Waterjet Cutting-Abrasive water jet and cut taper

Dr. Summers Waterjet Blog

KMT Waterjet Systems Weekly Waterjet Series

I have spent some time in recent weeks discussing the use of abrasives in waterjet cutting, and particularly some of the issues that are involved in getting the abrasive distributed relatively evenly through the jet stream, and accelerated to as high a velocity as possible by the time the jet leaves the focusing tube. This issue has become more important as clients request more precise cuts, and edge quality and alignment become more critical. As the jet cuts along a surface the amount of material that is removed (i.e. the depth of cut simplistically) is controlled by the number of particles that impact along that axis. And that, to a degree, is controlled by where that axis lies, relative to the axial diameter of the jet that runs parallel to the direction of cut. Different conditions give different particle densities, but even within those conditions, the material under the center of the jet will see many more particle impacts than those on the side.

Particle distribution across two abrasive waterjet streams with the same focusing tube diameter, but different waterjet orifice diameters

Particle distribution across two abrasive waterjet streams with the same focusing tube diameter, but different waterjet orifice diameters

As the above figure shows, in order to achieve the best abrasive cutting the rate of abrasive feed must be tailored to the nozzle size and the jet parameters. The density of the abrasive in the resulting stream can be optimized for those conditions and, as discussed in earlier posts, adding too much abrasive to the system will end up being counter productive. A simple example can show this, in a test where we cut grooves in a block of granite, with the concentration of abrasive in the jet stream increasing with each pass.

Cuts made into a granite block, with abrasive feed rate increased as the cuts progressed from the left-side of the block to the right. Note that beyond a certain AFR the depth of cut begins to decrease.

Cuts made into a granite block, with abrasive feed rate increased as the cuts progressed from the left-side of the block to the right. Note that beyond a certain AFR the depth of cut begins to decrease.

Figure 2. Cuts made into a granite block, with abrasive feed rate increased as the cuts progressed from the left-side of the block to the right. Note that beyond a certain AFR the depth of cut begins to decrease. (Yazici, Sina, Abrasive Jet Cutting and Drilling of Rock, Ph.D. Dissertation in Mining Engineering, University of Missouri- Rolla, Rolla, Missouri, 1989, 203 pages.) There is, however, a second consequence to the concentration of particles across the jet, and that is that the material under the jet on either side of the center-line of the cut will see a smaller number of particles impacting the surface, than that at the center. As a result the material will not be cut as deeply, and as the slots shown in Figure 2 illustrate, the cut will, as a result taper in on both sides. In many applications, where the material to be cut is relatively thin, or where the exact alignment of the edge is not that critical this may not be important. However there are applications where edge alignment is required on the order of a thousandth of an inch or two over the part thickness, with the part being half-an-inch or more thick. One way to achieve that precision of cut is to slow the traverse speed down. If the jet is moving slowly enough then there will be enough particles hitting the material at the edge of the cut, that the edge will be cut vertically downwards.

The effect of traverse speed on the edge taper angle (in degrees) in cutting titanium.

The effect of traverse speed on the edge taper angle (in degrees) in cutting titanium.

Notice that, because the jet tends to flare out a little as it moves away from the nozzle, the taper angle goes negative if the speed falls to too low a value. In this particular case the nozzle was moving across the surface at a speed of about quarter-of-an-inch per minute. To get enough particles on the sides of the jet to cut a parallel slot edge, however, means that much of the abrasive in the center of the jet is not doing any work, but is rather being powered up and paid for to no real advantage. Thus, in most cases, (though not all) cutting very slowly to achieve precision on the residual edge of the cut is an overly expensive way of achieving the precision. Given the relatively small angle that the taper cuts it is usually more cost-effective (providing the table allows this) to slightly tilt the cutting head, so that at higher cutting speeds the taper is effectively removed on the edge that is left. Obviously the taper on the piece of material being removed is made worse, but if that removed piece is going to be cut later into a different shape for another purpose, then this excessive taper on the initial surface comes with no great cost. The taper angle and the speed relationship will vary both for the material being cut, as well as for the different parameters of the abrasive waterjet, and so – as with most cases where this sort of precision is required – a small test program to establish the best parameters for the cut will be needed. There are other ways of achieving this precision in cutting. One is to make multiple passes over the surface, with the jet removing only very small increments of material at one time. Again if this is carried out carefully and precisely the edge quality can be maintained, at the same time as the depth of cut can be well controlled allowing pockets of material to be removed from the work piece. However that gets into the whole issue of milling material from a target, and that is the topic for another day. It brings up the inter-relationship between traverse speed and depth of cut (which combine to give the area of cut surface, which can be used in some cases to optimize the cutting performance of a system, particularly where edge quality is not that rigid a requirement). And more particularly it brings up the quality of the walls and floor of the pockets created.

