A better question might be what materials CANNOT be cut with a waterjet. From foam to titanium, rubber to copper, and tungsten to kevlar, a waterjet’s ability is unprecedented, and there is a huge opportunity for advancement in technologies in the future. Waterjet cutting has made a rise to fame over recent decades, emerging as a clear leader in versatility and scalability and gives manufacturers more time and space than traditional cutting methods. Additionally, it also provides a product at a much higher standard than even traditional methods such as laser, EDM, or plasma and cuts manufacturing costs for companies. It proves to be the most economical choice for both the manufacturing companies as well as waterjet cutting services alike, ultimately benefitting the end product user immensely.  

What does a waterjet do?

While the use of water to erode materials is not new, using it for manufacturing over traditional methods is unique. Since the early to mid-20th-century, innovators and engineers have been looking for ways to make water work for them, and the improvements in the last few decades have been nothing short remarkable. Waterjet cutting can be done commercially on its own or with or without the use of an abrasive. 

These days, water jets typically use a stream of high-pressure water and an abrasive such as garnet to cut very precisely and quickly into materials. The addition of the abrasive has allowed the machinery to make even more precise cuts and work with very dense and thick metals. In addition, it also allows for work to be done on brittle stones such as granite and quartz. With the advancement of 3D technology in recent years, it can produce items at a much faster and more economically intelligent rate than the traditional drop-in manufacturing. 

Depending on the material in question, the pressurized water runs anywhere from 50,000 to 90,000 PSi, producing a very high precision cut with an accuracy of about .001” and a nearly unheard of kerf of .040” as well as near-net-shape. 

Additionally, its scalability and multi-head axis allow for manufacturing on a commercial level with a single prototype using CNC technology and minimal labor. Because it doesn’t use heat, there is no part distortion, warping, or thermal cleanup, thereby giving the ability to use it for things like aerospace materials and metals of all sorts that require a near-zero margin of error. The possibilities are endless. 

PSI variation on different materials

Depending on the cuts needed to be made, waterjet machines can change PSI to suit with vary little additional fixturing or programming. Softer items such as rubber, gasket, or foam require a lower psi and no addition of abrasives, while various metals can require up to 90,000 PSi and the use of an abrasive. Because no tools need to be reset or added and the PSi can be adjusted so quickly to suit, this makes the manufacturing process quick and cuts labor costs compared to traditional methods. From a scalability standpoint, it makes water cutting a very economical choice when it comes to manufacturing.

Speed variation on different materials

The speed of the water jet can also be adjusted easily, providing yet another benefit of waterjet cutting over other modalities. Machinery for materials such as tungsten and stainless steel can be slowed down, and materials such as nylon or kevlar can be run at full bore with identical thicknesses. Speed can also be adjusted for multi-layer items such as textiles or laminates to provide a higher quality cut. In recent years, the emergence of laminate involving multiple layers and textures of carbon fiber for aerospace parts has caused a spike in demand in the ability to cut it. Water cutting proves to be the only solution for the multi-layer, multi-texture laminates. 

What industries does water cutting serve?

These days, there is no “typical” material that waterjet cutting focuses on, thereby making it a very versatile option. Because waterjet and tooling, in general, have focused historically on the manufacturing industry, this is where we see the most growth these days. And because water cutting machinery is very expensive, this also provides a barrier to entry for hobbyists and enthusiasts. However, as more and more capabilities of the waterjet cutters are being revealed and the cost of producing the machinery to make the cuts goes down, the possibilities of operating on a smaller scale are opening up as well. Because waterjet cutting is currently the only option in manufacturing that does not involve adding heat, using it for metals of all types is often still a top choice among alloy manufacturers and end-users and does not appear to be a space where demand will trickle in the future. As waterjet technologies advance, so will the demand in all industries, not just manufacturing.   

What are some materials you might not know about?

Because of its sustainability and use of naturally occurring resources, waterjet cutting is making gains in mining and the aerospace and textile industry. As noted above, waterjet cutters have the unique ability to cut layers of different textures without sacrificing the quality of cuts making it a leader among industries that haven’t typically used cutting machines before. Most surprisingly is the use of non-abrasive water jets being added for food production, such as cutting meats and vegetables. Additionally, since softer materials can be stacked, this allows for much a faster manufacturing process than traditional methods for things such as gaskets and hoses. 

As companies turn their focus on being more environmentally friendly, the choice of many has turned to the use of waterjets for their cutting and manufacturing needs. Because materials are non-abrasive in some cases or all cases, the amount of excess and dust produced is on a much smaller scale than other processes; it provides an opportunity to make what one needs while still leaving no trace.  

A note about glass and diamonds

While the future of waterjet cutting is bright, the one material that does not benefit from the waterjet process is tempered glass. Note that the issue is not with all glasses but rather just the already pressurized glass. In fact, the waterjet cutting process can cut glasses of all thickness and quality; however, due to tempered glass already being under intense pressure, the addition of a waterjet cut will in fact shatter it. This is exactly the reason why they are used in windshields for automobiles. Not surprisingly, diamonds also prove to be one of the only materials that a waterjet cannot cut. Very specialized lasers continue to be the method of choice for diamond cutting. 

The future of waterjet cutting

Cutting edge technology, scalability, environmental friendliness, complex ability, and all-around flexibility make waterjet cutting the go-to for future manufacturing needs. As technologies advance and manufacturing capabilities go up, the only question becomes what can’t waterjet cutting do, and where can’t it go to advance business? 

With very few to no limits on what materials it cannot cut and nearly unlimited possibilities on what it can, the future is very bright indeed!

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