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 – Jet Assisted Mechanical Rock Cutting

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.

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.

New and used bit (Dr. Hood's Dissertation)

New and used bit (Dr. Hood’s Dissertation)

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)

Deformation of the bit, as it starts to heat (Dr. Hood’s Dissertation)

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.

Crushed rock under a cutting tool, the rock is basalt, and the white lines within the grey rock are the pulverized particles after the indentation. (Dr. Gertsch's Dissertation).

Crushed rock under a cutting tool, the rock is basalt, and the white lines within the grey rock are the pulverized particles after the indentation. (Dr. Gertsch’s Dissertation).

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).

Optimized location of the jets on the cutting tool. (Dr Hood's Dissertation)

Optimized location of the jets on the cutting tool. (Dr Hood’s Dissertation)

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.

Rock after indentation, with a jet cutting into the crushed material after it is crushed and re-compacted. (Dr. Gertsch's Dissertation)

Rock after indentation, with a jet cutting into the crushed material after it is crushed and re-compacted. (Dr. Gertsch’s Dissertation)

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.

Rock cut with a tool that has jets playing on the face as the bit penetrates. (Note there is no crushed material and the cracks are flushed open and easy to grow much deeper into the rock). (Dr. Gertsch's Dissertation)

Rock cut with a tool that has jets playing on the face as the bit penetrates. (Note there is no crushed material and the cracks are flushed open and easy to grow much deeper into the rock). (Dr. Gertsch’s Dissertation)

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.

Waterjet assisted road-header at the Middleton Mine in the UK.

Waterjet assisted road-header at the Middleton Mine in the UK.

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.

Waterjet Technology – Starting to make water jet cut hole

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.

This small sequence of posts describes the initial milliseconds during which a high-pressure waterjet penetrates into a target material. Because this work was largely developed using rock targets, most of the illustrations will be with that material, but the concept apples, to a degree, also with abrasive laden jets penetrating into materials such as glass.

For this post I am going to discuss just what happens with the jet being fired down onto the target surface, without either the nozzle or the target moving. Much of this work was carried out in the 1960’s in the UK, though I will begin with some tests that Dr. Bill Cooley carried out using his modification to a Russian hydraulic cannon that he redesigned so that it was capable of firing at 500,000 psi – and yes I have seen it fired at that pressure (I took the photo).

The Cooley Cannon ready to fire at 500,000 psi in an underground mine.

The Cooley Cannon ready to fire at 500,000 psi in an underground mine.

In order to see how effective different processes were in cutting into different materials the international scientific community that was developing waterjet technology at the time needed a method to compare the different approaches. The metric that was used was to define the Specific Energy as the amount of energy that it took to remove a unit volume of the target material. (And in time that will be subject of some more specific posts).

Bill’s cannon used stored gas that was suddenly released as a way of driving the water at the desired pressure, and measured the pressure indirectly by timing the break of two pencil leads in front of the nozzle. This gave the jet velocity, and pressure could be back-calculated from that value.

Dr. Cooley took results from his work and from other scientists working with similar devices, to produce the following graph.

Specific energy as a function of the impacting jet length

Figure 2. Specific energy as a function of the impacting jet length, measured in nozzle diameters. (Cooley, W.C., “Correlation of Data on Erosion and Breakage of Rock by High Pressure Water Jets,” Chapter 33, Dynamic Rock Mechanics, ed., G.B. Clark, 12th Symposium on Rock Mechanics, University of Missouri-Rolla, November, 1970, pp. 653 – 665.)

For those running a conventional cutting table the water orifice is around 10 thousandths of an inch in diameter. So what this graph is saying is that once the first thousand diameters of length (1000 x 0.001= 10 inches) has hit the surface, then the process starts to become significantly less efficient. If the jet is moving at 2,000 ft/sec that length arrives in around 0.0005 seconds. Why this rising inefficiency after that time, and how do we get around it?

Earlier in this series I mentioned that one of the tests to find the pressure at which a waterjet penetrates a target is to note the point at which, instead of the water hitting the surface, and flowing along it, it changed direction to flow back towards the nozzle. This is because, as the jet penetrates it makes a hole, and the only way out of that hole is back along the way the jet came. Unfortunately there is more water still coming down into the hole, and so the water leaving the hole (at the same volume flow rate) meets the water coming into the hole. The rapidly moving water going out is moving about as fast as that coming in, and so, as the hole gets deeper, so the pressure at the bottom of the hole gets less. This has been measured by a number of folk, but Dr. Stan Leach was the first, and produced this plot:

Depth at the bottom of a hole,

Figure 3. Depth at the bottom of a hole, as a function of the incoming jet pressure. (Leach, S.J., and Walker, G.L., “The Application of High Speed Liquid Jets to Cutting,” Philosophical Transactions, Royal Society (London), Vol. 260 A, 1966,pp. 295 – 308.)

Because the holes were preformed of metal (to hold the transducer) and were sized to the nozzle diameter, this is not, as it turns out totally accurate, although it illustrates the problem.

It isn’t totally accurate because, as the illustration from the last two posts showed, the erosion occurs initially around the edge of the jet, rather than under it, and thus the hole created is about twice to three times the jet diameter, rather than being of the same size.

Damage pattern around the impact point of 10,000 waterjet pressure.

Figure 4. Damage pattern around the impact point of a 10,000 psi pressure, 0.04 inch diameter jet on aluminum, target close to the nozzle.

Nevertheless as the hole deepens the pressure at the bottom of the hole gets less, and after a while the jet penetration slows to almost a halt.

Figure 5. Penetration as a function of time (My Dissertation)

Figure 5. Penetration as a function of time (My Dissertation)

The sides of the hole, however, continue to erode, but from the bottom upwards so that, after a short while, the narrower entry hole starts to constrict the flow out, and pressure begins to build-up in the hole.

Remember that a waterjet works by growing existing cracks in the material. So that if there is a natural crack in the rock, which may be as small as a grain boundary, or the scratch made by an abrasive particle as it moves back out of a hole in glass, then the water entering that small crevice will pressurize the walls and cause the crack to grow. Often there is more than one, and the result can be, in rock:

Rock breakage around the jet impact point on a 1-ft block of sandstone.

Figure 6. Rock breakage around the jet impact point on a 1-ft block of sandstone (after Moodie and Artingstall Moodie, K., Artingstall, G., “Some Experiments in the Application of High Pressure Water Jets for Mineral Excavation,” paper E3, 1st International Symp on Jet Cutting Technology, Coventry U.K., April, 1972, pp. E3 25 – E3 44.)

In rock that might not be such a bad thing, since in many cases the intent is just to break the rock out of the way, so that a tunnel can be created that folk can walk or drive through. But in the case of glass and other such brittle materials, where the object is just to make a very fine cut, with no side cracks, cracking the sheet is disastrous. This can be illustrated by the results when a jet was fired along the central axis of a 2-inch diameter core of granite. The escape of water into the cracks allowed the cycle to repeat several times, and the hole was, as a result, much deeper than it would have been if the cracking had not occurred.

2-inch diameter granite core that split when a short jet pulse was fired into the core, along the axis.

2-inch diameter granite core that split when a short jet pulse was fired into the core, along the axis.

Figure 7. 2-inch diameter granite core that split when a short jet pulse was fired into the core, along the axis.

And so, next time, I’ll write about some of the ways in which we can get around this problem.

Labels: crack growth, glass, jet penetration, rock cutting, Waterjet impact