Factors to be considered in milling a pocket, illustrated by a multi-level pocket created in glass.

Factors to be considered in milling a pocket, illustrated by a multi-level pocket created in glass.

Figure 4. Factors to be considered in milling a pocket, illustrated by a multi-level pocket created in glass.

Labels:abrasive cutting,abrasive particles,cut taper,milling,particle distribution,traverse speed

Waterjet Technology – Mixing abrasive with a water jet and differences in orifice types

This Waterjet Weekly is written by Dr. David Summers, Curator Professor from The University of Missouri Science and Technology.

This Waterjet Weekly is written by Dr. David Summers, Curator Professor from The University of Missouri Science and Technology.

Sometimes I would get the feeling (particularly when talking to some of my students) that the mixing chamber of an abrasive waterjet (AWJ) cutting system, together with the feeds in and the focusing nozzle outlet, were considered to be some magical black box out of which a perfect cutting stream issues to cut the desired material. There are, in fact a variety of different chamber designs that can be purchased from different manufacturers. Some will tell you that all designs cut roughly the same, and that there is little difference between them. As I commented in one of the earliest posts in this series this is not true. Over the years we have run numerous comparative tests on different designs, using different abrasives, abrasive feed rates and target materials, and have found a broad range of results. For example, in cutting steel at a fixed traverse speed and other conditions, we found an average comparative performance as follows:

Comparative performance between 12 nominally similar abrasive waterjet cutting nozzles in cutting through steel at a standard speed, pump pressure, and abrasive concentration.

Comparative performance between 12 nominally similar abrasive waterjet cutting nozzles in cutting through steel at a standard speed, pump pressure, and abrasive concentration.

I described the actual test in another post, and it is clear from these averaged results that there is a wide difference in performance between the nominally similar tools. While I don’t think there is a lot of interest in going through the details of different designs it might be helpful to explain some of the factors that play a part in producing jets of greater or lesser performance. To return, first, to the basic construction of the mixing chamber and focusing tube assembly (AWJ nozzle), one starts by recognizing that the major cutting performance will be achieved by the particles which remove material when they hit the target. The energy that they have, however, comes from the water that is fed into the AWJ nozzle through a small jeweled orifice, or waterjet nozzle, at the top of the mixing chamber.

Basic waterjet nozzle design That waterjet stream is small and initially highly focused and fast moving.

Basic waterjet nozzle design That waterjet stream is small and initially highly focused and fast moving.

As it moves through the mixing chamber, as I have described in other posts, the outer edges of the jet slow down, and gradually the jet fans out and breaks up into fragments. There is no benefit in trying to inject the abrasive into the jet at the beginning of this passage, since, at that point, the outer layers of the jet have enough energy to knock away the particles before they can enter the fastest moving segment in the core. Rather it is better to inject the abrasive further down the chamber, so that the jet will have begun to break down into slugs, and the abrasive can be positioned so that it is impacted by a sequence of the individual slugs and accelerated to the desired velocity. There is an additional benefit to moving the abrasive feed line a little further down the chamber. When the jet stream is rapidly switched on and off, when for example, piercing a series of small holes in a part, then the driving pressure pushing water out of the waterjet orifice switches off and on. When it switches off there is a short period where the differential pressure will draw fluid from the chamber back through the waterjet nozzle. If there are small particles of abrasive in the vicinity (and with some designs there are) then these can be drawn back through the upper orifice, and then pushed back down by the succeeding water flow in the next pulse. This can rapidly erode softer jeweled orifices, so that they round or chip, not always evenly, and degrade the resulting waterjet as it flows into the chamber. This disruption can move the jet from being in the center of the chamber, and cause poor abrasive pick-up or accelerate wear of the chamber walls, and in the focusing tube. All of these degrade performance. (The solution, if you can achieve it, is to use a diamond upper orifice, since this is largely non-responsive to the passage of the abrasive back and forth, and retains its shape and the jet performance it was designed to produce much longer – providing a cost benefit to the change).

