Waterjet cutting is an incredibly versatile method used to shape components from a variety of materials. One of its primary benefits is the ability to cut particularly thick materials. With waterjet cutting, thick steel and other materials can be cut accurately and efficiently. Here, we will discuss the potential limitations of waterjet cutting for thick materials, its benefits over other methods, and some tips to ensure quality cuts.
Although waterjets are in many ways ideal for cutting thick materials, the process presents some limitations. Material thickness affects the accuracy of the cut in ways that can compromise the final product, so it is important to use a waterjet service provider who understands these limitations and ways to mitigate them. The most common limitations when cutting thick materials include:
Reduced Accuracy: Greater thickness can result in lower accuracy. In the same way that the accuracy of a gun is decreased the further the bullet gets from the barrel, the cutting accuracy of a waterjet is also decreased as the water and abrasive particles get further from the cutting head. As the thickness of the material increases, tolerances must be expanded to account for reduced accuracy.
Near Net Shapes: Due to reduced accuracy at greater thicknesses, it is sometimes necessary to cut to a near net size, allowing for some additional processing in order to meet the required tolerance and surface finish.
Deeper Striations: A waterjet cut surface consists of an upper smooth zone and a lower rough zone, with the rough zone characterized by a distinctive pattern of wavy striations. In any thickness, the striations become more pronounced as the cut speed is increased and can be lessened, or completely eliminated, by cutting more slowly. However, in thicker materials, the striations become deeper and more noticeable and it becomes increasingly cost prohibitive to eliminate the striations by slowing down.
Longer Production Time: The thicker the material, the slower the cut speed, with cut speeds decreasing exponentially as the thickness is increased. For example, 18” thick steel cuts at almost half the speed of 14” thick steel, even though there is only a 28% increase in thickness. This is the greatest limitation when using waterjet cutting for thick materials.
Despite its limitations, waterjet cutting remains one of the most useful methods for cutting thick materials. In fact, it offers numerous advantages over other cutting methods, including:
High Quality Cuts: Waterjet cutting can produce high quality parts from thick materials to a high degree of accuracy, without exposing the material to heat.
Raw Material Savings: Raw materials can be used very efficiently by nesting parts closely together and in some cases even sharing the same cut between two different parts.
No Thermal Damage: Since the waterjet cutting process does not generate heat, there is no risk of modifying the properties of the material or warping of the part due to heat.
Speed: Although waterjet cutting of thick materials can take more time, all cutting methods require extensive time to cut through thick materials. Actually, waterjet cutting is significantly faster and cheaper than wire EDM, which is its main competitor in thick metal cutting. When compared with other conventional cutting methods, waterjet cutting often offers superior results for overall production in spite of being a slow process.
Material Thickness: Waterjet cutting can be used to cut extremely thick materials that would be extremely difficult or impossible to cut using other methods.
Here are some things to consider when choosing a cutting process:
Material Composition: Consider the properties of the material and the risk of cracking, warping, and breakage. Waterjet operators calibrate the pressure and speed according to the specific material makeup to ensure ideal cutting accuracy without the risk of damage to the material.
Product Design: Determine the design size, complexity, and level of detail necessary for the product. Waterjet cutting can be used to cut thick materials to net or near net shapes without introducing stress to the part.
Cost Savings: When budgeting for your project, consider the amount of raw material, expected waste, and consumable materials that will be used in the process. Waterjet cutting produces less scrap and requires very little consumable material.
Programming, Setup, and Maintenance: In addition to cutting time, consider the amount of time it will take to set up, program, and maintain the cutting apparatus. You will find that waterjet cutting requires very little setup time and can easily be programmed for multiple jobs without significant downtime.
Contact the AquaJet Team to Learn More
AquaJet is pleased to offer custom waterjet cutting and fabrication services for a wide range of materials and thicknesses. To learn more about our quality waterjet cutting services, contact us today!
Waterjet cutting is a cold cutting technique that produces clean and precise cuts on an expansive range of material types. Waterjet cutting originated with pure water cutting for paper and other very soft materials, but evolutions of the technology have placed various additives into the water stream to facilitate the cutting of harder materials.
Pure waterjet cutting simply uses a very focused, pressurized stream of water to make precise cuts. Abrasive water jet cutting adds an abrasive material such as garnet to the water stream, enabling it to cut through harder or thicker materials. In this blog post, we’ll discuss the differences between the two techniques to help you determine which is best for your project.
Pure Waterjet Cutting
Pure waterjet cutting uses a different style of cutting head than abrasive waterjet cutting. The cutting head used for pure waterjet cutting has no mixing chamber and no nozzle. The water exits the cutting head directly after passing through the orifice, creating a very thin, focused stream of water that produces an extremely fine and precise cut. This makes pure waterjet cutting ideal for soft materials.
Pure waterjet cutting is a less invasive process than abrasive waterjet cutting. Because the stream is so fine, almost no pressure is applied to the material being cut. An abrasive waterjet stream is much larger and more powerful, giving it a tendency to push or deform soft materials like foam or rubber. Compare it to trying to cut thick foam with a utility knife. The knife can easily cut the foam, but in doing so, the blade will squash the foam, making it impossible to create a clean precise cut. A pure waterjet stream can create a perfect cut without affecting the edges of the part or the surrounding material.
