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The History of Waterjet Technology

August 4, 2016MainPathNewsComments Off on The History of Waterjet Technology

waterjet technology

For centuries, the human race has turned to the powerful forces of nature to achieve feats of engineering and creation. From sawing logs, to milling flour, weaving textiles, and even generating power, water has long proven to be a versatile and useful ally in the manufacturing world.

Water can easily wash away hills and shape mountains, through erosion — and from this natural process, the idea to create an accelerated machining solution emerged. From the promising waterjet solutions of the past, to the innovative and comprehensive waterjets used across the world today, there’s almost nothing water can’t do.

Waterjet cutting is one of the fastest growing methods of machining in the world — capable of profiling a huge array of materials. Let’s take a look at how this precise cutting process got to where it is today.

Where Waterjets Began

Waterjets officially emerged for the first time during the early 1800’s — when coal miners from the Soviet Union and New Zealand used pressurized water, diverted from streams, to remove loose debris and coal. During the Gold Rush of the mid-late 1800’s in California, the same concept was put to use; pressurized water excavated gold from soft rock, and directed it downstream for pan-wielding miners. Though hydraulic mining isn’t the primary function of waterjet machines today, it marks the start of a series of inventions that lead to water’s current role as an industrial cutting device.

In the 1930’s, waterjet technology found a purpose cutting materials like paper, using a jet-stream technique created by Leslie Tirrell and Elmo Smith. After time, innovators began to see the benefits of adding abrasives to a waterjet stream, in an attempt to cut harder materials. While the initial lifespan of abrasive waterjet nozzles was too short to be commercially viable, these new designs prompted the creation of new mixing tubes and materials, designed to make waterjet machining stronger — and more reliable than ever.

The Evolution of High-Strength Waterjets

In the post-war era, researchers and manufacturers across the globe continued to seek new methods of efficiently cutting materials. In the 1950’s, a forestry engineer called Dr. Norman Franz experimented with ultra-high pressure water systems, in an effort to cut trees to lumber. His experiments showed that abrasive waterjets could effectively cut harder materials.

In the mid-1960’s, research into traditional waterjet cutting by G.L. Walker, and S.J. Leach helped to determine the ideal shape of waterjet nozzles. The 1970’s saw the invention of crystal waterjet orifices — created by the Bendix corporation — which helped develop the very first mainstream waterjet cutting system on a commercial level.

This new waterjet system could achieve pressures of up to 60,000 PSI — meaning that a jet of approximately 0.1mm diameter could slice and dice anything from food products to paper. Though these waterjet machines were expensive — and required a lot of maintenance — they were still regarded as more cost-effective than traditional methods of cutting softer materials.

The Waterjet Today

By the end of the 1980’s, the Boride corporation had developed mixing tubes composed of a ceramic, tungsten, and carbide compensate. These carefully designed tubes could withstand the erosive pressure of abrasive waterjets, transforming the unreliable process of the 1930’s into a viable solution for the future of manufacturing.

Flow International, Inc. became the first company to sell a waterjet machine to an automotive manufacturer — and others quickly followed suit. Over time, intensifiers emerged to develop a more consistent pressure within waterjet machines; while new components allowed experts to measure the amount of abrasive they were using. Each new innovation has made waterjet technology more affordable and reliable within the manufacturing industry — allowing its popularity to grow and blossom.

The waterjet’s capabilities are still evolving, as diamond orifices replace sapphire orifices, and standard nozzles transform into composite carbides. The manufacturing industry is continually seeking to make the process more precise, reliable, and accessible — when it comes to sheer power, we may just be floating on the surface of what water can do.

Do you have any predictions for the future of waterjet cutting? Let us know in the comments below!

Common Misconceptions about Waterjets

July 28, 2016MainPathNewsComments Off on Common Misconceptions about Waterjets

waterjet cutting

Waterjets can cut metals, plastics, foods, and even carbon fiber — without any risk of warping or distortion. As the popularity of waterjets increases, there are some misconceptions floating around the industry, that may leave you confused as to what a waterjet machine is actually capable of.

