Waterjet Cutting – Beginning to cut

By Dr. David A. Summers, Curators’ Professor at Missouri University of Science & Technology

KMT Waterjet Systems Weekly Waterjet Blog

KMT Waterjet Systems Weekly Waterjet Blog

In the last few posts I have been discussing what happens under a waterjet as it first hits, and then penetrates into a target material. In many cases it is recommended that the nozzle move slightly relative to the target during this piercing process so that the water escaping from the developing hole does not have to fight its way past the succeeding slug of water entering the hole.

Now it might be thought that this problem would go away if the nozzle starts at the side of the target and then cuts into it. But this depends on a number of different factors, one of the more critical being as to whether the jet is cutting all the way through the material, or is only cutting a slot part of the way through it. As with a number of other topics, I am going to illustrate some of the concerns using granite as the target material, since it makes it easier to demonstrate some of the points I want to make.

If you were to look at one of the many statues that have been carved from granite over the thousands of years since the rock was first shaped into an art form, the rock usually appears as a relatively homogeneous material. That means (to those who don’t work with rock) that the rock has the same properties regardless of which direction you test them in.

Vermont carver granite

Figure 1. The Italian Carver’s Memorial, Dente Park, Barre, VT (From the Barre Granite Association via State Symbols USA)

However, if you were to ask a skilled quarry man, he would tell you differently. Because of the way that granite cools from the molten state in which it is injected up into the ground, it picks up an orientation to the crystals as they are formed. One of these orientations is roughly horizontal and called the Lift or grain of the rock. A second is perpendicular to this and vertical and is known as the Rift. The third plane, orthogonal to the other two, is called the Hard-Way because it is generally more difficult to work. These names relate to the ways in which the grains of the rock and the cracks around them align. They are virtually impossible for a lay person to detect, and a quarry man may need to feel the rock to tell you which way they lie. But they are used in splitting out the major blocks from the granite massif and come into play in breaking the large blocks down into handle-able sized pieces.

Granite bedding orientations

Figure 2. The A) Hard-Way B) Rift, and C) Lift planes of crystal orientation in granite

If, however, you were to shoot a short slug of water at high-pressure at a piece of granite (and we used the granite from Elberton in Georgia for this) then, depending on which direction the pulse came from relative to the three planes, the amount of rock that would break around the impact point would change.

In an earlier post discussing the splitting that occurs when pressure builds up within the cavity under a jet, I mentioned that the pressure would grow cracks that already existed. And it is for this reason that, when the jet impacts perpendicular to the existing crack planes, the volume of material broken out is greater than it is where the jet fires along the cracks. This can be shown using the cavity profiles from oriented samples into which the jets were fired.

Cavity profiles

Figure 3. Profiles from the cavities created around the impact points where the jet impacted granite blocks at different orientations.

One can use this information if, for example, one wanted to cut a thin line in granite, where the cut should be made in the direction of the crystals, i.e. making cuts along the lines shown in the A plane of figure 2.

Linear cuts on A plane

Figure 4. Linear cuts into granite along the lines shown in Figure 2.

In this set of cuts, the jet is cutting along the favored orientation of the crystals, and the rock only spalls when two jet paths approach each other in the lower right of the block.

If, however, the cuts are made in a direction perpendicular to the orientations, i.e. in the B and C planes, then the results are quite different.

Cratering on linear B

Figure 5. Cratering along the linear passes in cutting granite perpendicular to the Rift plane.

Where the jet strikes perpendicular to the Rift or Lift, then the pressurization under the jet is enough to cause those cracks to grow out to the surface and cause spallation along the cut. In many cases, this removes all the rock between two adjacent passes, even if they are more than an inch apart.

If one is to use the high-pressure waterjet system for slotting granite in a quarry, for example, then this can be a very useful tool, since by merely putting two jets on either side of the desired slot the spalling will remove the material between them without any further jet action. If the jets attack in the perpendicular plane, then the jet has to be rotated over the cut to get the same material removal rate.