Wear on a ruby waterjet orifice inserted at the top of a mixing chamber after 15 minutes of use. (The dark particles are small particles of garnet)

Wear on a ruby waterjet orifice inserted at the top of a mixing chamber after 15 minutes of use. (The dark particles are small particles of garnet)

Chipping on the edges of sapphire and ruby orifices (after Powell 2007 WJTA Conference)

Chipping on the edges of sapphire and ruby orifices (after Powell 2007 WJTA Conference)

Lack of wear on a diamond insert nozzle after being in use for several hundred hours.

Lack of wear on a diamond insert nozzle after being in use for several hundred hours.

With the abrasive inlet channel and jet passage designed to get the abrasive into the jet where the water jet is broken up, yet still moving at high speed, there needs to be a sufficient distance for an optimal energy transfer to occur. Beyond that point, with the particle and the abrasive (which will have partially been broken in the contact between the jet and the particle, between particles striking one another, and between contact between the particle and the walls of the AWJ nozzle) the cutting jet has to be refocused into the narrow cutting stream that is required to give the finished cut surface desired. The refocusing of the mixed jet (air, water and abrasive) is achieved with a focusing tube, which is made up of a conic section which brings the jet back together, and then a straight section which allows further energy transfer between the three component parts of the jet, before the jet issues from the orifice aimed at the target. The passage of the particle down this tube is not always straight. Wear typically begins at the tip of the conic section as it feeds into the tube. The wear within the tube will often take up a pattern, as any irregularity in the flow causes it to bounce from one wall of the tube to the other creating a wear pattern along the walls that has a wave-like structure.

Wear at different points along the waterjet focusing tube

Wear at different points along the waterjet focusing tube

When this wear reaches the mouth of the focusing tube, then the downstream orifice is eroded out of a circular shape, and the jet that comes out no longer will cut cleanly, or to as great a depth. At that point the nozzle is worn out and should be replaced. The point at which that replacement occurs varies depending on the quality of the cut that is required. Obviously when the cut being made is at a precision of a thousandth of an inch over a cut depth of half-an-inch (as with some aircraft parts) the replacement point is reached a little earlier than if the cuts being made are a rough cut merely, for example, to separate two parts one from another, and provide a rough shape to the piece. I’ll continue this topic in the next segment of this section.

 

Waterjet Technology – Abrasives and cutting depth

This Waterjet Weekly is written by Dr. David Summers, Curator Professor from The University of Missouri Science and Technology.

This Waterjet Weekly is written by Dr. David Summers, Curator Professor from The University of Missouri Science and Technology.

Waterjet Technology – Abrasives and cutting depth

In the past few KMT Waterjet Blog posts I have been discussing the use of abrasive in waterjet cutting, and in this and the next two posts I would like to talk a little about the abrasive feed rate (AFR), abrasive size and the selections for the best cutting performance. As with my other posts I can only write in general terms about these because the combination of waterjet system, nozzle design and abrasive selection will change the best values to use, and the results on different systems will differ in some way or other from the results I will mention. However in all cases the overall principles remain the same, and can be applied as general rules.

In the last post I noted that cutting performance fell as the average size of the abrasive fed into the system dropped below 100 microns. As part of that study we looked at the amount of abrasive that survived going through the mixing chamber in that size range. A simplified average of the results obtained are shown in the following table:

Percentages of the initial feed that survive at larger than 100 microns, for differing feed conditions.

Percentages of the initial feed that survive at larger than 100 microns, for differing feed conditions.

In an earlier post I had mentioned the “Green Tube” test that was used at the University of Missouri S&T as a way of measuring the particle size and speed, after the particles had passed through the nozzle, but without hitting a target. Because the distance that the particles travel is a function of the energy they obtained during mixing, some idea of the overall particle energy can also be obtained.

KMT Waterjet Abrasive Transfer Feedline V

KMT Waterjet Abrasive Transfer Feedline V

However, when the particle sizes were analyzed at different distances from the nozzle we noted that there was a large percentage of small particles in the short distances from the nozzle, but that as the particles were collected at greater distances from the nozzle, so the average particle size grew larger.

After thinking about this for a short while, the reason became obvious, and – at the same time – made it a little more difficult to draw simple conclusions from the test.

