For any business or industry, it’s crucial to have access to the latest, and most valuable tools on the market. While there are many different manufacturing processes that can complete complex projects and produce parts, waterjet cutting is a solution that is rapidly growing in popularity, thanks to its various unique capabilities and benefits.
Waterjet cutting is capable of shaping a wide range of different materials, by working similarly to the environmental process of water erosion. The process focuses a thin stream of water, accompanied by an abrasive material such as diamond, on a particular area of a piece of material, cutting it into the shape desired. The numerous benefits and impressive abilities have allowed waterjet cutting to find applications in a diverse number of industries, from aerospace, to mining, architecture, and more.
Following, we will cover just some of the unique capabilities of waterjet cutting — and it may be able to offer for your upcoming projects.
Feature 1: Capable of Cutting Virtually Any Material
Abrasive waterjet machines are incredibly versatile cutting solutions that are capable of cutting almost many materials. These machines are ideal for constructing complex and highly detailed shapes quickly and precisely. Often, waterjet machines offer an ideal alternative for materials inappropriate for thermal or laser cutting, and are exceptional for projects which require little to no thermal stress.
The versatility of the waterjet makes it appealing to almost all industries – as there are very few materials that it cannot work with, including tempered glass, and some forms of advanced ceramic.
Feature 2: Efficient and Fast
The process of using a waterjet machine is fast and efficient, completing complicated and extensive tasks within as little time as possible. Waterjet machines can be set up quick due to the use of advanced and easy-to-learn technology. From there, the cutting head can move carefully across the material according to the shapes and results required.
Because most material cut with a waterjet will require the same head and the same process, there are no changes needed in between material alterations. What’s more, the movements of the machine can use computer programming, which means that workers simply have to stand back and watch as stunning parts form.
Feature 3: Little to No Heat Generation
Unlike many other forms of cutting, the waterjet cutting process is “cold”, meaning that there is no thermal pressure generated in the zones surrounding the cut. The use of a cold cutting process means that metals and other materials can be shaped to standard without accidentally changing the intrinsic properties of those materials through warping or distortion. Unlike plasma, laser, and flame cutting, waterjet and abrasive jet procedures place no heat or mechanical pressures on the material used, meaning that companies can achieve the ideal results, without risk.
Feature 4: No Fixturing Required
Because the waterjet process utilizes a very precise stream of water to erode and shape materials, the need for fixturing is often reduced. In other words, with waterjet cutting, companies will not have to worry about weighting the materials in place or clamping them to avoid mistakes.
Feature 5: Safe, and Environmentally Friendly
During the cutting process, a waterjet machine eliminates smoke, fumes, and airborne dust particles, ensuring that contaminate cannot be released into the atmosphere and lead to operator exposure risks. This can make the process of cutting materials like fiberglass and asbestos much safer and easier.
What’s more, waterjets produce no hazardous waste, meaning that companies can minimize disposal costs, and maximize upon the use of reusable scrap material often lost to traditional cutting methods. Similarly, parts can nest closely together to maximize the value of materials, and the water used during the process can be recycled through a closed-loop system.
Feature 6: Incredible Precision
Finally, waterjet cutting is extremely precise, with typical tolerances of around +/-0.1mm for many materials. Waterjets give manufacturing companies the ability to routinely cut parts with precision, through the use of computer software. What’s more, they are capable of tight tolerances, even when the requirements of the projects force them to stray from straight-line geometrics.
Waterjet cutting systems are some of the most versatile and beneficial tools on the market. The process provides companies with a wide range of unique capabilities and advantages, making it an ideal solution for tackling problems that other technologies simply cannot address.
Fiberglass is a complex and often messy composite to work with, primarily because it contains tiny fibers made of glass and other materials. Because the reinforcement fibers used within fiberglass are abrasive, they often clash with other abrasive tools, shortening the lifespan of the machinery in question, and potentially damaging the material in the process. Many cutting methods also heighten the risk of overheating during the cutting process, leading to further damage.
There are numerous factors to consider when selecting the right method to handle fiberglass, from the discomfort and danger that can result from irritating dust fibers that come into contact with workers’ skin, to the possibility of delaminated composites ruined by burrs, edge chipping and poorly trimmed edges. With that in mind, companies who want to achieve the perfect finished product must take care in selecting the perfect tool.
Waterjets Could Be the Best Method for Cutting Fiberglass
Cutting methods that rely extensively on the use of “heat” generate a great deal of friction, which typically heighten their chances of damaging composite materials. On the other hand, waterjet cutting is a controlled-erosion, low-temperature alternative that doesn’t introduce heat-related stress to the materials involved.
Waterjet technology works by using a thin stream of water directed towards a material at a high speed, under significant pressure. By eroding the material alongside an abrasive material intended to make the tool more effective at shaping harder materials, waterjet cutting offers smooth edges, and precise results. Waterjet systems are capable of penetrating a wide range of different materials, from steel and armor plating, to fiberglass and ceramic tile.
Waterjet cutters can actively eliminate airborne fumes, contaminates, smoke and dust particles from the materials it is working on. In other words, waterjets improve the working environment, and reduce the risks associated with operator exposure.
