Water-jet cutting process
The water jet cutting process uses highly pressurized water to cut the workpiece. It is a cold-cutting process that does not involve any form of heat. The water could be mixed with some abrasive materials while cutting the hard materials. Some common abrasive particles include sand, granite, silicon carbide, aluminum oxide, and more.
The water jet cutting technique is compatible with a wide range of materials and is a great option for the shaping and reaming process. This article will explain the working principle of jet cutting and situations where it is the most suitable option.
How Does Water-jet Cutting Work?
The working principle of water jet cutting is based on the “erosion of material surface with concentrated high-pressure water.” There are two types of water jet cutting techniques, pure water cutting & abrasive cutting. In contrast to pure water cutting, abrasive cutting mixes extra abrasive particles to erode the surface.
The water jet cutting machine is responsible for the process, consisting of several mechanisms. The pressure pump generates the high-pressure water by taking pure water as an input.
Later, the pressurized water is mixed with an abrasive particle in the mixing chamber and targets the cutting position through the high-speed concentrated nozzle. However, pure water cutting does not involve the mixing step. The pressure from the nozzle could be as high as 900 MPa (Mohamed, 1968).
Modern water-jet machines use CNC guidance mechanisms that use entirely digital instructions and computer software to regulate the pressure, cutting path, and nozzle reposting.
Working principle of water-jet cutting
The drain and catcher are other important mechanisms of water jet cutting technology. Normally, a catcher tank neutralizes the energy of high-pressure water. In addition, the drain system facilities the separation of debris & abrasive particles after machining. The water then travels to a reservoir and a pressure pump for the following cycle.
What Types of Materials Can I Cut with a Water-jet?
The first and foremost consideration during the selection of water jet cutting is the type of material you need to process. To utilize this method, the material must be suitable for the process and capable of producing accurate cuts. You can use the water jet cutting technology for the following materials.
Metal & Alloys: Almost all metals and alloys are compatible with water jet cutting. The most well-known metals and alloys are steel, aluminum, copper, titanium, and brass. Both thin and heavy metal sheets can be cut and shaped using it.
Plastics: The plastics, such as acrylic, PVC, Delrin, Polystyrene, and many others, can be processed with water-jet technology. It is clean and leaves no melting or other material damage to the workpiece.
Ceramics: It can provide cutting and shaping solutions for various ceramic materials, such as tiles, porcelain, silicon carbide, alumina, and more, without cracking.
Composites: The water jet technique is ideal for cutting and shaping composite material. Other approaches, Plasma cutting, sawing, and traditional cutting, might cause the cracking of composites. Nevertheless, the water jet creates clean and precise cuts on several composites, such as fiberglass, aramid fibers, Kevlar, and carbon fiber.
The other materials are foam, rubber, stone, granite, glass, leather, and cloth.
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Eight Scenarios for Choosing Water-jet Cutting Process
We discussed the materials that can be processed with water jet cutting. Let’s explore the many scenarios where a water jet is a viable option to cut and shape the material.
#1. When the materials are sensitive to heat
As previously mentioned, water jet cutting does not use intense heat and generates almost negligible heat, making it ideal for cutting heat-sensitive materials, such as certain plastics or composites.
Cutting the heat-sensitive material with other approaches like plasma cutting and laser cutting cause significant damage, such as melting at the cutting position, physical properties degradation, and warping. Processing those materials with water-jet cutting eliminates these risks and creates clean and precise cuts.
In addition, there are several applications where the degradation of physical and thermal properties affects the functionality of parts, such as circuit boards, thermal applications, and electrically conductive parts. In this scenario, water jet cutting maintains the integrity of the material and cuts the workpiece without the risk of heat-related damage.
#2. When you require the complex geometries
The capability of creating complex & intricate shapes precisely makes water jet cutting an effective technology in manufacturing. It is renowned for precise cuts along curved or arced lines, allowing it to generate circles, ovals, and ellipses.
- It can create very-intricate patterns for interior and decorative items and only demands a practical design (3D).
- Tiny holes, channels, cavities, and other complicated internal features are possible with water jet cutting.
- Water jet cutting can create multiple parts from a single piece of material and facilitates complex assemblies.
In conclusion, it is a good choice for many applications requiring precision and intricate shapes. Water jet machining easily maintains a tolerance of around 0.12mm (Dey, 2020).
#3. Whenever a material is extremely-hard
It is challenging to cut extremely hard materials, such as hardened steel, titanium, silicon carbide, nickel-based super-alloys, carbon composite, stone, ceramics, and more. Processing these materials with CNC milling and other traditional technology causes wear and tear on cutting tools. In addition to physical damage to the workpiece.