To help you better understand the process, here are a few of the most common myths associated with waterjet cutting:

1. Waterjets Struggle to Cut Complex 3D Parts

Some people believe that although waterjets can easily cut precise designs into flat pieces of material, they fall short when it comes to dealing with 3D components. The truth is that recent advances in the realm of XD three-dimensional cutting have maximized the versatility of this promising fabrication method.

Using a cutting head that can swerve in multiple directions — controlled with advanced software — allows waterjets to cut complicated 3D parts in a single, fluid motion; removing the need for secondary cutting.

2. Abrasive Waterjets Are Messy, Noisy, and Slow

It makes sense that people assume the results of waterjet cutting take a lot of time and effort to produce — after all, they’re quite astounding. However, waterjet cutting uses a process of accelerated erosion to slice through material — usually in a very short space of time.

This fast cutting speed doesn’t actually lead to additional problems in mess, or noise. Cutting under a small amount of water can reduce the presence of mist, steam, or spray — particularly when manufacturers use a pierce shield at the same time. Underwater cutting also serves to reduce noise levels! While cutting above water can lead to noise pollution of 95 decibels (depending on the distance between the material and the mixing tube), underwater cutting reduces that level to only 75 decibels.

3. Waterjets Use Excessive Force to Pierce Materials

While it’s true that waterjets use significant pressure to create impressive cutting results, the force might not be as high as you think. On average, an abrasive waterjet produces between 20,000 and 55,000 pounds of water pressure PSI —  about 30 times the pressure you might see at your local car wash. Although they can get up to 55,000 pounds, the amount of force exerted by a standard waterjet machine is usually only between 15 and 40 PSI.

4. Garnet Mesh Doesn’t Affect Speed

Most people in the manufacturing world know that garnet is necessary to create an abrasive waterjet capable of cutting through hard metals — but many don’t recognize the importance of the garnet mesh, in regards to the speed of the cut. Garnet abrasive is used in most waterjet machines, typically ranging from 50 mesh to 220 mesh.

In waterjet cutting, the size of the abrasive particle translates to the speed of the cut. That means that 50 mesh is likely to cut a little faster than 80 mesh, at the same flow rate. On the other hand, if you were to switch to a very fine abrasive — designed for use with special cutting, and smooth edge production — you might find that the process is a lot slower.

5. Fixturing Parts is Unnecessary

The force used in waterjet cutting may be less than you expect, but it’s still quite a force to be reckoned with — it’s important to use fixtures to hold a piece of material in place. Fixtures keep the workpiece carefully situated within the machine, to reduce the chances of unwanted movement and ruined designs. It’s very easy for a piece to move during production — which can waste both time and resources.

6. Striations Will Always Happen

It’s true that striations — the furrows and linear marks that appear on fabricated materials — can occur during the waterjet process. However, this outcome usually occurs as a result of a number of extraneous factors; which can be controlled during cutting. For instance, maintaining a consistent amount of power through the machining process will create a smoother finish. Oftentimes, the faster you cut, the more striation marks will form. The material you use can be important, too — irregularities in pieces of metal, or plastic, can quickly lead to unexpected marks.

7. Waterjets Can Cut Through Anything

The materials a waterjet can effectively cut through will depend largely on the type of waterjet you’re using. While pure waterjets are best suited to softer materials, the precise cut they produce won’t work with metals, or tougher parts. Alternatively, abrasive waterjet technology can extend the benefits of waterjet technology to harder materials — ranging from steel, to carbon fiber, and more!

The Truth about Waterjets

Today, most fabrication and manufacturing experts are aware of the benefits of using waterjets to shape and structure parts. These innovative solutions produce very little waste; while contributing to the creation of smooth edges, precise parts, and quick, efficient results. In fact, when compared to laser and plasma cutting, waterjets provide the added benefit of leaving no heat affected zone to damage the materials.

What do you think are some of the most common misconceptions about waterjets? Has our list helped to clear up your understanding of the waterjet world? Let us know in the comments below!

