Waterjet Cutting Steel

stainless steel waterjet cut piece

The idea of water being used to cut through steel may sound absurd, but once you learn about the science behind it you’ll see why waterjets are the most efficient way to cut through metals like steel, aluminum, and titanium. Waterjets produce results that traditional cutting methods can’t compare to, so let’s dive into what exactly a waterjet is and how it’s able to cut through materials like steel.

What is a waterjet?

A waterjet is a tool used for cutting through a variety of materials by employing an extremely powerful jet stream of water. To understand just how powerful this jet stream is, we’ll compare it to the pressure an average water faucet has the ability to put out water at, which is about 60 psi (pounds per square inch). The jet stream of a waterjet shoots out at up to 100,000 psi, concentrated directly on the material being cut.

Waterjet cutting was first used in the 1850’s in coal mines in Russia and New Zealand. This hydraulic mining technique was later adapted by coal miners in California who were searching for gold. When waterjet cutting was first used, technology only allowed the water to reach a pressure of 800 psi. Over time, improvements were made to improve the efficiency of the waterjet, dramatically increasing the level of pressure the water could reach and allowing the waterjet to cut through a much wider variety of materials.

There are two types of waterjet cutting, each one effective for cutting through different kinds of materials. Pure cutting works best on softer materials like wood, rubber, and plastic. When you need to cut through materials like stone, glass, and metal, abrasive cutting is used. Abrasive cutting starts out similarly to pure cutting but mixes abrasive particles with water as it accelerates. The mixture of water and abrasive particles shooting through the waterjet at high velocity allows the waterjet to cut through almost any material.

Waterjet cutting is preferred over traditional cutting methods for many reasons, including:

  • Versatility
  • Cost-effectiveness
  • Lower environmental impact
  • Ability to yield extremely high-quality cuts

How can a waterjet cut through steel?

When you watch the rate at which water exits a kitchen faucet, it may be hard to believe that water is capable of cutting through titanium and steel. The waterjet has come a long way in effectiveness since it was first used in the 1800’s. When the first waterjets were used by coal miners, the initial pressure could only strip away rock to reach the gold underneath.

As technology advanced, improvements were made and today waterjets are capable of putting out impressively high levels of pressure that can make precise cuts in just about any material. The key to using a waterjet to cut through aerospace alloys like steel is to channel the jet stream through a very narrow nozzle to keep the water controlled. This narrow stream creates a precise cut in the material.

Why use a waterjet to cut through steel?

Waterjets provide precise cuts that don’t require the user to go back and touch up any rough edges due to the lack of heat or mechanical stress. Intelligent Cutting Solutions exclusively uses Flow waterjet cutting machines, which are known for their accuracy and minimal kerfs. The jet stream in the Flow waterjets are extremely narrow, resulting in a kerf of around 0.040”. This narrow jet stream allows our customers to maximize their material usage, reduce wasted material, and save money.

Waterjets are superior to the competing cutting methods like plasma, laser, or EDM because unlike other cutting methods, the waterjet will not overheat or get dull over time. All three of these common cutting methods use high heat inputs, resulting in distortion and thermal damage. They also require significant, time-consuming edge cleanup, making waterjets the faster choice.

Some of the main reasons why abrasive waterjets are the best way to cut through alloys like steel are:

  • Lack of thermal distortion
  • Lack of  burrs
  • Faster than traditional cutting methods
  • Ability to cut up to 11” thick material
  • Ability to hold tolerances of 0.003” to 0.005”
  • Easy setup and maintenance
  • Lack of heat-affected zones

Waterjets are ideal for cutting in a variety of industries including manufacturing, auto production, aerospace, and even architecture. At most parts manufacturers and machine shops who offer waterjet cutting, it is not their primary service. This lack of specialization results in longer lead times and a lower quality of service. If you or your company have cutting needs, we highly recommend you choose a company who specializes in this cutting process. Intelligent Cutting Solutions is a company who specializes in only waterjet cutting to guarantee the best and most efficient service possible.

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