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What Materials Can a Waterjet Cut? What You Need To Know

what can waterjet cut

Summary

When it comes to cutting materials, waterjets reign supreme as they are considered to be one of the most efficient cutting tools available. However, even waterjets can have some trouble making their way around some difficult to cut substances.

Hence, in this article, I’ll be discussing the different materials and types available that waterjet can cut and also those that they cannot cut. If you’re in for a rush and need a quick answer to all this, here’s a small summary table to fill you in.

What Waterjets Can Cut What Waterjets Cannot Cut
Metals and Alloys (Copper, Titanium, Inconel)
Advanced Ceramics
Natural Substances (Wood, Glass, Marble)
Diamond
Composites (Kevlar, Fiberglass, Carbon Fiber)
Tempered Glasses
Artificial Substances (Plastic, Foam, Acrylic)
Semi-Liquid Materials (Cement slurry and Sand)

Quick Navigation

Materials Waterjets Can Cut

Though most waterjets can cut through almost 12 inches of any materials, it is mostly advised to not cut materials that are thicker than 3 inches. Cutting anything thicker than this could not only distort the tolerance but also increase the time for cutting. Hence, in this section, all the materials that can be cut are assumed to be at least 3 inches thick.

Finished metal material cut by water jet 10

Metals

Metals are one of the most famous and most common forms of materials that are usually cut in machining shops. These common materials can be cut very precisely, economically, and quickly with waterjets. Metals usually are difficult to cut with other cutting machines due to various reasons involving thermal distortion, stress, or unsmooth finishing.

The little friction in the stream is also low enough to not cause any stressing or change of properties in the metal.

Waterjet cutters use a cold cutting method meaning it accounts for no thermal distortion nor leaves any burn marks as traditional cutters do. It also means metals like copper are very easily cut with waterjets, unlike lasers which face issues with copper’s reflective surface.

Aluminum is one of the easier metals that can be cut cleanly and easily thanks to their relative softness. The heavier and more expensive metals like Titanium are also economically and efficiently cut with waterjets thanks to their high precision.

The waste reduction is also very minimalistic when expensive metals like Titanium are cut with waterjets. Thus, you will not only be able to salvage some materials but you can always expect a clean and smooth finish as well!

Alloys

Traditional difficult-to-cut metal alloys such as Inconel, Hastelloy, and Stainless steel can be very easily cut with waterjets as well. All sorts of alloys are free from change in molecular structure, heat distortion, secondary removal of slags, and burning when cut with waterjets.

Other traditional cutting methods either take too much time, cause too much strain on the material, or simply damages the cutting machines. Waterjets on the other hand are a far more economical and effective option.

Glass

Natural Substances

One of the major concerns that arise when cutting natural substances with a waterjet cutter is if it’ll ruin the integrity of the substances. Natural substances such as glass and wood are some of the bigger subjects of this concern.

However, there is no need for worries as waterjets can cut through even brittle substances like glass or wood through the usage of low pressure. This advantage allows any objects made out of glass or wood to be cut finely, evenly, freely, and cunningly by leaving no marks of harm.

Traditional forms of cutting may ruin the glass due to excess pressure. While heating cutting methods such as laser or plasma may cause thermal distortion, burn marks, or release fumes in natural materials like wood.

The fast stream of water will not cause any harm to laminated glass or wood. The cold cutting method can also prevent thermal distortion from taking place inside natural substances.

Stones and rocks such as marbles or granites can also be with waterjets. These make waterjets an efficient tool to make objects for architectural uses thanks to their high precision and clean-cut finishing.

Finished composite material cut by waterjet 4

Composites

Traditional sharp cutting tools usually end up having their tips suffering from a ‘gum’ up effect which turns them inefficient in a matter of a few cuts. This mostly happens when they are used to cut composite materials, this also requires additional work to be done on the materials later on.