Choosing the Right Grit Size for Waterjet Cutting

July 21, 2016MainPathNewsComments Off on Choosing the Right Grit Size for Waterjet Cutting


Although pure waterjet solutions are still used to cut soft materials (like paper and food), most manufacturing companies use abrasive waterjets to shape parts and components. In an abrasive waterjet system, the efficiency of the cut is about more than just hitting material with pressurized water — it’s also about selecting the correct abrasive, designed to cut through the material as cleanly as possible.

While garnet is the most common choice for waterjet grit — providing the hardness needed for clean, powerful cuts in even the most intricate of designs — this abrasive comes with flexibility, in regards to the grit size. Depending on what you’re cutting, the types of cut you’re making, and the intricacy of each cut; you have a crucial decision to make before you start the waterjet process. A larger grit won’t produce the same results as a smaller grit.

Choosing the right size grit for your waterjet project can minimize the consumption of abrasives, reduce unnecessary costs, and maximize productivity on the manufacturing floor.

The Factors Involved in Choosing Grit Size

Commonly, fabricators will have a selection of “mesh” grades they can choose from, when selecting the perfect abrasive (or grit) for a waterjet project. Each “mesh” grade represents a different grit size — and although they might not dictate the exact dimensions of each particle, they do give some insight into the general distribution of grit size.

There are three mesh grades that commonly appear on the waterjet market. These include:

  • 50-60 mesh — This covers larger sized particles, and tends to be for rougher grit applications.
  • 50-80 mesh — The common standard, known as “moderate” grit.
  • 100-220 mesh — The smallest grit size, for the finest possible particles.

Of these options, the 80 mesh solution is the most popular, for the majority of “general” projects.

How Grit Size Determines Your Project Results

Knowing the grit sizes available is one thing, but understanding how those grit sizes affect your project is another matter. Typically, the bigger your grit size, the rougher the cut will be. Smaller grits are for finer, more precise details — which means that your ideal abrasive will depend on what you’re trying to achieve in the machining process.

The grit size impacts a variety of factors, including:

  • Expenditure — While the cost of the materials for your project might not be the most important factor, it’s worth thinking about when choosing grit. Smaller mesh batches are generally much more expensive than larger grits; so, depending on the mesh you’re looking to use, your project could become costlier.
  • Speed and efficiency — The larger the grit size, the faster the cutting process will be. This means that a 50 mesh will often blast through materials faster than an 80 mesh; but it may also mean that you have to compromise on other things — such as surface finish.
  • Surface finish — If you are jetting with the hope to avoid secondary finishing procedures, the grit size you use is essential. Smaller grit will always lead to a finer, cleaner finish than larger grit. This means that a polished surface aesthetic requires a far smaller grit size.

Problems with Choosing the Wrong Grit Size

While it may seem simpler to choose an 80 mesh because it’s most popular, or stick to the least expensive grit you can find, selecting the right abrasive for your particular project is essential to achieving the results you want. The wrong abrasive can not only damage your components, or waste materials; it may also damage your waterjet machine by clogging the nozzles, and delaying productivity.  

Clogs can easily occur in waterjet machines, as a result of too much abrasive, or a mesh size that’s too large for a specific orifice diameter. Regardless of which grit size you choose, make sure that it not only suits your project, but the other parts of your machine too. Always use the correct nozzle/orifice combination, and select the proper orifice for the grit size you need.

Waterjet Abrasives and Cutting Performance

Grit size will not be exclusively responsible for your waterjet cutting experience — pressure settings, nozzle sizes, and orifices must all be considered, as well — but it does play a crucial role. Tailoring your grit size to your specific project will help you to get the best results possible, while structuring each cut in a way ideal for streamlining workflow. Choosing the appropriate grit size is essential to getting the perfect results you need, for a cost-effective and efficient fabricating process.

Which are your preferred grit sizes, and why do you like using them? Have you found that specific grit sizes work best for certain projects? Let us know in the comments below!

Waterjet Options: Diamond, Ruby, or Sapphire?

