Water jet services are becoming readily available and are used by many people to prototype and produce their products.
Water jet cutting has some amazing capabilities. They’re also expensive and easily misunderstood.
But how does a water jet work?
If you’ve been looking to find out how these amazing industrial devices function you’re in the right place. Read on and we’ll show you exactly how they work and what they’re best for.
So, How Does a Water Jet Work?
We usually associate cutting with saw blades. If you’re used to industrial processes you’re probably familiar with plasma cutting and laser cutting as well.
Water jets cut with the power of water.
Well, water and an added abrasive which is fed into a high-pressure stream at the nozzle. This allows the water to cut through the workpiece while producing little waste.
The most commonly used abrasive is garnet,
Think about it as an accelerated, tightly controlled erosion process. The mechanics behind it are the same thing which creates canyons in stone and undercuts cliffs wherever the ocean may be present.
They’re almost always controlled by basic CnC software, particularly if they’re capable of 3D object creation. Not only does this lower the amount of work performed by the operator, but it also allows for repeatable patterns to be cut with tight tolerances.
What Materials Can a Water Jet Cut?
Does it exist? Then a water jet can probably cut it.
Well, that’s actually not strictly true. What does come to light is the fact that a waterjet can cut anything which is softer than the abrasive used with the water. The usual garnet feedstock runs from 7.5 to 8.5 on the Moh’s scale.
That’s enough to cut glass, granite, hardwood, concrete, hardened steel, and virtually any non-exotic material. It’s a force which only a few materials can resist and they’re not exactly in commonplace usage.
What Are The Advantages of Water Jet Cutting?
Water jets have a number of unique properties that have made them one of the most popular methods of industrial cutting.
The biggest advantage is simple: water jet cutting doesn’t produce an appreciable amount of heat. While the abrasive action is still subject to heat generated by friction the water acts as a heat sink in addition to the cutting action.
That means no warping, even when you’re cutting thin metal materials.
The other big advantage is how thick of material can be cut. Waterjets, due to using an abrasive action rather than thermal action like laser and plasma cutters, can slice through almost any material thickness given enough time.
Since waterjets are often used to cut rare or expensive materials, those who choose to have their piece produced in them will get another big benefit. The kerf on a waterjet runs about 0.005in at the largest. You can learn more from product pages if you want to see what kind of specs a real top end water jet has.
Lastly, those who’ve used them before know about how smooth and squared off the edge of the workpiece will be. There’s no possibility of dross or spalling occurring. That means less manual work on the workpiece to finish it and it’s particularly attractive for decorative and high-precision pieces.
Are There Any Major Problems With Water Jets?
Water jets aren’t perfect. While the advantages of this style of cutter can be pretty big, there’s a reason that plasma and laser cutters are still big factors in the marketplace.
Waterjets are expensive. The initial set up cost will end up running at least six figures to get a new machine and the material needed to cut with it.
On top of that, since they’re running pressures of 60,000psi or higher components break down quickly and add even more expense.
Despite using less electricity, water jet cutters are also more expensive to run due to the water and abrasives used for the work.
Additionally, while they won’t cause warping due to heat metal parts can end up getting a bit mishandled if they’re thin due to the mechanical force exerted by the stream of water.
Waterjets are considered slow compared to the majority of cutting methods. They have to wear through the material, after all. That makes them undesirable for rapid construction of cheap components.
The final major disadvantage is that water jet cutting is extremely messy when compared to laser or plasma cutting. It’s not an issue most end up with, since outsourcing industrial cutting is standard practice for most businesses, but if you’re setting up a fab shop you’ll be surprised at how much water and slurry you end up cleaning in the aftermath of a cutting project.
What Are Water Jets Best For?
Water jet cutting is best used for thicker materials and those which aren’t able to be cut with lasers. If you’re cutting stone, concrete, or a ceramic material then they’re really your only option.
They’re also great for cutting pieces which need uniform sizing on the sides without marring. Plasma will always cut a bevel and lasers will mark the sides of the piece due to the extreme heat generated during the cutting process.
For thinner metal pieces a cheaper industrial process is something to consider.
On the other hand, water jets have some capabilities with both material choice and thickness of the piece that you can’t get with any other type of cutting available.
The Right Choice for Your Product?
Water jets are an excellent way to produce high-quality end pieces that will need little finishing once they’ve arrived. It’s also one of the most expensive cutting methods around.
Knowing the answer to “how does a water jet work?” is an important part of deciding if it’s the process you need to get ahead. For the right piece and the right person, however, there’s no better match.
If you’re looking for more advice for your business, why not check out our startup section?