The reason for the greater collection of smaller particles nearer the nozzle is that they are decelerated more rapidly than the larger particles, once they start traveling through the air. If we go back to the basic equation that we learned in school:

Force = mass x acceleration

For a given particle, the force to accelerate the particle in the mixing chamber will, simplistically, be the pressure exerted on the particle by the water, multiplied by the cross-sectional area of the particle. If the particle is a sphere, with a diameter d, then the area be π x(d/2)^2. But the mass of the particle is a function of the volume, which is related to the cube of the diameter. Thus the acceleration, for a given particle size and at constant fluid pressure, will vary inversely with the diameter of the particle. In other words the smaller particles will accelerate faster in the mixing chamber and focusing nozzle.

KMT Waterjet abrasive line feeding into the KMT cutting head

KMT Waterjet abrasive line feeding into the KMT cutting head

Once the particle leaves the nozzle, however, the acceleration from the water is replaced by a deceleration as the particle is now moving through air that is relatively stationary. Now the situation is reversed and it is the smaller particle that decelerates faster, and thus will have a shorter effective range than particles that survived the mixing process in a larger size. This was therefore the explanation for the results that we saw in our tests.

Unfortunately life becomes a little more complicated than this when the nozzle is held close to the target. This is because, while the air between the nozzle and the target may be relatively stationary, at greater distances, the small gap means that the surrounding air is also drawn into the slot and flows with the stream along the cut. There is thus less resistance to the particles, which retain their energy to a greater distance – improving cutting depth. However that also changes if the jet is cutting through layers where there may be water or air in the gaps between the layers.

This work was carried out initially by Dr. George Savanick during work carried out at the then US Bureau of Mines, on cutting rock. It applies in other cases, however, since there are often times when cuts are needed between two work pieces with a gap between them. (The example in mind is cutting through the different tubes that bring oil out of a well. This casing can be made up of several different diameters of pipe, ranging perhaps from a 20-inch diameter outer pipe to a 3.5-inch diameter inner one, with other tubes between). What Dr. Savanick showed was that if the gap between the layers was filled with some relatively soft material that provided little resistance to cutting, but held its shape and provided confining walls on either side of the jet, that the range of the jet could be extended beyond that where the jet was cutting water or air between the layers. These factors then play a part in determining how far an abrasive jet will cut through material.

Often it is not just the ability of the jet to cut through the material, but also the straightness of the cut and the quality of the edge that are important. If, for example, one can be sure that there are no burrs on the edges of a cut between two overlapping layers of material, then the parts may not have to be separated, cleaned and re-assembled before being fastened together. This elimination of several manufacturing steps can significantly lower the cost of assembling, for the sake of discussion, aircraft components. In turn this may then justify the use of the AWJ system as the better manufacturing tool, even when it does not seem that the initial cutting process is much cheaper than the alternative.

I mention these considerations, because as I go through the different applications of these tools I can only be somewhat general in discussion of overall effects. The way in which the abrasive mixes with the water, the amount of particle breakup and the different speeds of the abrasive leaving the nozzle vary with the nozzle design and operating conditions. They are also tailored to an extent by the particular job that has to be completed. Thus a recurring piece of advice in this series will be to find a test piece of material and test out a range of options before committing to the final cut. The series will try and suggest where that range might be, but in the final decision I do not have the equipment or other conditions that exist in your shop, and thus only you can be the final judge.

 

Waterjet Technology – Abrasive water jet cutting.

Dr. Summers Waterjet Blog

KMT Waterjet Systems Weekly Waterjet Series

Waterjet Technology – More thoughts on Abrasive cutting.

In the last post I mentioned that the abrasive particles, which are fed into a high-pressure waterjet stream to form the Abrasive WaterJet (AWJ) cutting tool, can be significantly crushed when mixing with the high-pressure waterjet, and before they leave the mixing chamber. Because of this – depending on the application – the choice of abrasive can play a significant role in how well the AWJ performs. I have mentioned a number of times that the Waterjet Lab is located at Missouri University of Science and Technology. That meant (apropos “show me”) that it was an appropriate place to run comparative tests between different abrasives to find which is the best.

It turns out that there is no one single answer to that question, since the abrasive that was the most economical and effective to use in one case does not necessarily give the best results in another. Which brings me to the first point in today’s post. It is relatively easy to get small samples of the different abrasives that might be used in a given job. Setting up a small series of test runs, in which the different abrasives being considered, are fed to the nozzle and use to cut standard cuts into test samples, is a relatively easy way to find out which is the best abrasive for that particular material and cutting path. However it is best not to use only a single test run, we would generally run a series with three different jet pressures and three different abrasive feed rates.

