Imagine a machine so versatile it cuts hardened tool steel on Monday, titanium bar stock on Thursday, and aluminum billet all weekend long. Abrasive waterjet does just that, slicing through many materials at speeds 10 times faster than wire EDM and 10 times more accurately than high definition plasma, and offering manufacturers an easy-to-use technology that competes with traditional machining and fabricating processes. Abrasive waterjet isn’t just for metal, either—glass, ceramic, plastics and composites alike give way before waterjet’s hypersonic stream of abrasive slurry. If your shop needs a machine that can cut most anything, keep reading.
Abrasive waterjet is an improbable process. It works by injecting bits of rock—typically garnet—smaller than grains of table salt into a high velocity stream of water. The abrasive is accelerated downstream at speeds only Superman could rival, striking the workpiece at 3000 km/hr and stripping away microscopic pieces of whatever material lies in its path. The water is pressurized to 60,000 psi or more and channeled into a stream the diameter of a piano wire. Aside from carrying the abrasive through the workpiece, it serves to cool the workpiece while simultaneously removing debris from the cut. The result is fast and accurate cutting, with none of the heat-affected zone or warpage common in competing thermal processes.
Abrasive waterjet has been used in shipbuilding for decades, but has enjoyed substantial growth over the past few years in various fabrication industries. Yet the technology isn’t necessarily a replacement to conventional metal cutting technologies such as CNC stamping machines or wire EDM. Rather, it complements these processes. Consider a shop with 15 wire machines—some of their work might fall within the +/- 0.1 mm tolerance band typical of abrasive waterjet. In this case, why not use waterjet to cut those parts three to five times faster than EDM?
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