The History of 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!
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