When you have a variety of materials you need to cut, or want to cut, you know how valuable a machine can be that can handle them all. Waterjet cutting technology is becoming more and more popular for that reason and because material types or thicknesses do not pose a problem, it is quickly becoming the most versatile and necessary tool in the shop. There are almost no limits to what waterjets can cut from material types or hardness of materials. This makes them very desirable for many companies in the manufacturing field, job shops and prototyping. Waterjet cutting increases productivity and cuts the need for extra specialized machinery. 

What is Waterjet?

A waterjet is a machine uses water pressurized through a pump and forced through a nozzle at an extremely high pressure to cut materials. In most cases (other than soft materials) the high pressure water is mixed with an abrasive component (garnet) to create a precision grinding stream that can carve through most any material. The pressure created (50KPSI and up) pushes the water out at such a force through the nozzle, it has enough power to cut almost anything

While the process itself is quite easy, the whole of the system involves some complicated technology to ensure the machine does not travel faster than the jet stream itself can cut a given material. That technology in pumps, pressure, controls and drive systems are constantly advancing and making it more versatile. 

History of Waterjet 

While the first known industrial use of waterjets can be found over 100 years ago, the development of abrasive waterjet systems did not really come into their own until the early 1960s. It would be the 1970's when the first usable systems began to appear from test beds to production ready machines.

Originally developed for use in the mining of gravel and clay deposits to blast material from the quarry face. Later testing in the early 1970s developed the first functioning waterjet cutting system called the Fluid Jet Cutting System. One of the first systems was used by the Alton Box Board Company and it eliminated the use of commercial saws and was designed for the contour cutting of furniture packing forms.

What to Look For When Buying a Waterjet

Buying a waterjet for your shop is a smart move because they can perform so many tasks, but there are some very important considerations you need to review before making that purchase. 

What Size Do I Need?

The size of waterjet machine you get will largely depend on a few things;

  • How much room you have in your shop
  • What is the size of raw materials you are using
  • What are you making?

If possible, go with a slightly larger table than you think you might need, assuming, of course, you have the floor space. It is much easier to cut something small on a large table than try to cut something large on a small table. 

What Pressure Do I Need?

There is a lot of hype today about higher and higher pressures in waterjet cutting.  From 40KPSI direct drive pumps all the way to 100KPSI intensifier style systems, but which systems work best for your needs. Perhaps the best approach to this question is understanding what pressure does, and as importantly, does not, do.

  • FACT: Pressure DOES NOT define WHAT you can cut.
    You can cut any material, yes any, with any waterjet cutting system pressure. The fact is the more pressure you have available, simply the faster the cutting process will be.
  • FACT: Pressure DOES NOT define HOW THICK you can cut.
    Another very common misconception is that you need ultra high pressure to cut thicker materials. As with the above statement, that simply isn’t true. You can cut virtually any thickness you can fit under your machine's nozzle. Pressure only dictates how FAST you can cut it at. 
  • FACT: Ultra -High Pressure Systems COST more, WAY MORE. While you may be inclined to purchase an ultra high pressure system as part cycle times are quicker you need to understand that not only is the purchase cost of these systems substantially more but their maintenance and upkeep is too. They have much higher failure rates and all the high pressure lines, fittings and joints fail much sooner than a typical 50-60KPSI pressurized system.  

Do I need Taper Compensation or a 5-Axis Head?

Whether or not you choose a “Dynamic” or taper compensating head should be up to the accuracy of work you need to produce. As with anything the more you add to your waterjet the more can go wrong and fail. Typically taper compensating heads are sold as a “speed” issue allowing the machine to run faster while “throwing” the jet lag into the scrap material. 

Taper compensation requires 3 factors to ensure it works correctly each and every time. 

  1. Surface Height - The system must know the surface height of your material in order to calculate the offset and angle needed. This means your machine needs an extra moving part in the abrasive laden zone of the cutting head, a probe. It also means your machine cycle time is reduced by the number of timeless and cycle time it takes to run the probe. 
  2. Flatness: Your part once probed must remain flat on the working table.  Variations of part height will cause the jet stream to enter the material at incorrect tangency points resulting in poor definition or worse, scrap. 
  3. Maintenance: Along with maintaining the machine overall the 5 Axis / Taper compensating components require maintenance and are more prone to damage during subsequent collisions that may be caused during the waterjet cutting process.

Unless your application for waterjet cutting REQUIRES the use of taper compensating heads (most do not) your likely sticking to the age old saying of K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid).

Special Features

Other special features on a waterjet can include water recycling systems and integrated abrasive removal systems and although these add value to your machine purchase, the payback is often not seen due to the cost and maintenance of these additional items. 

Transform Your Business

Open the door to new and more opportunities for your business by expanding your abilities. You can increase productivity and take on many new projects. Check out our inventory of new or used machines and find the one that will be a big asset to your business.

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