Waterjet Technology-Milling and bas reliefs

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 two posts I have been discussing how, either with the use of masks, or with an orbiting nozzle tool, it is possible to mill the material from a confined space within a surface, thereby creating a pocket.

There are a number of advantages to the latter technique, albeit it does require a special tool, rather than using masks that can be made from material already available at a shop.

Using a steel plate to provide a mask, while cutting a square pocket in glass (Courtesy of Dr. Cutler)

Using a steel plate to provide a mask, while cutting a square pocket in glass (Courtesy of Dr. Cutler)

Detail of the corner of the pocket

Detail of the corner of the pocket

With the oscillating tool, which can go deeper into the part to keep the distance from the nozzle to the work surface short, the corners can’t be as sharp as they are with the mask, since the outer radius of the focusing tube provides a limiting bound, once it moves into the cut. However, for shallower pockets where the nozzle can be further away, then the limiting corner radius sensibly becomes the orbiting radius of the nozzle.

A milled pocket in glass made using the Wobbler.

A milled pocket in glass made using the Wobbler.

Note that the floor is relatively even in both cases, though in the masked case the view is taken only after the first pass over the glass. With the orbiting head it is possible to slightly tilt the head (it only requires a couple of degrees – depending on the other operational parameters) to ensure that the walls are being cut to as tight a tolerance to spec as desired (give or take a thou).

Dr. Hashish has noted, from some of the early work that he carried out, that it is possible to mill materials so that very thin skins (around 0.02 inches) can be left at the bottom of the pocket. As I will note in more detail next time, it is also possible to mill using abrasive waterjets in such a way as to leave intervening walls between adjacent pockets that are only that thick. If you have never had to do this in a conventional machine shop, you should know that as the wall of the pocket gets this thin, particularly at significant milling tool depth, the heat from the milling process, and the forces on the metal under the cutter are such that the wall will likely have some permanent deformation after the milling is over. Such is not the case where an abrasive waterjet system, of either variety, is used to cut the pocket.

Depths of cut uniformity can be held to a thousandth of an inch, though this requires some careful selection of both the abrasive size, and feed rate as a function of the other operational parameters of the system. As I mentioned last time, and Dr. Hashish demonstrated, as increasing precision is required in creating the floor of the pocket, so the abrasive being used must become finer and more precisely sieved to keep the wear pattern consistent.

The effect of change in abrasive size on the smoothness of the pocket floor

The effect of change in abrasive size on the smoothness of the pocket floor. Dr. M. Hashish

There is an interesting niche market waiting to be developed in sculpting, I believe, based on putting some of these factors together. It was Professor Borkowski of the Unconventional HydroJetting Technology Center at Koszalin University of Technology* who first demonstrated that, by controlling the jet feed rate over the target, that the depth of cut into the material (and thus the depth to the floor of the pocket) could be controlled.

If now a photograph is scanned, so that the color of individual pixels along the photograph can be identified, then this color can be translated into a required depth. By then setting the speed of the nozzle over that point on the target surface to give the required depth, then the jet will profile, from the color changes along the scanned path, the depth of cut on the milling path over the target. The details of the process are specified in the paper cited above, and the result has been the transfer of a 2-D image from a photograph to a 3-D bas relief cut into metal or other material surface. The depth control was well achievable using the rotational frequency of a stepping motor to drive the motion of the nozzle.

Outline of the process turning pictures into bas-relief (Dr. Borkowski).

Outline of the process turning pictures into bas-relief (Dr. Borkowski).

The initial pictures that were obtained with the very first experiments were somewhat simple, though more than adequate to validate the concept. Where a smoother surface was required secondary passes could be made either in a parallel or orthogonal direction.

Early ball shape cut into metal to demonstrate speed control effect (Dr. Borkowski)

Early ball shape cut into metal to demonstrate speed control effect (Dr. Borkowski)

Figure 6. Early ball shape cut into metal to demonstrate speed control effect (Dr. Borkowski)

The next trial was with a ladies photograph:

Early trial of the technique to validate the effectiveness of the computer control (Dr. Borkowski)

Early trial of the technique to validate the effectiveness of the computer control (Dr. Borkowski)

More recently, as the process has been refined, much more detailed profiles have been demonstrated, as was seen, for example at the 2010 BHRA meeting in Graz.

Lizard bas-relief as shown at the 2010 waterjet meeting.

Lizard bas-relief as shown at the 2010 waterjet meeting.

The concept of changing depth of cut, and thus being able to transfer photographs from the screen or paper onto metals or rock was an interesting academic challenge, that MS&T chose to address in a slightly different way.

Consider that the depth can be achieved by changing the speed of the nozzle on a single pass, so that the depth is controlled, or one can control the depth when only plain waterjets are used, by rapidly switching the jet on or off, as it makes sequential passes over the projected picture area.

The first image on steel led the subject in the first photo to mutter something along the lines of putting them on tombstones to remember those who had passed, so the next tests used photographs of my Grandfather and Dr. Clark, who founded the RMERC.

Images of my Grandfather and Dr. Clark transferred to basalt. (Dr. Zhao)

Images of my Grandfather and Dr. Clark transferred to basalt. (Dr. Zhao)

The technology advanced to the point that it was used to generate the plaque presented to me on my retirement from active academia.

My retirement plaque

My retirement plaque

Which seems to be a good point to close until next time.

*This University was kind enough to give me an honorary diploma.