In most cases, when cutting in a quarry, because the rock does vary in structure and grain size, it is better to ensure that all the rock is removed before the nozzles move into the cut by rotation. However, in smaller applications – such as where the excess rock is being removed around a planned sculpture –enhancing the spall around the impact point can lower the time and amount of energy required in removing unwanted rock.

That is, however, a relatively specialized application, and in most cases it is desirable that the cut be clean and smooth. This requires the use of abrasive in the waterjet stream, and so this will be the topic of the next few posts.

Cutting through one inch thick glass

Figure 6. Cutting through one inch thick glass, showing the cut through the side of the glass.

Waterjet Technology – Starting to make water jet cut hole

By Dr. David A. Summers, Curators’ Professor at Missouri University of Science & Technology

KMT Waterjet Systems Weekly Waterjet Blog

KMT Waterjet Systems Weekly Waterjet Blog

This small sequence of posts describes the initial milliseconds during which a high-pressure waterjet penetrates into a target material. Because this work was largely developed using rock targets, most of the illustrations will be with that material, but the concept applies, to a degree, also with abrasive laden jets penetrating into materials such as glass.

For this post, I am going to discuss just what happens with the jet being fired down onto the target surface without either the nozzle or the target moving. Much of this work was carried out in the 1960’s in the UK though I will begin with some tests that Dr. Bill Cooley carried out using his modification to a Russian hydraulic cannon that he redesigned so that it was capable of firing at 500,000 psi – and yes I have seen it fired at that pressure (I took the photo).

The Cooley Cannon ready to fire at 500,000 psi in an underground mine

Figure 1. The Cooley Cannon ready to fire at 500,000 psi in an underground mine.

In order to see how effective different processes were in cutting into different materials, the international scientific community that was developing waterjet technology at the time needed a method to compare the different approaches. The metric that was used was to define the Specific Energy as the amount of energy that it took to remove a unit volume of the target material. (And in time that will be subject of some more specific posts).

Bill’s cannon used stored gas that was suddenly released as a way of driving the water at the desired pressure and measured the pressure indirectly by timing the break of two pencil leads in front of the nozzle. This gave the jet velocity, and pressure could be back-calculated from that value.

Dr. Cooley took results from his work and from other scientists working with similar devices, to produce the following graph.

Specific energy as a function of the impacting jet length, measured in nozzle diameters

Figure 2. Specific energy as a function of the impacting jet length, measured in nozzle diameters. (Cooley, W.C., “Correlation of Data on Erosion and Breakage of Rock by High Pressure Water Jets,” Chapter 33, Dynamic Rock Mechanics, ed., G.B. Clark, 12th Symposium on Rock Mechanics, University of Missouri-Rolla, November, 1970, pp. 653 – 665.)

For those running a conventional cutting table, the water orifice is around 10 thousandths of an inch in diameter. So what this graph is saying is that once the first thousand diameters of length (1000 x 0.001= 10 inches) has hit the surface, then the process starts to become significantly less efficient. If the jet is moving at 2,000 ft/sec, that length arrives in around 0.0005 seconds. Why this rising inefficiency after that time, and how do we get around it?

Earlier in this series I mentioned that one of the tests to find the pressure at which a waterjet penetrates a target is to note the point at which, instead of the water hitting the surface and flowing along it, it changed direction to flow back towards the nozzle. This is because as the jet penetrates, it makes a hole, and the only way out of that hole is back along the way the jet came. Unfortunately, there is more water still coming down into the hole, and so the water leaving the hole (at the same volume flow rate) meets the water coming into the hole. The rapidly moving water going out is moving about as fast as that coming in, and so, as the hole gets deeper, the pressure at the bottom of the hole gets less. This has been measured by a number of folk, but Dr. Stan Leach was the first, and produced this plot:

Depth at the bottom of a hole, as a function of the incoming jet pressure

Figure 3. Depth at the bottom of a hole, as a function of the incoming jet pressure. (Leach, S.J., and Walker, G.L., “The Application of High Speed Liquid Jets to Cutting,” Philosophical Transactions, Royal Society (London), Vol. 260 A, 1966,pp. 295 – 308.)