However, not with a waterjet. As the fast pressured stream has no definite tip and leaves a clean and smooth surface by causing no gumming. You won’t have to worry about your tools wearing out or having to be replaced. You can also expect your materials to be free from melting or releasing any hazardous fumes when cut with waterjets.

Nonetheless, if you don’t want to take any chances, submerge Fiberglass during the cutting process to stop any hazardous fumes from getting loose.

Kevlar, Carbon Fiber, and G10 are some of the composite substances you can cut without worrying about delaminating them, melting them, or fraying them. All these processes will be done economically without you having to spend any extra dime. There are also no drawbacks in terms of the subjective material’s finishing quality.

Artificial Materials

Man-made large-scale-used objects such as plastic, rubber, and foam are not foreign to waterjet cutters either. These substances are more fragile compared to the usual materials discussed above in terms of cutting and also go through several distortions.

Waterjet’s cold cutting methods set these artificial materials free from any forms of physical or thermal distortions. The immense versatility of waterjet cutters is also seen when it comes to cutting these materials. For example, the softness, brittleness of these substances are tackled by using the low-pressure pierce functions that come with various waterjets.

You are also invited to use the water-only nozzle without any abrasives if you want to play it safe when dealing with plastic, linoleum tile, and foam. Depending on the situation and the proficiency needed, you can almost always come up with incredible results if you use waterjet cutters for artificial materials.

Is There Anything that Waterjets Cannot Cut?

The waterjet is no miracle machine. There are some materials that they cannot cut. So, before you go out and invest in such an expensive machine, learning about what waterjets can’t cut is pretty important.

Listed below are all the material that cannot be cut with a waterjet:

Advanced Ceramics

Some special hard forms of ceramics can’t be cut with waterjet easily. It’s frowned upon if someone even attempts to do that as it’s not very economical trying to cut a ceramic as hard.

There can be other uses for these ceramics or perhaps they can be dealt with a cheaper cutting tool that’s more appropriate.

Diamond

Now the million-dollar question comes forward, Waterjet vs Diamond who wins? Well, on one side we have Diamond, the hardest naturally occurring substance in the world, and on the other, there’s water, the most useful substance in the world.

So who takes the throne? Diamond obviously as it can only be scratched by substances that are equally as hard as itself if not harder. Water is not even close to being ‘hard’ even with abrasives. Hence, the battle is won by a diamond as they are completely impervious to the effect of water no matter how small the nozzle is or how large the pressure.

Even the strongest abrasive waterjet cutting machine cannot snatch away this throne.

Tempered Glasses

You can perhaps demolish tempered glasses with a waterjet, but you’ll never have them cut. In easy words, these tempered glasses were made to break under heavy stress. The immense pressure of water will simply break these glasses into bits instead of having them submit to your will of being sliced down.

The breaking process is so rapid that you’ll see tiny millions of shards and pieces flung across the room as soon as the waterjet stream touches the tempered glass. Sorry waterjet lovers but tempered glasses remain loyal to what they were made for.

Semi-Liquid Materials

Though this may count as cheating, it still isn’t. Waterjets reign supreme when it comes to decimating some solid objects. However, the waterjet cannot win the battle against one of its kind (well, almost). Waterjet cannot breakthrough or pierce any semi-liquid materials like sand or cement slurry.

After the powerful stream of the waterjet ends, the high liquid content will simply blend itself back to its original form leaving the waterjet helpless. Sounds a lot like a superhero movie villain eh?

There is just no way to bring any permanent change no matter how strong the pressure is set out to be. The cutting of substances like these are just not viable enough to even consider them on the list but hey, it still counts.

Conclusion

The bottom line? There will be things that waterjets can easily cut through no matter the circumstance but there will always be a few things that will remain untouched. As strong as waterjets maybe, sometimes they are just not well equipped to get the job done. However, whenever they are, they will surely get your work done without skipping a beat.

I hope this article kept you interested till the end and if so, thanks a lot, and glad I could help you learn a bit more about waterjets!

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