The water jet cutting can cut almost every hard material (except diamond) with precision and no risk of any damage. Another reason for choosing water jet cutting for hard material is that it does not involve the risk of scattered pieces. It can cut hard materials with a thickness range of 10-12 inches (Dey, 2020).
#4. Whenever you need to process the thin material sheets
Cutting thin sheets with CNC milling, plasma cutting, laser cutting, and other techniques causes deformation and distortion at the cutting position. In comparison, water jet cutting can create precise cuts in thin material sheets without any of these effects.
While cutting and shaping the thin workpiece, heat affected zone is another disadvantage. The thin sheet can be highly- damaged compared to thick sheets, resulting in melting. Therefore, the narrow stream of water with controlled pressure is an ideal option in that scenario.
#5. Material with inconsistent thickness
While processing the workpiece, having inconsistent thickness with CNC milling, laser cutting, plasma cutting, and other approaches requires multiple cutting passes. In contrast, water jet cutting can cut it in a single pass.
There might be many applications where parts need to have a different level of thickness. It is possible to create such parts with CNC water jet technology. Other methods could still do this; however, they could be less accurate and messier.
# 6. Whenever the material is extremely thick
Thick workpieces are complicated to process with other approaches. For example, plasma & laser cutting requires a high amount of energy, which could be significantly expensive. Meanwhile, water jet cutting can process thick workpieces by adjusting the pressure and abrasive particles. However, the thickness limit depends on the hardness of particular material. Hard material like titanium is acceptable up to 10-12 inch thickness, while soft materials like foam are easily processable up to 2-3 feet thick (Schlick, 2022).
Additionally, the thickness of the material that can be cut is determined by the pressure of the water jet. The water pressure is changeable with simple control of the pressure pump (up to 900 MPa). Next, highly abrasive particles can be mixed with water to cut thick workpieces, or increasing abrasive particle concentration also works similarly.
#7. When you need large-volume production
Water jet cutting could not be as cost-effective in low-volume manufacturing as traditional procedures, especially where high accuracy is not a crucial requirement. However, it significantly lowers the cost of high-volume production. You can process the material for several applications with high repeatability and dimensional consistency.
#8. Cutting of non-conductive materials
Water jet cutting can be a good solution for cutting non-conductive materials because it does not generate heat during the cutting process. In contrast, the material conductivity influences the laser cutting and plasma cutting quality. The cuts could be rough and inconsistent in non-conductive material while processing with these techniques.
When Not to Use the Water-jet Cutting Approach?
We have discussed various scenarios where water jet cutting is the ideal option to cut and shape the materials. There are a few scenarios where it would be inappropriate to use this approach.
- Water & moisture-sensitive material such as wood & paper products can absorb water and alter physical properties.
- Water jet cutting might not be appropriate for the application, which requires extreme precision. In such cases, laser-cutting can do a better job.
- Low-volume productions can be costlier because of specialized equipment and setup time.
The water jet cutting process is a cold-cutting technique that uses highly pressurized water mixed with abrasive particles to cut through a wide range of materials. It is viable when the material is sensitive to heat, precise cuts are required, or the material is too thick or hard.
Understanding the requirements and material properties is essential to produce the best result with the water jet cutting process. ProleanTech has all of the expertise related to water jet cutting. We have advanced multi-axis CNC machines and experienced engineers to precisely shape the range of materials according to the requirement.
What materials can be cut with a water jet?
A wide variety of materials, including metals, alloys, polymers, ceramics, composites, foam, rubber, stone, granite, glass, and many more, are compatible with the water jet cutting technology.
What circumstances make water jet cutting a suitable decision?
Water jet cutting is viable when the material is sensitive to heat, precise cuts are required, the material is thick or hard, the material is non-conductive, and it needs to create intricate shapes.
When is the water jet inappropriate to use?
Water jet cutting may not be suitable for cutting water and moisture-sensitive materials, such as wood and paper products, applications requiring extreme precision, and low-volume production.
- Dey, A. K. (2020). Water Jet Machining: Definition, Working Principle, Applications, Advantages, Disadvantages. LEARN MECHANICAL, from https://learnmechanical.com/.
- Mohamed, M. A. (1968). Water-jet Cutting up to 900 MPa. Universität Hannover .
- Schlick, J. (2022). How Thick Can A Waterjet Cut? https://www.techniwaterjet.com/: TECHNI Waterjet.