June 30, 2016MainPathNewsComments Off on Waterjet Options: Diamond, Ruby, or Sapphire?

jewel orifices

In the machining and fabricating industries, abrasive waterjet cutting is a process for accelerated erosion of hard materials like metal. A waterjet works by firing high-pressure water through an orifice, and into a mixing chamber, which uses a vacuum to introduce garnet sand into a water stream. While waterjets are versatile and powerful cutting tools, the heart of these machines are their jewel orifices – a tiny nozzle made of synthetic sapphire, ruby, or diamond – which the water is pushed through.

The jewel orifice is responsible for focusing the water stream, allowing for smoother, cleaner cuts. While diamond orifices last longer, they’re also by far the most expensive, which can make ruby or sapphire options more appealing for certain circumstances. Following, we’ll address the positives and negatives of each potential option.

Sapphire and Ruby Waterjet Orifices

Many people don’t realize that ruby and sapphire waterjet orifices are actually grown using the same base material: synthetic corundum. The only differences are in the chromium added to rubies to provide their red pigment, and the fact that manufactured geometries for each type can vary. Corundum is used extensively in various applications, due to its extreme hardness and easy reproduction. Five times more abrasive resistant than carbide, and ranking at a 9.0 on the Mohs hardness scale, corundum is high-temperature tolerant, resistant to chemicals, and reliable.

Because rubies use a robust inlet edge radius of around .001″ (depending on the diameter of the orifice), they can sometimes withstand greater abuse than sapphires before failing; however, they also create a shorter coherent jet stream. Ruby can also produce a stronger vacuum than sapphire. On the other hand, sapphires use “sharp-edge technology” to produce a longer, smooth, coherent stream for cutting.

When to Use Ruby and Sapphire Orifices

Unlike many orifice materials tested in the past, ruby and sapphire can stand up to harsh environments without significant corrosion. Unfortunately, both ruby and sapphire can be vulnerable to minor impacts from debris in the high pressure system, which may destroy their integrity.

Although ruby and sapphire orifices often cost far less than a diamond orifice, they only last for anywhere from 0-40 cutting hours, compared to the hundreds of hours you’ll get out of a diamond. If a manufacturer needs to change orifice combinations frequently, sapphire or ruby could present a less risky choice; frequently changing the nozzle not only increases the likelihood that debris will enter and damage the orifice, but it also heightens the chance that the orifice might be lost, leading to a wasted investment. While a lost ruby or sapphire worth $20 may be frustrating, it’s not nearly as catastrophic as a lost diamond, worth hundreds of dollars.

Diamond Waterjet Orifices

Diamond waterjet orifices combine the robust inlet edge radius of rubies with the sharp edge technology of sapphire, to offer a maximized jet stream, benefitting from smooth cutting and robust material integrity. Rated at 10.0 on the Mohs hardness scale, diamonds are the strongest available orifice for waterjet machining. Four times harder than sapphire or ruby, diamond orifices are becoming the industry standard for most jewel orifices, capable of offering versatility for effective use in many cutting applications.

Because diamond orifices improve stream quality, the resulting cut is often smoother – making diamond an ideal choice when cutting expensive, or incredibly detailed components.

When to Use Diamond Orifices

Some machining components may require time-intensive, detailed cuts; and replacing a jewel orifice midway may ruin the results. Using a diamond orifice that can last longer – usually a minimum of 600 cutting hours – can prevent wasted materials, and reduce uneven wear in the cutting head.

Though they are more expensive than rubies and sapphire, the longer lifespan of the diamond makes it particularly beneficial for large-scale tasks. Diamond orifices are often preferable in machining organizations that use multiple cutting heads, as operators can switch out orifices reliably and routinely, either once or twice a year. With ruby or sapphire heads, orifices can wear out at different speeds, leading to constant changing.

Choosing the Right Orifice

While most industry experts commend diamond as the best option for waterjet cutting orifices, there are equally valid reasons to choose ruby or sapphire, especially if your specific manufacturing process requires frequent changing of orifice combinations. The right choice for your business will depend on your personal circumstances, including your budget, the specs of your cutting jobs, and your short-term and long-term machining goals.