Because the holes were preformed of metal (to hold the transducer) and were sized to the nozzle diameter, this is not as it turns out totally accurate although it illustrates the problem.

It isn’t totally accurate because, as the illustration from the last two posts showed, the erosion occurs initially around the edge of the jet rather than under it, and thus the hole created is about twice to three times the jet diameter rather than being of the same size.

Damage pattern around the impact point of a 10,000 psi pressure, 0.04 inch diameter jet on aluminum, target close to the nozzle

Figure 4. Damage pattern around the impact point of a 10,000 psi pressure, 0.04 inch diameter jet on aluminum, target close to the nozzle.

Nevertheless, as the hole deepens, the pressure at the bottom of the hole gets less, and after a while the jet penetration slows to almost a halt.

Penetration as a function of time

Figure 5. Penetration as a function of time (My Dissertation)

The sides of the hole, however, continue to erode, but from the bottom upwards so that after a short while, the narrower entry hole starts to constrict the flow out, and pressure begins to build-up in the hole.

Remember that a waterjet works by growing existing cracks in the material. So that if there is a natural crack in the rock, which may be as small as a grain boundary, or the scratch made by an abrasive particle as it moves back out of a hole in glass, then the water entering that small crevice will pressurize the walls and cause the crack to grow. Often there is more than one, and the result can be, in rock:

Rock breakage around the jet impact point on a 1-ft block of sandstone

Figure 6. Rock breakage around the jet impact point on a 1-ft block of sandstone (after Moodie and Artingstall Moodie, K., Artingstall, G., “Some Experiments in the Application of High Pressure Water Jets for Mineral Excavation,” paper E3, 1st International Symp on Jet Cutting Technology, Coventry U.K., April, 1972, pp. E3 25 – E3 44.)

In rock, that might not be such a bad thing since in many cases the intent is just to break the rock out of the way, so that a tunnel can be created that folk can walk or drive through. But in the case of glass and other such brittle materials, where the object is just to make a very fine cut with no side cracks, cracking the sheet is disastrous. This can be illustrated by the results when a jet was fired along the central axis of a 2-inch diameter core of granite. The escape of water into the cracks allowed the cycle to repeat several times, and the hole was, as a result, much deeper than it would have been if the cracking had not occurred.

2-inch diameter granite core that split when a short jet pulse was fired into the core, along the axis

Figure 7. 2-inch diameter granite core that split when a short jet pulse was fired into the core, along the axis.

And so, next time, I’ll write about some of the ways in which we can get around this problem.

Waterjet Technology – Making gift items by water jet cutting

By Dr. David A. Summers, Curators’ Professor at Missouri University of Science & Technology

KMT Waterjet Systems Weekly Waterjet Blog

KMT Waterjet Systems Weekly Waterjet Blog

There is a time which can come in late Winter and very early Spring when demand declines and there is some free time for the occasional home project. Although many of us now know and understand how well waterjets and abrasive waterjet streams can cut material, this is still not that widely recognized by the General Public. This slack time can help to remedy that problem.

Uninformed ignorance of jet capabilities was certainly true for many years on our campus and seems to become more so again as the years pass since I retired. Further, at Conferences, I often heard the complaint that the industry needs to get its message out more clearly to a wider audience. The vast majority of potential industrial users are unaware of how well waterjetting in one of its forms could help solve their problems.

Now there are lots of ways of solving that problem, but today I want to talk about just one, the one we used to help us with the problem. It had to be something that would be used by those we gave it to. It had to be small, relatively cheap and quick to make and yet demonstrate some of the capabilities we wanted to show off. The answer ended up as a business card holder.

Business Card Holder – Missouri Miner female figure

Figure 1. Business Card Holder – Missouri Miner female figure

University labs are generally cash strapped, and so the material had to be relatively cheap, so we used sheets of a light foam. This allowed us to cut out the figure parts using water alone (at around 20,000 psi) which significantly reduced the cost. Early in the design of the female figure (this was the third in a series where we cut a different shape each year) it was pointed out that relative body size was more critical with female figures, and so two different thicknesses of foam were used. The first was half-an-inch thick and used for the body and pins, while a quarter-inch sheet was used for the legs and arms.

