Waterjet Technology-An Introduction to Waterjet Milling

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.

In contrast with the earlier use of high-pressure waterjets in material removal in civil engineering and mining, when industrial waterjet cutting first began it was used to make thin cuts through different materials (in the early days often paper and wood products). Through cutting, particularly in relatively thin stock, has a wide range of industrial uses, particularly when the pieces are cut “cold” and with edge qualities that are, even with the first cut acceptable as the final surface cut needed for the part.

Over time the advantages of this new cutting tool became more apparent, and the range of materials that the AWJ jet could viably cut was extended into metals and ceramics. Yet conventional machine tools do more than just cut the edges of parts, and so questions arose as to the best way to achieve the milling of internal pockets within different materials. Within relatively soft rock, and with pressurized water alone, it is possible to generate interesting shapes.

When we first started experimenting with cutting rock at Missouri University of Science and Technology (MO S&T) the support equipment that we had was very basic, and the budget similarly restricted. In order to achieve precise positioning and control of the speeds during the cutting process, we therefore mounted the nozzle and support lance on the traverse of a conventional lathe. The samples were mounted into the chuck, so that we could achieve controlled cutting speeds. To get a number of sample cuts in a single test we placed a sheet of metal, with slots cut into it, between the nozzle and the rock.

Figure 1. Rock rotates in a lathe while the nozzle traverses across the face.

Figure 1. Rock rotates in a lathe while the nozzle traverses across the face.

The notches cut into the metal plate were cut wide enough to allow the jet to make a single pass over the rock surface as the rock rotated and the nozzle swept past the slot, and they were widely enough spaced that the cut made through one slot did not interfere with the adjacent cut made through another.

Figure-2.-Slots-cut-through-the-mask-into-the-rock-target

Figure-2.-Slots-cut-through-the-mask-into-the-rock-target

After a while we became a little more adventurous and realized that, by making the mask an interesting shape that we could leave part of the rock uncut, but mill out all the rest of the material exposed to the jet, by adjusting the feed rate of the nozzle relative to the rotational speed of the rock.

We thought at first that the feed of the nozzle (easy to set with the lathe) should be one jet diameter for each rotation of the rock, but the jet spreads as it moves away from the nozzle and this turned out to be a little too small a distance, and we ended up setting the feed at about 1.5 times the jet width. This “incremental distance” is going to vary between systems, as a function of nozzle design and size, jet pressure and the distance between the nozzle and the target. In this early work in the technology (this was back around 1972 IIRC) the nozzle stood back from the rock at about one inch standoff. In more modern applications that distance can be quite a bit less, and this changes the incremental distance. Also bear in mind that the speeds at which plain high-pressure waterjet cuts are most efficient are much higher, across the target surface, than the optimal speeds for AWJ work.

So, since there was a need to remind folk that waterjetting could be dangerous if proper care was not taken during its use, we used this idea and made a sculpture.

Figure-3.-Skull-figure-carved-out-of-sandstone

Figure-3.-Skull-figure-carved-out-of-sandstone

For simple lettering and shapes such as that shown above, the practice was to cut the desired shape into a metal plate, using perhaps a cutting torch, and then attach this over the rock. The two locations for the retaining wire can be seen on the sides of the piece. This allowed the plate to rotate with the rock piece as the lathe turned, and did away with the stationary plate between the nozzle and the sample.

By adjusting the feed speed and the rotation speed of the piece a relatively smooth surface could be left in the excavated pocket. (See the depths of the eye sockets). The process is known as “Masked” milling, since the plate masks the sections of the rock that the jet should not be allowed to mill into.

This works well when the work piece allows the use of plain high-pressure water, since it is relatively simple to make the mask out of a material (in this case steel) that the jet would not erode significantly. Thus the same mask could be used repeatedly to make copies of the original (though I think, in this case we only made around three or four).

But what happens when the jet is an abrasive waterjet, and we want to make pockets in the same way as I have just described. Because the AWJ will cut through a thin mask it was not an optimal choice for the process.

One can, with precise control of the nozzle position, have the jet move back and forwards over the desired pocket geometry. With the more accurate controls available today it is possible to slow the nozzle as it reaches the end of the pocket, increment it over the desired distance, and then have it cut an adjacent path back along the material to the start side of the pocket. Here the process would be repeated, moving backwards and forwards until the desired pocket geometry had been covered.

The problem with this approach is that the depth of cut into the target is controlled, in part, by the length of time that the jet plays on any one point, or inversely as the speed with which the nozzle is moving over the surface. So moving the nozzle more slowly as it approached the edge of the pocket (which you have to do because the robotic arm driving the move can’t instantaneously stop, increment over, and reverse direction because of the inertia in the system) is problematic. This is true only however if the pocket has to have a smooth regular floor of a fixed depth but most, unfortunately, do. And slowing the nozzle at the end of the cuts means that the depth of the pocket would be deeper along the pocket profile, relative to the body of the cut.

And so, for lack initially of an alternative approach, for some time the industry used masks that would protect the sides of the pocket, and provide a space over which the nozzle could decelerate, increment over, and turn back. The mask would be eroded away, but in desirable parts (often expensive to make in the desired material) the ability of the abrasive waterjet to make the pocket in the first place allowed the expense of the mask to be written into the cost of making each part.

There is, however, at least one other way of doing this, and I will discuss that, next time.

Waterjet Technology – The Heat of a Waterjet Cut

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.

