“Waterjet.” You might have heard the term, but you may not know what it entails. You might think of it just as water being shot at a very high pressure, and while that is the general basis, there is much more to the practice. Water is one of the nature’s most powerful forces. Think about how it feels to get carried under the waves at the beach or to get sprayed by a traditional garden hose, or consider the damage floods can do. It has the power to wash away rocks and to erode the sides of mountains.
Back to that garden hose: think about the pressure it contains. Now, imagine if it was pushed through a much smaller hole, at a much higher pressure. Mix in an abrasive element, like garnet, and you have a tool that can cut through a wide variety of substances. These machines can cut through a wide range of materials, from cardboard and rubber to aluminum and titanium.
Erosion is from which the idea of water jet cutting machine comes. The early seeds of this form of precision cutting were planted in the 1800s when hydraulic coal mining became popular in areas like New Zealand and the Soviet Union. Miners used water from streams and blasted it over a rock face, which would carry away loose coal and rock.
By the California Gold Rush (1853 to 1886), pressurized water was used to excavate from mines soft gold rock, the first time such a feat was attempted. Another reason this was notable is that this allowed the miner to stand back from the face being washed, a meaningless danger for the worker. The practice reached Europe and Asia by the 1900s, and in the 1930s, the Russians first attempted cutting rock with pressurized water.
In the 1950s, a forest engineer experimented with an old cutter to cut lumber. It wasn’t until the 1970s, however, when waterjet cutting technology as its known today was first developed, with the first industrial cutter installed in 1972. Further strides were made in the 1980s, when abrasive waterjets, which adds an abrasive to the water’s steam, were first developed. This heavily increased the table’s power, enabling it to cut more materials.
Other types of water jets include percussive jets, which use rapidly pulsing jets to cut materials; cavitation jets, the formation of empty cavities by high forces, which then immediately implode; and hybrid plans, which pair water jets with lasers and other cutting options.
The industry has taken off, with water jet cutting becoming one of the most preferred forms of precision cutting. Waterjet cutting is used today in a variety of applications, from cutting disposable diapers to tools for space exploration.