What is Water Jet Cutting Used For and Why It’s a Game-Changer

What is water jet cutting used for? Waterjet cutting, a state-of-the-art manufacturing process, has become widely recognized for its diverse and transformative applications. This non-traditional cutting method uses a high-pressure water stream, often mixed with an abrasive material, to cut through virtually any material, including metal, plastic, stone, and glass, making it a game-changer in fabrication. In this article, we will delve into the multifaceted uses of water jet cutting and explain why it’s rapidly reshaping the landscape of industrial manufacturing.

What are the Main Parts of a Waterjet Cutting Machine?

A stack of blue high-pressure tubing for waterjet cutting.
  • High-Pressure Pump: This is the heart of the waterjet cutting machine, generating a high-velocity water stream.
  • Cutting Head: In an abrasive water jet cutting machine, an abrasive material is fed into the cutting head, where it is mixed with the water stream in the mixing tube.
  • Waterjet Table: The workspace where materials are placed for cutting.
  • High-Pressure Tubing: It has excellent yield and tensile strength with an exceptionally smooth interior surface made from stainless steel or thermoplastic pressure hose.

How Does the Waterjet Cutting Process Work?

what is water jet cutting used for

The water in waterjet cutting is pressurized as high as 100,000 psi in the waterjet pump. The pressurized water flows through the tubing into the cutting head. In the cutting head, the water surges through a waterjet nozzle that turns it into an extremely fine stream that reaches a cutting speed up to three times the speed of sound.

Pure water jet cutting uses water alone as its medium for soft materials such as wood, plastics, foam, paper, and rubber. On the other hand, abrasive waterjet cutting cuts through materials like titanium, stainless steel, aluminum, glass, ceramic material, stone, and concrete.  At Rubber Resource, we stick to soft material cutting for the most precision possible.

Waterjet cutters pressurize water in two primary ways: direct drive pumps and linear intensifier pumps. The direct drive pump, or crankshaft pump, generates pressure with 30-horsepower motors using pistons and a crankshaft, similar to a car engine. These pumps operate at a constant pressure and are typically cheaper and simpler to maintain.

On the other hand, intensifier pumps pressurize water by using hydraulic oil at 3,000 psi to drive a piston, forcing the water through a small orifice. These pumps can achieve higher pressures (up to 60,000 psi) and are more efficient, but they are typically more expensive and complex to maintain.

What are the Benefits of Waterjet Technology?

A detailed view of a waterjet cutting machine with a red protective cover over the cutting head, actively cutting through a thick metal plate. Intricate scroll-like patterns and shapes have been cut out of the metal.

Waterjet cutting is a versatile and beneficial manufacturing process with many advantages. First and foremost, it’s a cold-cutting process, which means it doesn’t generate heat-affected zones like many other cutting methods, such as laser cutting. This advantage is crucial when working with materials distorted or damaged by heat, such as plastics, laminates, or certain metals.

Here are several other advantages that make the waterjet process so popular:

High Cutting Accuracy

Waterjet cutting is controlled with a high degree of accuracy, which allows for the production of intricate designs and patterns or components with tight tolerances. This level of precision results in minimal material waste, as less of it is discarded during manufacturing.

Compatibility with Various Materials

Waterjet machines are ideal for softer materials, and glass waterjet cutting is no match for the intense cutting stream of a water jet cutter. Other cutting processes can handle thin materials, but only waterjet cutting technology can tackle, material thickness up to 200mm (8 inches). However, with modifications and adjustments to the cutting process, some advanced waterjet systems can cut materials up to 300mm (approximately 12 inches) thick.

Secondary Finishing

Water jet cutters do not create rough surfaces, burrs, or imperfections, which avoids secondary operations. It produces minimal kerfs (cut width), excellent edge quality, and smooth finishes using erosion to remove material instead of heat or shearing.

Efficient Cutting

Waterjet cutting is more cost-effective than alternative cutting methods in various applications. One of the reasons is that this process eliminates the need for fixtures, jigs, or clamps, resulting in a significant increase in productivity. This cutting method also offers the incredible advantage of stacking and cutting multiple layers of material all at once. Different materials can be stacked and cut together, making it a simple yet highly effective way to boost part production.

Sustainability

Sustainability is a significant consideration in today’s manufacturing world. Regarding sustainability, the waterjet cutter offers remarkable benefits, including no slag or dross waste, no need for heated parts, and zero toxic fumes or greenhouse gases.

Also, the finished parts require no post-processing, like heat treatment. Water, the primary cutting medium, is recyclable, minimizing the environmental impact. You won’t need any cooling oils or lubricants since the water jet is a natural coolant. With waterjet cutting, manufacturers can achieve environmental consciousness and top-notch results.