Table showing the change in optimal Abrasive Feed Rate (AFR) on cut depth at different pressures.

Table showing the change in optimal Abrasive Feed Rate (AFR) on cut depth at different pressures.

By bracketing the range that is likely to have the best concentration of abrasive for each pressure (which is not at the same abrasive feed rate, or AFR) the best result can be found for each different pressure value, and the most economical and effective choice for the task in hand can be quickly found. It is important to include economics in the evaluation, since there have been a number of cases we looked at where the most effective choice for abrasive in terms of giving the fastest clean cut was not that much more effective than the second place abrasive, and that alternative was sufficiently cheaper that it made more sense to use it.

The pricing of abrasive, however, is not something that it is easy to generalize over, since there are a number of different factors that come into play, depending where in the country you are located. As a rough guidance, however, we have found that garnet is a more universal cutting abrasive than most others, with less extraneous “issues”, and while it can be less effective than other selections in some conditions, in general it will cut more materials effectively and economically than its challengers. Further mined garnet, in general, performs better than alluvial garnet since it does not have the degree of damage within the particles that leads them to fragment more easily in the mixing chamber.

There are, however, more factors that just the abrasive type that have to be considered. They include the particle size, and range, and then, as noted in the table, there is the selection of the AFR to match the cutting conditions on the table.

One of the more neglected factors relates to the amount of air that is used to carry the abrasive from the hopper into the mixing chamber. The person who did more to shine a light into this corner of the technology was Tabitz, in France. (Tabitz, Schmidt, Parsy, Abriak, and Thery “Effect of Air on accceleration process in AWJ entrainment system, 12th ISJCT, Rouen, 1994 p 47 – 58.)

Because abrasive can cut into the parts of the flow meter, the equipment that they used included a trap between the hopper and the mixing chamber, where the particles could be collected, while the air passed forward to be measured and enter the mixing chamber.

Apparatus-used-by-Tabitz-in-measuring-the-air-flow-to-the-cutting-head-and-mixing-chamber

Apparatus-used-by-Tabitz-in-measuring-the-air-flow-to-the-cutting-head-and-mixing-chamber

The results from the measurement showed that as the jet pressure increased, so for that particular nozzle design, did the amount of air that was being drawn into the chamber – although you may note that it begins to reach a constant volume as the pressure approaches 280 MPa (40,000 psi).

Effect of increased jet pressure on the amount of air drawn into the nozzle, as a percentage of the total volume of the resulting jet.

Effect of increased jet pressure on the amount of air drawn into the nozzle, as a percentage of the total volume of the resulting jet.

The problem that this relatively large volume of air presents is that it has to be accelerated at the same time as the energy in the jet is being transferred to the abrasive particles. The larger the amount of air in the mix, then the greater the amount of water energy that has to be diverted into accelerating the air. This leaves less energy available to accelerate the abrasive itself.

Tabitz modeled the result with a simulation in a computer program, which illustrates, for different abrasive feed rates, how the average abrasive particle velocity falls as the amount of air in the mix increases:

Simulated effect of an increase in air flow on the reduction in average abrasive particle velocity

Simulated effect of an increase in air flow on the reduction in average abrasive particle velocity

Placing small instruments in front of abrasive-laden waterjets can lead to a relatively short life for those instruments, and measurements of actual particle velocities, though they have been made by a number of researchers, have not been as comprehensive as the above chart might indicate.

Nevertheless there is some indication that the above curves are accurate in principle, if not totally real. A jet with very little air might accelerate particles to 1,880 ft/sec, for example. However with 70% air in the mix, then the particle velocity might fall to 1,700 ft/sec, and with 95% of the jet made up of air, then the abrasive particle speed may fall to 1,200 ft/sec. Part of the difficulty in assessment is because of the very short time interval in which the abrasive particles are accelerated while in the mixing chamber. Because the rate of acceleration of the particles is inversely related to their size. Smaller particles are accelerated faster. And this is the counter to the point that was made in the last post about smaller particles cutter less efficiently than larger ones.

Part of the reason for this is that the smaller particles are decelerated faster in air than larger particles. The results of this in terms of cutting power is one of the areas that still requires more research. If, for example, smaller particles are used in an application (for example to achieve a finer detail in the surface cutting) then the effective range of the jet can become smaller than with larger particles. There are some caveats to that statement, and I will go into some of that explanation in the next post.

Labels:abrasive cutting,abrasive waterjet,air content,particle size,particle velocity,Tabitz