts of the interiors of cars. Waterjet cutters also cut fiberglass components and insulation, as well as parts underneath the hood. Bumpers, trunk and truck bed liners, foam and plastic components are all mainstays of automotive waterjet cutting.
  • The electronic industry: Waterjet cutting is useful in cutting circuit boards, and can be used whether the circuit board is already populated or still empty. Additionally, the stream of water is useful for stripping the insulation off wires.
  • The food industry: Waterjets can cut frozen meat, whether it be fish, chicken nuggets, strips or any other type of meat. Waterjet cutting is also a sanitary and fast way to cut vegetables like celery, mushrooms, carrots and more. Food manufacturers may also cut snacks and cakes by waterjet.
  • Fiberglass: Fiberglass is used in many different applications, and waterjet cutting is useful for cutting most of them. Pink fiberglass insulation comes in cleanly cut sections, which waterjet cutters often score. Rigid foam board insulation also uses waterjet cutting to create its 4’x8′ panels. Boats are also made of fiberglass, and waterjet cutting is an efficient way to create the shapes, holes and precise edges needed for a proper fit. The same goes for personal watercraft like jet skis.
  • Slits: Slitting is a delicate procedure that requires the right kind of cut. Whether the slit needs to go in corrugated boxboard, food, paper materials, fiberglass or other products, waterjet cutting is perfect for creating narrow slits.
  • Gaskets: Gaskets play an important role in engines and other mechanical devices, and they often must stand up to pressure and heat while continuing to provide cushion and isolation. Waterjet cutting is used on gaskets for marine, automotive and aerospace applications. It can cut gaskets made of Teflon, fiberglass, metal, rubber, graphite and other materials.
  • Interior design: Whether cutting stone, tiles, shower screens, balusters, glass inlays or stained glass, waterjet cutting is a reliable way to cut materials used inside the home. It can also produce stepping stones and bench tops for use around houses.

Come to Laserfab for Waterjet Cutting

At Laserfab, we prioritize low price, high quality and speedy delivery. We start our relationship with customers by offering a free quote, which we understand is a crucial part of the buying process. We follow up the quote with unfailing, exceptional customer service at every step of the process. We like to form a trusted partnership with our customers, from the moment they contact us to the completion of our top-quality products.

We are a customer-focused business that emphasizes exceptional customer service. It is a bad feeling to be left in the dark on a project, and our team of highly skilled professionals and craftsmen are committed to keeping you in the loop. Our openness to communication is all part of our dependable value.

We always have steel, stainless steel and aluminum in stock. These metals come in a variety of thicknesses, from 22 gauge to 1 inch. We can also offer accelerated lead times for those on a tight deadline. You can think of Laserfab’s service as an extension of your production team, providing parts that are ready to integrate seamlessly into your works in progress.

Laserfab becomes a true partner in your supply chain. We are here to work with you — addressing your needs, coming up with solutions to your pain points and getting your products to market before the competition. We nurture this partnership through engineering support at the beginning of the project, expediting your parts through production and offering other outside services such as powder coating. Finally, we get your parts to you on time.

Browse Laserfab’s website and contact us for a free quote.

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