The Advantages of Using Waterjets to Cut Fiberglass
Waterjet technology is capable of cutting virtually any material, without superheating the area adjacent to the cut in order to keep material integrity intact — an important factor in many cutting projects wherein excessive heat could damage remaining material. Not only is waterjet technology a “green” option, but it can also minimize costs for companies by cutting off large pieces of reusable scrap material that traditional cutting methods may ruin.
Waterjet cutting also expends minimal force on the fiberglass, reducing fixturing and ensuring that the material remains in place throughout the cutting procedure, producing the same results time and time again with expert precision. Following are just some of the benefits of using waterjet methods to cut fiberglass materials:
- Environmental concerns related to cutting hazardous materials are reduced as airborne contaminants are eliminated or reduced
- The erosive process of waterjet cutting reduces rough edges and burring, meaning that additional finishing operations are not required
- There is no risk of thermal distortion of parts with waterjet technology, or thermal stressing to the material
- Waterjets are capable of achieving a significant degree of accuracy, and cutting profiles are not confined to straight-lines, meaning that part complexity can be as high as required
Handling Fiberglass Projects with Safety and Precision
The versatility of waterjet cutting allows it to be a useful application in almost any industry. Not only are there a wide range of materials that waterjet machines can cut, but the evidence suggests that the results of cutting materials like fiberglass can be highly improved with waterjet technology.
Through waterjet precision, companies cutting fiberglass parts can reduce the environmental hazards of fiberglass dust and contamination, while achieving a finished piece free of distortion, burring, or the harsh, damaged edges caused by other cutting methods.
When planning a new project, it is important to identify the best processes and machinery to use to carry it out. There is often some confusion about whether to use a waterjet or a laser to complete projects that involve precise cutting of materials. Both laser and waterjet are effective, powerful and capable of producing numerous different types of finalized machinery, but they also have strengths and weaknesses. When deciding on which option to use for your project, consulting with an expert is often the best course of action; but you can also read below to understand the differences between each technique, and the advantages and disadvantages they have to offer in preparation.
The differences in laser and waterjet cutting capabilities lies in the material type, thickness of the material, and the precise accuracy required.
Determining whether to use lasers or waterjets for your next project will depend entirely on your specifications. This means asking yourself a number of questions, including:
- What kinds of materials will you be using?
- What is the thickness of your materials?
- What sort of edge finish and tolerance are required for your task?
- Will heat impact the part?
With the answers to these questions in hand, you will be more prepared to evaluate which option is the best for your project.
The Advantages and Disadvantages of Laser Cutting
To cut material with a laser, CO2 gas energy creates a rapid heating process, which either vaporizes or melts the metal into shape. The beam of the laser focuses on a specific area through the use of a lens, in order to allow for precise cutting, excellently finished edges, and highly efficient results.
Laser cutters work best with materials between 0.12″ and 0.4″ thick, and can handle a wide variety of materials including glass, wood, plastic, and metal. However, it’s important to note that some sensitive metals may warm under high temperatures – leading to delamination, metallurgical changes and discoloration. What’s more, composite materials are often not a good fit for the use of a laser.
Because, at their core, laser beams are intense beams of light, they will not cut reflective materials. However, in the right circumstances, laser cutting can provide exceptional precision — especially when cutting small items or thinner materials. Because of the high-pressure water flow of a waterjet, thinner materials can bend under the force of the stream – making lasers the better option.
The Advantages and Disadvantages of Waterjet Cutting
Referred to sometimes as “abrasive jet” cutting, waterjet cutting adds an abrasive material (like garnet) to a water stream in order to shape harder materials. Perhaps the most significant thing people appreciate about waterjet cutting is that it requires no use of heat, and therefore cuts sensitive materials without the threat of warping. What’s more, because waterjet machines produce such a clean cut, there is no need for sanding or grinding around the edges — leading to reduced costs, easy production of prototypes and great efficiency.
Waterjets are capable of cutting almost any material — including composite materials that may not be appropriate for lasers. They are ideal for ablation, structuring and cutting with thick metals, ceramics, and stone, or materials between a thickness of 0.4″ and 2.0″.
Unfortunately, however, some people find that waterjet cutting isn’t always as precise as laser cutting, as the minimum cut-size slit is .02″. Similarly, because of the high level of force used, smaller, thinner parts may not fare as well. Though burring will not occur in the cut, and thermal stress isn’t an issue, the surface of the material can appear sand-blasted as a result of added abrasive to the jet.
On the other hand, waterjet cutting produces almost no waste whatsoever, and releases no harmful residue or chemicals — leading to increased protection for the environment — as well as the people working near the machine.
Making the Right Choice
Unfortunately, there is no basic answer on whether waterjet or laser cutting is the right solution for your new project — as only you can determine which is ideal for your needs by working with an expert. Hopefully, the above guidelines will give you some direction when determining what your upcoming project needs and what to expect.
If you’ve used laser and waterjet cutting before, let us know what you thought of each method, and whether there was a particular element you preferred in the comments below!