What is Abrasive Waterjet?

Abrasive waterjet is an extremely versatile machining process that uses ultra high pressure water, mixed with an abrasive to cut virtually any material. It is generally a 2-axis process used to cut parts from material up to 4 thick. Thicker material can be cut, but the cut speed gets exponentially slower as the thickness increases. There are 5 cut qualities to choose from. Quality 1 is the fastest and roughest cut. Quality 5 is the slowest cut with the finest surface finish. The cut qualities can be used in various combinations on a part depending on the tolerance and surface finish required in any given area of the part.

Abrasive waterjet has many advantages over torch, plasma, or laser cutting. Among them are no heat affected zone, no work hardening, almost no burr, no toxic gases(when cutting plastic or rubber),and a high quality surface finish with virtually no taper. The finish and taper are often so good that they require no secondary machining processes. The process is accurate enough that in many cases it can even cut holes on size for taps as small as 6-32. Abrasive water jet is also capable of cutting a wider variety of materials and thicknesses than any of the other processes. For example, it can cut steel, stainless steel, aluminum, plastic, rubber, urethane, foam, glass, ceramic, carbon fiber, wood, stone, and felt. It can cut all of those materials and more in thicknesses up to and exceeding 4 thick.

Although the process is just beginning to become well known, it has been in industrial use since 1982. The last 5-10 years have brought about some major advancements that make abrasive waterjet a practical process for an increasing variety of parts. One of the biggest improvements, and something that we use on almost every part has been taper compensation. Generally, the waterjet process leaves a very small taper on the side of cut parts. This .005-.015(.127mm-.381mm) taper can be virtually eliminated with the use of taper compensation. It can be used with any cut quality, so it even improves accuracy on parts that are being cut with fast settings. Another advancement is called a terrain follower. This is used in conjunction with taper compensation to ensure that the nozzle is always the same distance from the material. It helps avoid crashes, and it improves accuracy even further.

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