No Tool Changes

Unlike almost any other cutting method, with a waterjet cutter, there’s no need for cutting tools or changing nozzles for different materials and thicknesses. The same nozzle handles various applications by adjusting the cutting stream parameters, like feed rate, ensuring the correct cutting speed. Moreover, you can cut different materials consecutively without tool changes, saving time and tooling costs.

Which Industries Use the Waterjet Cutting Process and How?

A person with a prosthetic leg is sitting on a bench. The prosthetic includes modern materials and joints.

The waterjet cutting process is popular across numerous industries because of its precision and versatility. In the aerospace sector, it accurately cuts intricate components. The automotive industry uses waterjet cutting to shape parts and create custom components. Meanwhile, the construction industry uses this technology for cutting stone and tiles, and the electronics industry leverages it for cutting semiconductor materials with minimal damage to the surrounding areas. Similarly, waterjet cutting is employed in the medical field to produce orthopedic implants and surgical instruments.

Fabrication

Fabricators utilize waterjet cutters due to their versatility and precision. Waterjet cutting, a process that employs a high-pressure stream of water, can accurately cut materials like metal, glass, stone, and rubber. For example, water jet cutting of rubber is easier than any other cutting method and can cut any thickness. It can cut through rubber back metals to streamline the manufacturing process. Also, water jet cutting does not require special tooling or dies and completes rubber cutting with precision, speed, and optimization of materials.

Aerospace

Precision is paramount in the aerospace industry, and there is no room for error. That’s why water jet cutting is vital in producing aerospace components, from jet engines to control panels. Aerospace uses abrasive water jet cutting to slice through steel, brass, Inconel, and aluminum. These metals are essential for wing sections, turbine blades, brake components, and landing gear. And with the ability to cut parts up to eight inches thick, waterjet technology is a perfect fit.

Electronics

Pure waterjet cutting is a significant technological advancement in the electronics industry. This method uses high-speed water pressure streams to cut various materials with intricate designs. It offers exceptional precision, eliminating the risk of damaging sensitive electronic components like circuit boards and wires.

Food Industry

Water jet cutting has transformed the food industry, introducing a new level of efficiency and hygiene. This cold-cutting process doesn’t generate heat, making it ideal for food items that might be affected or cooked by other cutting methods. The waterjet’s precision reduces waste by ensuring accurate cuts, and it can cut through various materials, from fruits and vegetables to meat and fish, without the need for multiple cutting tools. Importantly, since only a jet stream of water is used in the process, there’s no risk of food contamination from pure waterjet, maintaining the high hygiene standards required in the industry.

Medical

The water jet cutting machine can provide the medical industry with many critical components. Such components include custom-made prosthetics, intricate pieces for surgical instruments, components for orthopedic devices such as joint replacements, and detailed parts for imaging equipment like MRI and CT scanners. The precision and versatility of waterjet cutting make it an invaluable tool, capable of producing complex and delicate pieces with high tolerance, contributing significantly to advancements in medical technology.

Automotive

Waterjet cutting has become a preferred method for automotive manufacturers because it can cut various components such as headliners, door panels, and carpets. The primary advantage lies in its ability to cut different materials quickly and accurately without any hardware adjustments other than a tweak in the software programming.

Another significant advantage of waterjet cutters is their safety aspect. When cutting hazardous materials that are sensitive to heat zones, alternative methods can pose risks and result in toxic fumes. However, with waterjet cutting, these concerns are completely eliminated.

In Summary

Waterjet cutting emerges as a versatile and efficient cutting technique. It cuts and shapes various materials with high-pressure water streams provided by pressurizing pumps. Its ability to handle thicker materials and a much broader range of materials while still creating a safe work environment is why it has become the number one cutting method in many industries.

The applications of waterjet technology are present in the aerospace, automotive, healthcare, electronics, and food industries. Waterjet cutting has shown superiority over traditional cutting methods, whether about precision, versatility, or environmental friendliness. As enterprises evolve and demand more complex and meticulous fabrication, waterjet cutting is poised to become one of the top manufacturing processes worldwide.

Transform Your Manufacturing with Waterjet Cutting

Don’t just read about the incredible capabilities of waterjet cutting – put them to work for your project. At Rubber Resource, we’re eager to show you how our state-of-the-art waterjet technology can make your designs a reality with unmatched accuracy and efficiency. Take the first step towards transforming your manufacturing process. Request a quote now and join the cutting-edge world of waterjet technology

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