Whenever material is cut using a conventional mechanical tool then heat is generated in the process. High-pressure waterjets can dramatically change this process, with considerable benefit. However, to explain some of the reasons requires a somewhat lengthy explanation. Which is why this topic is stretched over a number of posts. In the last post I discussed how the heat generated proved to be a problem in the mechanical cutting of hard rock, where dragging a cutting tool across the surface caused a rapid temperature rise, to the point that the carbide began to melt.
However, when the process was stopped before the bit was entirely eaten away, Mike discovered that the bit was not melting from the front, with all the flow of material dragging back under the bit. Rather the heat (which I profiled last time) was causing the bit to deform, so that it initially pushed the front of the bit slightly forward. This is visible in the bit and sketch of the location on the rock shown in Figure 2.
Deformation of the bit, as it starts to heat (Dr. Hood’s Dissertation) Now why is this? Well the bit is being pushed into the rock so hard, in order to penetrate some 2/10ths of an inch or so that it is crushing the rock under the bit. But the process of breaking that rock occurs in stages. As the bit first starts to penetrate it cracks the rock, with cracks a little apart, but these intersect and break out pieces of rock, that can’t escape (being surrounded by rock and the bit). So the rock is crushed into very fine particles, which are then re-compacted and tightly fill all the space under the bit. I can show this with a picture from some experiments that Richard Gertsch carried out as part of his doctorate, at Missouri S&T.
There are two things that a pair of high pressure jets of water can achieve if they are pointed at the bit:rock interface. But they have to hit at the point where the bit is breaking the rock. (And later work showed that they had to be within 3 mm – 1/8th of an inch – of hitting that point otherwise they won’t work).
The first, and anticipated advantage was that it would cool the bit, so that it would stay sharp. But the jets did more. If that jet (at a pressure of 10,000 psi) were played on the rock, after it had been crushed and re-compacted, then it would only be able to remove a small fraction of the crushed material, which would still resist the bit cutting.
But consider the case where the jet is playing onto the rock as those first cracks are made and the rock is still in larger pieces. The jet has enough energy to push that out of the way of the bit, and remove it all, as it is broken loose, without it being crushed to powder and without re-compaction. The jet thus cleans out the path ahead of the bit, so that it can penetrate deeper into the rock, at a lower force, as I showed in the force diagrams last time.
It is very important to understand, however, that it is the combined simultaneous action of the bit in breaking the rock, and the water in immediately flushing away the chips and keeping the bit cool that makes this work. And for that to happen the two processes have to occur at the same place. Placing the jet 1/3rd of an inch from the cutting face is too far. And this was sadly not understood by a number of those who studies the process around the world. However, in the UK, the Safety in Mines Research Establishment put a high-pressure pump on a tunneling machine. The only underground mine that they could test it in was a limestone mine, and the machine they had available was only 25 tons and could not cut the limestone, so they built an artificial rock face out of sandstone to demonstrate that the idea would work. Problem was that they had so many visitors that they ran out of the demonstration rock. Someone tried it on the mine limestone. Without the jets the head bounced around without cutting the rock. With the jets on it cut into the rock, so well that the mine asked that it be left there until it had drilled a tunnel for them.
The technology went on into commercial development, but a change in bit design from the flat cutters where the jets could reach the cutting zone, to a double conic pointed bit where it could not (easily) meant that the technology fell into abeyance, although investigators in Russia and ourselves developed some answers. And so, from the cutting of the rock, we learned that when high-pressure waterjets were played into the crushing zone under a cutting bit, that they cooled the bit and removed the broken rock as it was produced. Thus a 25-ton machine (cost at the time $125,000) with a jet assist (say another $75,000) could outperform a 125-ton machine (cost $675,000) which did not have the assist. And as an incidental advantage since the rock is not totally crushed under the bit any longer, there is no respirable dust generated. But the way in which it worked would not work in cutting metal, where there shouldn’t therefore be the same advantage – yes? Well actually no! When Dr. Marian Mazurkiewicz added waterjets to the cutting tool in a metal cutting operation in a machine shop, he found many of the same benefits. But we’ll talk about that, next time.