What are the benefits of using waterjets for aerospace alloys?

Aerospace alloys waterjet cutting

Historically, aerospace machinery has relied only on aluminum for its machinery. While this has been very useful in the past, the advancement of technology has allowed for additional alloys to be used that are often more beneficial and safer for its consumers.  With the addition of new alloys, we have seen increased demand for additional equipment different from traditional cutters.  Waterjet cutting is a technology that is useful for both the aerospace industry and the companies making the cuts for a number of reasons, as listed below.

Range of Alloys

Waterjet cutting can be done on virtually any metal, including but not limited to: aluminum, Inconel, titanium, stainless steel, brass, and 4130. Virtually any known material.  This allows for aerospace companies to use resources that are most beneficial to them, based on what they need it for, rather than having to rely on just the cutting machinery available to them. Different alloys can be used based on strength, durability, corrosion resistance, and conductivity as dictated by the machines and technology, not the availability and flexibility of the alloys.

Cutting Titanium

Titanium is proving to be the metal of the future and for good reason in the aerospace world.  It weighs about half as much as its steel competitors but has nearly double the tensile strength, up to psi 200,000 psi as far as strength is concerned.  It is also very flexible and has fantastic elasticity compared to its steel counterparts, therefore, reducing cracking and rupture when making cuts.

Because of these benefits, however, it is a very hard metal to machine and cut. Nearly impossible, in fact.

Waterjet cutting brings the best of both worlds together by allowing for precision cutting of titanium without the traditional non-cost-effective means to do it.  Historically, up to 90% of titanium has had to be milled away before the part is complete.  Waterjet cutting technology that does not utilize heat reduces milling to nearly zero. 

Range of thicknesses

Traditional cutting processes require new machinery and tooling for different thicknesses. Using waterjet cutting allows for thicknesses of up to eleven inches without the use of additional machinery, thus cutting down manufacturing costs and reducing the amount of space needed to cut all the different metals and composites needed for today’s aerospace technology.

Flexibility from traditional parts

Historically, waterjet cutting has only been used for making the composite parts, turbine engine blades, and a few parts of the jet engine itself.  With the advancement of technology and the availability of new alloys, water jet cutting is now available for many additional aerospace pieces opening up a wide range of opportunities for cutting companies and increasing safety and efficiency for aerospace companies. In addition, adding in the 3-D and multiple axis technology of waterjet cutting allows for a far more timely and cost-effective 3-D part than traditional manufacturing methods used previously.

Next-Generation Precision

When it comes to aerospace, the margin for error is razor-thin. Standard waterjet cutters use nearly 60,000 PSI when cutting, which significantly reduces the already exceptionally small margin of error. Intelligent Cutting Solutions (ICS) uses 90,000 PSI waterjet machines. This brings accuracy to +/- .003” providing a near-net shape. Additionally, since the speed and flow of water can be altered mid-cut, waterjet cutting allows for different edging availability not traditionally available with hard to machine metals used in aerospace such as titanium.  Thirdly, the kerf on waterjet cutting is typically about .040” which is a significant improvement over the traditional cutting techniques; adding an additional advantage for waterjet cutting.  Because there is no burring and need for hand finishes with waterjet cutting, this provides a product that is uniform with unheard-of precision.

Cost-Effectiveness

Because of the minimized cost of fixturing and tooling of waterjet cutting versus traditional tooling machinery, water cutters are able to make products quicker and with far less scrap than traditional tooling methods providing a much more cost-effective product than traditional methods providing more resources for research and development and safety measures. In addition, no edge cleanup is necessary and parts can be used immediately, thereby reducing labor costs of manufacture significantly.

Scalability

The advancement of mathematical processes and projection of waterjet technology since it’s invention in 1984 has been impressive.  Because of this, it’s scalability has increased significantly, allowing for a much more cost-effective option versus traditional cutting technologies. Often machines can make anywhere from 1 to 10,000 with a single prototype. Going from different alloys to different cut speeds is the key to scalability and nothing does it quicker and more effectively than waterjet technologies when compared to traditional methods of cutting.

Cold Water Cutting

Not having to worry about adding heat allows for the already nearly impossible margin of error to close even more when it comes to aerospace alloys.  Research shows that adding heat when cutting metals for aerospace, specifically titanium, causes microscopic cracks and burrs as well as changing the metal to the point where it may not perform as well as the material would have prior to the heat being added.  The no heat technology of waterjets allows for no part distortion, thermal damage, or stress damage to the finished product, thereby reducing the need to remove the heat damaged part of the product as requested by aerospace engineers in today’s marketplace.

Environmentally Friendly

Using only natural resources of water and garnet/sand allows water jet cutters to provide services to advancing technologies without sacrificing the earth’s resources.  Because no chemicals or heat are used, there is no damage to the air and no exposure of potentially harmful toxins to the operators of the waterjet machines as well as the consumers and engineers of the end product.  Waterjet technology provides an environmentally friendly process in a space that typically does not provide an option that we can anticipate being able to use for the foreseeable future.  Waterjet cutting, specifically to alloys, is head and shoulders above any of the traditional methods of tooling and cutting from an environmental standpoint. 

In summary, as technology and aerospace engineering continue to advance at breakneck speed, the need for waterjet cutting continues to expand and as well.

Without compromising safety, as demonstrated above, waterjet cutting and manufacturing allows for precision and cost-effective cuts. This ultimately leads to a mutually beneficial relationship for both manufacturers as well as aerospace technology companies and engineers that then flows down to benefit the consumers of aerospace products and services. Additionally, in comparison to other methods of cutting, waterjet is relatively new, meaning we may have just scratched the surface of what it’s capabilities really are.  With adding in the ability to use additional alloys specifically in the aerospace realm, as well as our continued need for additional aerospace products and technologies due to the advancement of mankind, the future is very bright, and waterjet cutting leads the way above and beyond the traditional methods of cutting!

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