How Waterjet Cutting Works

A water jet cutter

Though its usage can be dated back to the 1950s when it was used to cut lumber, waterjet cutting is a much more advanced process today and is capable of fabricating hard materials such as metal. In fact, it is a common tool for professional fabricators and a staple in fabrication shops and steel service centers. How exactly can water cut through steel? Let’s learn more about this technology.

Heavily Pressurized Water

One key feature of a waterjet cutting machine is the intensifier pump, a device that pressurizes the water by forcing it through a tiny orifice. From the pump, the water flows to the nozzle where it is concentrated into a beam by shooting through a minuscule opening. The beam comes out of the nozzle at a super-fast speed, giving it the cutting power to slice through metal plate. The nozzle point is typically made of diamond or sapphire so that it can resist damage from the waterjet stream.

Abrasive Waterjet Cutting Machines

Pure waterjets are used for processing softer materials, such as rubber or wood. When fabricating metal plates, cutting abrasives are added to the water inside the nozzle. These abrasives are usually garnet or aluminum oxide and can vary in grit size, 80 mesh being the most common.

Benefits of Waterjet Cutting

Unlike plasma, oxy-fuel, and laser cutting tables, waterjet cutting machines do not generate heat, odors, fumes, or contaminants, making them a safer alternative. Because the cutting “blade” is made of water, it never gets dull or overheats, and it leaves no heat-affected zone (HAZ) on the material. Waterjet cutting is powerful enough to process plates up to 8 inches thick and fine enough to produce intricate contours and shapes. In fact, the thin kerf produced by waterjets makes them ideal for 3-D processing and allows the fabricator to nest parts more closely together, optimizing use of the material and reducing scrap.

Limitations of Waterjet Cutting

Waterjet cutting is typically used to cut all the way through a material, rather than only to a particular depth. Called a blind cut, cutting only to a certain depth with a waterjet cutting machine can lead to inaccuracies. With only one cutting head, waterjets may be outpaced by other types of metal fabrication equipment, but they can be equipped with multiple cutting heads (all of which can be powered by the same intensifier pump) to speed up production. One other drawback of this technology is that it tends to be expensive, both in the upfront investment and operational costs.

Is Waterjet Cutting the Right Choice for Your Shop?

Waterjet cutting machines can be customized for nearly any application and are a commodity for professional fabricators serving a range of industries. They are a must-have for processing oversized plates, but their capabilities certainly go beyond that specific functionality.

The experts at Machitech can help you determine the best plate-cutting solutions for your custom fabrication shop. Contact us today to learn how we can take your business to the next level with heavy-duty plate-cutting technology and free and unlimited support for life.