If you’ve had experience with ruby, sapphire, and diamond orifices in the past, how did you rate each one in terms of performance? Let us know in the comments below!


The 10 Coolest Waterjet Cutting Videos

June 23, 2016MainPathNewsComments Off on The 10 Coolest Waterjet Cutting Videos

By forcing high-pressure water through a very small orifice, waterjet cutting machines can shape and cut materials with all sorts of strengths and textures. This approach to cutting provides a wide range of benefits – for industrial purposes, the cold-cutting mechanism eliminates unwanted HAZ (heat affected zones). Waterjets are easy to use and environmentally friendly, especially in their reduction of waste material. The omni-directional capabilities make for very precise cuts, and waterjets perform faster than many other conventional cutting tools.

Perhaps the most interesting advantage of waterjets is their versatility. Not only can these innovative machines cut through metals, wood, and glass, but they can also deliver intricate and satisfying results from a variety of other, less conventional materials. Here are some of the most interesting videos that show off the many features of waterjet cutting.

1. Pastry (Fresh and Frozen)

When people think of waterjets, they generally think of high-intensity streams slicing through wood or metal to deliver a precise, clean cut. However, the intricacy and precision of waterjets mean that they can cut through almost any material placed in front of them – all the way from aluminum to delicious frozen pastries:

2. Fish

If you’ve ever struggled to get succulent cuts of fish with a knife, waterjet cutting may present an interesting solution. The following video shows how pure waterjets can cut through trout and perch, for some of the most precise cutlets you’ll ever see:

3. Bullet-Proof Glass

A defining feature of many action movies – and a high-security form of protection for banks and other organizations – bullet-proof glass may be able to defend you from someone wielding a gun, but it can’t stand up to the pressure of an abrasive waterjet:

4. Cakes

Although not the most conventional use of a waterjet system, the pure streams of a waterjet can offer a clean and precise way to shape hundreds, if not thousands, of cakes for extravagant parties. This option is great for reducing waste too, as the waterjet uses the cake as economically as possible! All you need is the right software, and a flat slab of delicious sponge:

5. Celery

Ever wonder how those pre-prepared vegetables from the store are perfectly sliced into symmetrical chunks? You’ve probably suspected this task isn’t done by hand. With a waterjet cutter, everything from celery to tomatoes can be sliced and diced into shape – hundreds at a time:

6. Geode

Cutting geodes without damaging them, or scuffing the beautiful gem inside, can be a difficult process. Traditional methods sometimes lead to abrasions and poor results, whereas waterjet cutting helps to provide a smooth cut – perfect for geodes displayed in homes, museums, and stores:

7. Onions

If the employees at produce factories had to cut thousands of onions themselves, management would likely be dealing with a lot of complaints about streaming eyes and impaired vision. Fortunately, waterjet cutting offers a solution that washes away the irritating reactions caused by cutting onions, while speeding up the process at the same time:

8. Pumpkin Carving

Most people don’t have access to a highly-efficient waterjet machine when they’re carving pumpkins for Halloween. However, the following video suggests that if they did, the jack-o-lanterns sitting out on porches might look far more precise and artistic:

9. Laptops

From a practical standpoint, cutting through your own laptop with a high-intensity stream of water doesn’t make a lot of sense – at least, not if you’re planning on continuing to use that laptop. However, it’s safe to say that watching someone else cut through one of these high-tech machines is a fascinating experience:

10. Motorbike Helmet

One of the greatest benefits of waterjet cutting is that it allows for precise and accurate manufacturing, one component at a time. The following video showing a waterjet shaping a motorbike helmet, offers an insight into just how effective these machines can be:


The Abilities of Waterjets

These videos aren’t just loads of fun to watch – they also help to demonstrate why the waterjet cutting process is one of the most versatile and effective machining processes in the world. Today, waterjets are used in high production applications across the globe – for more projects than you might imagine.

The waterjet has regularly shown that it can do things other technologies cannot – from cutting precise shapes into glass, stone, and metal; to slicing food, carving pumpkins, and detailing helmets.

Have you found any amazing waterjet cutting videos in the past? Share them with us in the comments below!


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