Waterjet cutting is an innovative alternative to traditional machining techniques, especially in the machining of complex geometries in hard metal workpieces. As waterjet cutting system manufacturer Jet Edge shows, the versatility of the cutting technology coupled with a variety of “green” options makes waterjet cutting a competitive option for machine shops working on challenging applications.
Waterjet cutting uses a nozzle to focus high-pressure streams of water on substrates. Like traditional techniques that have incorporated CNC and CAD controls, waterjet is guided by cutting paths determined via PC software. Although waterjet cutting processes overlap with other machining concepts in important ways, its differences make waterjet an attractive option for specialist shops.
Nancy Lauseng, marketing manager for Jet Edge, explained to IMT Machining Journal why shops can look to waterjet cutting to bypass many problems experienced in traditional machining applications.
“The main benefit of waterjet cutting is that waterjet will cut just about any material in any thickness,” Lauseng explained. “You can switch from one minute cutting aluminum and the next minute you’ll be cutting plastic. It will cut just about anything. […] It will also cut materials that are difficult to cut with other systems, such as Inconel.” The thickness range for waterjet cutting is quite broad and Jet Edge machines can cut 15 in titanium with no problem, Lauseng elaborated.
Additionally, the waterjet process sidesteps thermal issues related to other machining methods.
“It’s also a cold cutting process, so you don’t have any heat affected zone or case hardening or recast or molecular change to the material,” said Lauseng.
Waterjet cutting can also reduce process times by reducing the need for finishing. “You also don’t have any burr creation,” she said. “When you look at a waterjet-cut part, it has a nice, smooth finish that looks like it’s been sanded. A lot of times you can just take that part and it’s a finished part without having to do a lot of secondary finishing.”
Lauseng’s colleague Deron Roberts, Jet Edge service and parts director, expanded on waterjet benefits. The cold-cutting aspect to waterjet also provides additional safety when machining potentially volatile workpieces.
“Waterjet cutting is also used in applications where there’s the fear of fire or explosion,” said Roberts. “As it’s a cold cutting process and there is no heat involved, it’s often used [in applications where] they can’t use a torch or a plasma.”
Because of this versatility, waterjet is used in aerospace and auto machining applications, where it is used to machine complex geometries and difficult-to-machine metals. Lauseng also mentioned that waterjet is a clean-cutting process, which opens the technology for use in food processing.
Jet Edge’s recent machine tool release, the EDGE X-5, expands cutting capabilities by using 5-axis machining. Using proprietary computer controls, EDGE X-5 users can create complex cut patterns with bevels, whole chamfers, blisks, and various other intricate patterns.
“[The EDGE X-5] allows you to cut a much wider range of parts with your waterjet system rather than using a different tool to cut complex parts,” said Lauseng. “It does two things: it helps you be more competitive with other waterjet shops that are only using 3-axis systems and it also allows you to take in more work to free up your other equipment.”
Jet Edge offers training to customers who purchase the EDGE X-5 or other of its systems, ensuring continual competitive process advantage.
While waterjet provides benefits inherent to the technology, additional developments and proprietary add-ons can increase its advantages. Jet Edge offers competitive sustainable options for waterjet shops. During application processing, water can be cleaned and filtered before being recycled for use during additional processes. Jet Edge optional closed loop systems are targeted at customers who would like to reduce costs by avoiding dumping, or those who don’t have drain access. Additionally, companies that use closed-loop waterjet systems in regions like the southwest, where water is scarce, can minimize their impact on local water use and reduce sewage bills.
“We also have a shop in northern Minnesota that uses the hot water that’s created from their waterjets to heat their building,” said Lauseng, referring to Precision Waterjet Concepts in Brainerd, Minn. “They cycle the hot water creating by the cutting process through their chiller and heat their entire building in the wintertime. They have almost no heating bill in the wintertime.”