By Dr. David A. Summers, Curators’ Professor at Missouri University of Science & Technology
When I first began experimenting with a waterjet system back in 1965, I used a pump that could barely produce 10,000 psi. This limited the range of materials that we could cut (this was before the days when abrasive particles were added to the jet stream) and so it was with some anticipation that we received a new pump, after my move to Missouri in 1968. The new, 60-hp pump came with a high-pressure end that delivered 3.3 gpm at 30,000 psi. which meant that a 0.027 inch diameter orifice in the nozzle was needed to achieve full operating pressure.
However I could also obtain (and this is now a feature of a number of pumps from different suppliers) a second high-pressure end for the pump. By unbolting the first, and attaching the second, I could alter the plunger and cylinder diameters so that, for the same drive and motor rpm, the pump would now deliver some 10,000 psi at a flow rate of 10 gpm. This flow, at the lower pressure, could be used to feed four nozzles, each with a 0.029 inch diameter.
The pressure range that this provided covers much of the range that was then available for high-pressure pumping units using the conventional multi-piston connection through a crankshaft to a single drive motor. Above that pressure, it was necessary to use an intensifier system, which I will cover in later posts.
However there were a couple of snags in using this system to explore the cutting capabilities of waterjet streams in a variety of targets. The first of these was when the larger flow system was attached to the unit. In order to compare “apples with apples” at different pressures, some of the tests were carried out with the same nozzle orifice. But the pump drive motor was a fixed speed unit which produced the same 10 gpm volume flow out of the delivery manifold regardless of delivery pressure (within the design limits). Because the single small nozzle would only handle a quarter of this flow at that pressure, the rest of the water leaving the manifold needed an alternate path.
This was provided through a bypass circuit (Figure 2) so that, as the water left the high-pressure manifold, it passed through a “T” connection with the perpendicular channel to the main flow carrying the water back to the original water tank. A flow control valve on this secondary circuit would control the orifice size the water had to pass through to get back to the water tank, thereby adjusting the flow down the main line to the nozzle, and concurrently controlling the pressure at which the water was driven.
Thus, when a small nozzle was attached to the cutting lance, most of the flow would pass through the bypass channel. While this “works” when the pump is being used as a research tool, it is a very inefficient way of operating the pump. Bear in mind that the pump is being run at full pressure and flow delivery, but only 25% of the flow is being sent to the cutting system. This means that you are wasting 75% of the power of the system. There are a couple of other disadvantages that I will discuss later in more detail, but the first is that the passage through the valve will heat the water a little. Keep recirculating the water over time and the overall temperature will rise to levels that can be of concern (it melted a couple of fittings on one occasion). The other is that if you are using a chemical treatment in the water, then the recirculation can quite rapidly affect the results, usually negatively.
It would be better if the power of the pump were fully used in delivering the water flow rate required for the cutting conditions under which the pump was being used. With a fixed size of pistons and cylinders, this can be achieved – to an extent – by changing the rotation speed of the drive shaft. This can, in turn, be controlled through use of a suitable gearbox between the drive motor and the main shaft of the pump. As the speed of the motor increases, so the flow rate also rises. For a fixed nozzle size this means that the pressure will also rise. And the circuit must therefore contain a safety valve (or two) that will open at a designated pressure to stop the forces on the pump components from rising too high.
The most efficient way of removing different target materials varies with the nature of that material. But it should not be a surprise that neither a flow rate of 10 gpm at 10,000 psi, nor a flow rate of 3.3 gpm at 30,000 psi gave the most efficient cutting for most of the rock that we cut in those early experiments.
To illustrate this with a simple example: consider the case where the pump was used configured to produce 3.3 gpm at pressures up to 30,000 psi. At a nozzle diameter of 0.025 inches the pump registered a pressure of 30,000 psi for full flow through the nozzle. At a nozzle diameter of 0.03 inches the pump registered a pressure of 20,000 psi at full flow, and at a nozzle diameter of 0.04 inches the pressure of the pump was 8,000 psi. (The numbers don’t quite match the table because of water compression above 15,000 psi). Each of these jets was then used to cut a slot across a block of rock, cutting at the same traverse speed (the relative speed of the nozzle over the surface) and at the same distance between the nozzle and the rock. The depth of the cut was then averaged over the cut length.
If the success of the jet cut is measured by the depth of the cut achieved, then the plot shows that the optimal cutting condition would likely be achieved with a nozzle diameter of around 0.032 inches, with a jet pressure of around 15,000 psi.
This cut is not made at the highest jet pressure achievable, nor is it at the largest diameter of the flow tested. Rather it is at some point in between, and it is this understanding and the ability to manipulate the pressures and flow rates of the waterjets produced from the pump that makes it more practical to optimize pump performance through the proper selection of gearing than it was when I got that early pump.
This does not hold true just for using a plain waterjet to cut into rock, but it has ramifications in other ways of using both plain and abrasive-laden waterjets, and so we will return to the topic as this series continues.