In the last three posts I have been discussing the quantity of heat that is created when machine tools are used in the cutting of rock, metals and other materials. The amount that the temperature of both the cutting tool and work piece material will increase, and the effect that this has on the cutting tool and the finished part can, as I have shown, be reduced if a quite small stream of high-pressure water is directed into the small zone where the cutting is taking place. But what happens if the cutting process doesn’t use the large scale typical mechanical cutting tools, but instead uses the very small particles embedded within the jet stream itself as part of an abrasive waterjet cutting system? For many years the evidence, after the cut was over, indicated that there was very little heat build-up in the part, and the process appeared to be a “cold cut,” but there was no immediate evidence, because of the rapidity with which the cut was made. However, with advances in technology that limitation was removed, and research scientists at the University of Hannover have now been able to make temperature measurements during cutting. (A Thermographical Map of Tool and Workpiece During the Cutting Process by Plain Waterjet and Abrasive Waterjet up to 900 MPa, H. Louis, A. Schenk, F. Pude and M. Mohamed, 17th International Conference on Waterjet Cutting Technology). The group used an infra-red camera connected into a computer to capture images as an abrasive waterjet cut into a target work sample. The instrument had been calibrated to show the color temperatures that the image revealed.

Figure 1. Temperatures read through an infrared camera as an abrasive jet cuts into a target plate.

Figure 1. Temperatures read through an infrared camera as an abrasive jet cuts into a target plate.

The arrangement by which the images were obtained was relatively simple:

Figure 2. Experimental arrangement allowing capture of the temperature build-up in the cutting head, the abrasive jet and the work piece during an AWJ cut

Figure 2. Experimental arrangement allowing capture of the temperature build-up in the cutting head, the abrasive jet and the work piece during an AWJ cut

During the course of the experiment the size of the cutting jet and the pressure were changed to find how these controlled the temperatures that were generated in the different parts of the operation. The work first examined the results when only a plain waterjet, without abrasive particles, was used in cutting.

Figure 3. Temperature build-up when plain waterjets (at 125,000 psi) are being used to cut a piece.

Figure 3. Temperature build-up when plain waterjets (at 125,000 psi) are being used to cut a piece.

Note that there is not a large amount of heat generated in the part, in this case a temperature rise to 126 Deg F was measured, though the temperature rise in the nozzle holder was similar in range. When the effects of jet flow and pressure were plotted, the role that an increase in pressure played in raising the part temperature around the cutting zone is clear. Note, in Figure 3, the region over which the temperature has been raised in the work piece.

Figure 4. Temperature rise in the nozzle holder as a function of jet pressure

Figure 4. Temperature rise in the nozzle holder as a function of jet pressure

Note that at pressures of up to 100,000 psi (700 MPa) the temperature rise is only up to 86 deg F, much less than that in conventional mechanical cutting. When abrasive is added to the jet stream, then the temperatures generated, as Figure 1 indicated, are higher in the nozzle holder, because of the impact of the particles with the focusing tube as part of the particle acceleration. The piece was moved under the jet at 1.2 inches/minute, with an abrasive feed of 0.06 lb/minute, with jet pressures varied from 42,000 psi to 115,000 psi. (300 to 800 MPa). The target was a metal alloy. Not surprisingly as the pressure in the jet increased, so did the temperature in the focusing tube.

Figure 5. Temperature increase in the focusing tube, as a function of jet pressure

Figure 5. Temperature increase in the focusing tube, as a function of jet pressure

Temperatures were measured at the top, middle and bottom of the cut which the AWJ made through the target material, and these are shown in the following plot:

Figure 6. Temperature build-up in the work piece during the cutting operation

Figure 6. Temperature build-up in the work piece during the cutting operation

The graph shows that the temperature build-up is greatest in the middle of the cut, although this difference is small, and begins to disappear as the jet pressure increases. At 100,000 psi the temperature can rise to 150 deg F. In most cutting work that temperature rise would not be enough to cause any damage to the part being cut. Where very temperature sensitive materials have been cut with the jet at lower pressures and higher speeds at MS&T the zone of influence of the cutting operation was measured in microns. It is in living tissue, which can be more sensitive to temperature, where this can be a problem. The University in Hannover is internationally recognized for the work that it has been carrying out in to the use of high pressure waterjets in medical applications. While this is a subject for another day (or several since the range of applications continues to grow from year to year) the caution comes from work on cutting bone and reported at the 18th International Jet Cutting Conference in Gdansk by Biskup et al “Temperature measurement during abrasive water jet cutting of cortical bone measured by thermocouples”). Bear in mind, however, that one of the problems that the technology is seeking to address in these bone cutting experiments is to achieve a better quality cut than can be achieved with a hand saw, which has often been the tool used by a surgeon when dissecting bone, and the required edge quality is sometimes more difficult to achieve with that tool.

Figure 7. Temperature build-up in bone under varying conditions and for two bone thicknesses, as a function of residence time.

Figure 7. Temperature build-up in bone under varying conditions and for two bone thicknesses, as a function of residence time.

It can be seen that a thicker bone sample does become vulnerable to too high a temperature if there is a significant exposure time before the part is pierced. However, with an appropriate selection of parameters the temperature can be kept down in a range where the tissue does not die, and the considerable advantages to jet use can therefore be used. Keeping the parts being cut cool is important in very delicate and precise work, where thermal distortion of the metal, particularly in thin but deep cuts, can otherwise lead to unacceptable failures to maintain tolerance.