How the Aerospace Industry Uses Waterjet Cutting
Projects in the aerospace industry require complex technology and complete precision. Not only is this sector responsible for producing aircraft engines, the aircraft themselves, and related parts; but also military solutions (like guided missiles), scientific developments (like space vehicles), and other components that make up much of our modern world.
As an industry with no margin for error, the aerospace department employs the accuracy and versatility of waterjet cutting to create a range of components — from jet engines and turbine blades, to custom control panels, and more.
In fact, although the concept of waterjet machining may seem quite modern, the waterjet has had a home in aerospace since the 1970’s.
The Need for Precision in the Aerospace Industry
The aerospace industry is diverse and widespread — covering everything from commercial aircraft, to military solutions designed primarily for defense. In production, each component must be carefully machined to the highest possible quality, as even the slightest error or structural weakness could lead to disaster.
Machining parts for the aerospace industry — with a range of high-strength, exotic materials — is more complex than making other consumer goods. Traceability requirements are excessively stringent, and tolerances are much stricter; meaning the industry needs machining processes capable of adhering to highly sophisticated levels of production. In the face of such high standards and manufacturing demands, the waterjet entered the scene and swept away any competition.
The History of Waterjet in the Aerospace Industry
During the 1970’s, aerospace companies were already using pure waterjets when designing interior components for planes — such as carpeting and seats. As the need for more precise solutions became apparent (to manufacture hard materials such as steel, composites, and titanium), the aerospace sector turned to abrasive waterjet cutting for an answer.
When abrasive waterjets made their way into the aerospace industry, Boeing was one of the first companies to adopt the solution, using it to process numerous materials. The organization quickly found that abrasive waterjet machines offered precision, reliability, and strength — especially when fabricating new components that other methods struggled to cut.
Today, almost every aerospace company in the industry uses waterjet technology to design the perfect components and machinery. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a plane that has no waterjet-created parts.
What Waterjets Can Offer in Aerospace Production
So, how have waterjets proven themselves to be precise, reliable, and strong enough to meet the tight demands of aerospace production?
In large part, waterjets are favored due to their adaptability. Not only can abrasive waterjets be adjusted to the specific needs of any given part; they can also be standardized for precise, uniform production on a large-scale basis. They are adaptable across projects, and across material types. Waterjets can effectively cut through a range of substances — including materials that may experience damage from other fabricating processes — such as:
- Carbon fiber
- Stainless Steel
The reason waterjets can cut so many differing materials is that they employ a cool-cutting process that leaves no heat-affected zones. Lasers and other tools struggle to effectively cut materials that possess a high thermal conductivity (like steel or aluminum). Waterjet machines, on the other hand, eradicate any heat-affected zones that could lead to microscopic cracks, or structural weakness in components.
Waterjet machines also work alongside control and automation technologies, to make production more standardized and straightforward. Considering the precision required in aerospace manufacturing, this is a huge benefit to companies in the industry. High-tech computer systems ensure parts are fully and carefully constructed, right down to the smallest possible detail. Though laser machines can also use computerized systems, the heat they impose on materials can lead to warping, which then requires secondary processing.
Added Benefits of Waterjet Technology
Waterjet cutting is one of the most versatile manufacturing solutions in the world — capable of delivering a clean, smooth cut that requires minimal additional fixturing. For the aerospace industry, this means efficiently producing parts that don’t suffer from structural issues, through a process that is:
- Environmentally friendly, and capable of reducing hazardous dusts and gasses
- Flexible in terms of machine integration
- Able to save on raw materials
- Faster than a number of conventional cutting tools
- Omni-directional (capable of cutting in various directions)
Once you look at all the capabilities and benefits of waterjet technology, it seems like a no-brainer that this is the machine of choice for the companies making our planes, jets, military devices, and space vehicles.
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