This makes pure waterjet cutting ideal for materials including:
Some of the advantages of pure waterjet cutting include:
Suitable for very light, soft, or delicate materials
Very quick cuts
Won’t generate heat
Abrasive Waterjet Cutting
In abrasive water jet machining, a specialized pump is used to pressurize water as high as 94,000 psi. At the cutting head, the pressurized water passes through a jewel orifice, exchanging the pressure for velocity and creating a supersonic stream of water capable of cutting nearly any material.
For abrasive cutting, an abrasive material (usually garnet) is added to the water stream via a mixing chamber within the cutting head. The addition of the abrasive to the water stream makes the tool capable of cutting through significantly harder materials. It’s especially well-suited for thick or hard materials, including:
Metal (steel, aluminum, copper, etc.)
Abrasive cutting offers a variety of benefits, such as:
No stress introduced to the material
Won’t generate heat
Which Process is Right for You?
Choosing the right waterjet machining process is important to the success of the operation. The selection between pure waterjet cutting and abrasive waterjet cutting should be based on the material hardness, material thickness, and the required level of precision. Both waterjet techniques can cut through a variety of materials.
Cutting techniques that require heat may deform the workpiece or harden the edges, making secondary processes more difficult. Mechanical cutting methods often leave burrs on edges that need to be removed. Simply put, waterjet cutting offers cleaner, more precise cuts than most other traditional cutting methods.
At AquaJet Services, we specialize in abrasive and pure waterjet cutting and our equipment can cut through nearly any material. Contact us today for more information about our capabilities.
Waterjet cutting is a versatile fabrication process that uses a highly pressurized jet of water, sometimes mixed with an abrasive compound, to cut and shape the workpiece. Its usefulness in the manufacturing sector stems from its ability to cut very thick materials and its accommodation of an extremely broad selection of materials, including the following:
Waterjets can accommodate thicknesses that are unachievable with nearly any other cutting method, from the thinnest shim stock, all the way up to massive plates with thicknesses of 12 inches (and greater!) The waterjet process also eliminates the need for secondary processing to create highly accurate parts.
Materials Accommodated by the Waterjet Cutting Process
Some of the typical materials which can be cut by the waterjet cutting process include:
When used for cutting metals, waterjet cutting offers several benefits. Unlike traditional cutting methods, in waterjet cutting, the cutting area experiences very little heat or friction, allowing parts to be processed without changing the properties of the material or introducing stress. Even metals that are particularly difficult for conventional cutters due to their exceptional hardness, such as hardened tool steel, can be easily cut by waterjets, without producing heat-affected zones. Metals often processed by waterjet cutting include:
Red Metals (Copper, Brass and Bronze)
Tool Steel (annealed or hardened)
Difficult-to-cut special superalloys—such as Hastelloy, Inconel, Incoloy and Waspaloy—are particularly challenging for traditional cutting methods, as they tend to be too hard or tough to cut cleanly and cause undue wear on cutting tools. Waterjets, however, can cut even the most difficult superalloys quickly and precisely without producing excessive heat or distortion.
Similarly to how it handles metals, the waterjet cutting process offers several benefits for plastic cutting operations. For example:
For fiber-reinforced plastics—such as carbon fiber, G10-FR4, and Kevlar—the process reduces the risk of delamination, resin burn, and fiber fraying which are very difficult to overcome with traditional machining methods.
For general plastics—such as ABS, UHMW, PVC, acetal, polycarbonate, and nylon—the waterjet cutting process is preferred because of its ability to cut quickly without producing fumes or dust. Also, most plastics have a high coefficient of thermal expansion, making them dimensionally unstable when subjected to friction and heat. Since waterjets transfer virtually no heat to the workpiece, they can produce very accurate plastic parts.
For glass cutting operations, waterjet cutting offers a very unique advantage in that the material can be cut into any shape, including delicate parts with very fine detail. Whereas traditional cutting methods might cause glass to break due to the pressure applied by the cutting tool, waterjet cutting offers precise cutting with very little pressure on the material. Even multi-layered panels like laminated glass and bullet-proof glass can be easily and quickly cut with a waterjet.
Stone and Tile
The waterjet cutting process is suitable for the precision cutting of any stone material. As with glass, conventional cutting methods are very limited in their ability to cut stone into anything but simple shapes. The waterjet process can produce the most intricate shapes in stone and nearly eliminates the risk of fracturing and crazing to which stone and tile are very susceptible. Typical applications involving these materials include the cutting of tiles for floor medallions as well as cutting large slabs of stone for countertops or architectural panels.
Most ceramics, including abrasion resistant and refractory ceramics, can be cut using waterjets. Similar to glass and stone, ceramics can be very brittle. Some types of ceramics can be significantly harder than steel, making them one of the most difficult materials to cut. The exceptional versatility of the waterjet cutting process makes it one of the best options in the manufacturing of ceramic parts.
Rubber and Foam
Waterjet cutting is an ideal method for the production of many rubber and foam parts. For materials that would normally be soft enough to cut with a knife, a special water-only head can be installed. This unique head uses a much smaller orifice and no abrasive media to create an ultra-fine stream of high-pressure water that applies almost no stress to the material to produce a very fine cut.
Versatile Waterjet Cutting Services From Aquajet
Aquajet Services is a custom fabricating business offering precision waterjet cutting and fabricating services. We provide the highest quality custom waterjet cut parts to even the most stringent tolerances. Regardless of the complexity of your project, our team is ready to take it on and overcome the challenge. By maintaining a large stock of materials in a variety of sizes, streamlining production operations, and employing tracking methods, we are able to deliver your products with a faster turnaround.
For more information on our waterjet cutting services, contact us today.