Waterjet Technology – Milling without a Mask

Dr. Summers Waterjet Blog

KMT Waterjet Systems Waterjet Series

As abrasive waterjets have developed they have been used to both cut through materials, and, in more recent work, have been used to mill pockets within the internal part of the piece.

Waterjet milled pocket in glass

Waterjet milled pocket in glass

In the early parts of pocket milling simple linear cuts were made adjacent to one another across the space where the pocket needed to be created. However, with the need to slow the head down and reverse direction, the edges of the pocket were being cut deeper than the inside floor, and this could cause some problems with part life and utility.

The first step to overcome this problem was to provide a mask, cut to the size of the pocket to be cut, but made out of a harder material, such as steel. By placing the mask over the piece, and setting the machine so that the cuts were made at constant speed over the pocket, a flat floor could be cut. All the slowing and reversing of the head takes place over the mask, so that it is destroyed fairly quickly. But if it survives one milling, then for some parts this provides a process that cannot be achieved in other ways.

Consider, for example, the sheet of glass cut in figure 1. The corners of the pockets are relatively sharp and of consistent radius all the way down the wall, which is relatively straight. A conventional mechanical milling tool transmits high levels of force between the part being milled and tool holder. Therefore, to prevent vibrations, the tool diameter must be no less than a quarter of the tool length. This means that the radius of the pocket wall cannot be less than one-eighth of the pocket depth. That restriction does not exist with an abrasive waterjet milled pocket, where the radius can be much tighter.

This is a critical issue in the milling of parts, where the milling is to get weight out of the component. In many parts that are made for the aircraft industry the part can be designed so that much of the internal volume is not needed for strength, and can be removed to lower the weight. But with conventional tools there are limits to how much can come from a single pocket, not with the AWJ system.

As the above figure shows, and masking and other techniques allow, the radius of the corner can fall below a tenth of an inch even when milling pockets more than eight-inches deep.

There remain, however, a number of problems with the use of the masking technique. It takes time to make and install the mask, and it costs an additional expense that makes the process less competitive. One of the problems that arise with the use of masking comes with rebound of the abrasive from the mask. Dr. Hashish has illustrated this problem with a diagram.

Abrasive rebound from a worn mask (Dr. Hashish)

Abrasive rebound from a worn mask (Dr. Hashish)

If the mask is not shaped properly, or if it has been used before and is worn, then it may have a chamfered edge. When the abrasive waterjet stream strikes the curved surface it can be reflected back onto the work piece, giving an unwanted erosion shadow along the edge of the pocket.

Another problem can arise if the speed of the nozzle, and the distance that the nozzle moves between passes is not controlled to ensure a smooth and even cut over the pocket surface.

As mentioned in an earlier post, (http://bittooth.blogspot.com/2013/06/waterjetting-10c-abrasive-waterjet.html)

the roughness of the cut increases if the abrasive particles are allowed to bounce and make a second cut within the piece. To ensure quality, as a result, the nozzle should be moved, relatively quickly, over the workpiece. Yet the inertia of the cutting head, and the drive assembly in the table motion controller make this difficult to do at relatively high speed. John Shepherd at PIW Corp came up with an answer to this problem, that coincidentally did away with masking.

The Wobbler showing the nozzle motion.

The Wobbler showing the nozzle motion.

The concept behind the device is that, by slightly oribiting the motion of the focusing tube around an axis, the jet will sweep out a circular path on the workpiece. Because it is only the end of the focusing tube that is moving the forces involved are small, and easily provided through a small motor on the device. The relative speed with which the nozzle moves over the surface is now much higher, while the speed of the main arm remains relatively low. The device was studied at MS& T:

(http://books.google.com/books/about/Three_Dimensional_Milling_Using_an_Abras.html?id=-WjHuH7wQaAC)

and the parameters that controlled the depth and quality of cut were found by Dr. Shijin Zhang as part of his doctoral research.

As with the control of single passes of a non-oscillating nozzle, the distance between adjacent passes is critical to the satisfactory performance. If the distance is too great then ridges will be generated in the floor that are almost impossibly to remove using abrasive waterjets alone. Dr. Hashish, in an early paper on milling, for example, showed that if the upper layers of a pocket are aggressively milled with higher pressures and larger grit sizes, that this floor roughness cannot be later removed by using finer grit sizes. This is because the finer grit, while removing some surface asperities will still erode the surface relatively evenly, so that the roughness pattern shown in figure 4, cannot be later removed entirely.

Rough floor to the pocket where the distance between adjacent passes is too great. (Dr. Zhang)

Rough floor to the pocket where the distance between adjacent passes is too great. (Dr. Zhang)

On the other hand it is not always necessary to have a high quality surface for the pocket. For example MS&T have made a number of plaques where metal plates, cut and lettered with the AWJ are then inset into pockets in polished samples of marble or granite. Since these are not strength-bearing, and the plates are glued in place, the pocket floor does not have to be of that high a quality.

Milled pocket in the shape of the United States, Note the edge sharpness and the narrow cutting radii.

Milled pocket in the shape of the United States, Note the edge sharpness and the narrow cutting radii.

On the other hand, where a smooth surface is required then this can be equally well achieved through programming the path of the overall head movement, so that the nozzle sweeps the floor evenly. The glass plate in Figure 1 was also milled with the Wobbler.

Pocket cut into metal without a mask, using the Wobbler. Note the smooth floor.

Pocket cut into metal without a mask, using the Wobbler. Note the smooth floor.

Note the smooth floor. I will come back to this topic next time.