Foam miner front view

Figure 2. Foam miner front view – showing the two thicknesses of material with waterjet cutting

Putting a small hole in the position of the eye allowed the model to show how precise and small a cut could be made through thicker material. The five pieces that made up the total were held together with two rectangular pins that were cut from the thicker stock and fitted through slots cut to their shape in the different parts.

One of the advantages of cutting these (and we cut parts for around 300 figures, and used virtually all of them each year) is that it was also possible, with relatively little trouble, to cut the campus identifier on a leg of the figure. With not a lot of space this was originally UMR and then changed to “S & T” when the campus changed its name.

A later model of the card holder with the campus ID cut into the leg by waterjet cutting

Figure 3. A later model of the card holder with the campus ID cut into the leg by waterjet cutting

For speed in cutting, we only cut the letters in half the legs, though you may note that in this later version we also cut the connecting pins as round rod, rather than rectangular. In this way the figure could be repositioned as the owner decided what they wanted to do with them.

Basically, however they served as card holders, and having passed them around, (and provided them to senior campus officials as place card holders for dinner meetings) it has been amusing to see how avidly they were sought and kept by some of those to whom they were given.

Now we did not get to these figures in one step. The initial idea was to carve something out of rock, since the overall department was known as The Rock Mechanics and Explosives Research Center. However, if you are making something out of rock, particularly a person’s shape, they need to be larger, because of the weak strength of the rock.

Comic-book Miner cut out of Missouri Granite with waterjet cutting

Figure 4. Comic-book Miner cut out of Missouri Granite with waterjet cutting

The cost was also high, since the cuts had to be made with abrasive, and the rock had to be polished before it was cut. (Trying to polish the pick points after cutting led to several breakages, and this is something that is either perfect or worthless).

There are several good ideas that individual companies have which help sell their name and capabilities where the gifts are of metal and can be used for opening bottles or of some other benefit. But we could not afford the cost to cut a lot of pieces using abrasive, and nothing that we tried in metal had the cachet of the small miners.

In this case, the mascot of the campus is the Missouri Miner, and while the first model that we cut followed along the shape of that cartoonish figure, many of our graduates were going into coal mining, which is also my background, and so the second and third versions had coal mining helmets, and as a further demonstration of capabilities, a small circular cut in the helmet allowed a yellow rod to be put into the helmet to illustrate the miner’s cap lamp.

Where we were asked to prepare small souvenirs for another event we did use the Missouri Granite, but had learned this time to buy tiles that were already polished. Then all we had to do was to cut the shape of the state into the tiles, and then put a University logo sticker on the piece and we had our memento for the guests.

Small memento of the state shape carved out of granite tile by cutting with waterjet technology

Figure 5. Small memento of the state shape carved out of granite tile by cutting with waterjet technology

This was for a specific occasion where the sponsor was willing to pay for both the cutting costs and the materials, but in order to keep costs down (since these were given away) the pieces had to be small. This particular run was one of the more difficult to keep inventory on, since several disappeared during the short time of the cutting runs (which we have found is an occupational hazard with “artistic” pieces where there are lots of temporary folk involved in our work).

Which is, I suspect, an entry for the last piece of advice on making such gifts, and that is to plan on making more than you think you need and, if possible, be able to make more if needed. In a later post I will write about where you can get some artistic help for relatively little cost to help with ideas such as this.

Waterjet Technology – Crack Growth and Granite Sculpture

By Dr. David A. Summers, Curators’ Professor at Missouri University of Science & Technology

KMT Waterjet Systems Weekly Waterjet Blog

KMT Waterjet Systems Weekly Waterjet Blog

The last post in this KMT Waterjet Blog series showed that the main way in which waterjets penetrate into materials is by growing cracks that already exist within the material, and I used glass as an example to show that this was true.

It is this process during which water penetrates into cracks, and then comes under pressure, either by the impact of more falling water (say under a waterfall in nature) or because the water freezes and then thaws, that causes the cracks in the rock to grow under natural attack and the rock to slowly erode. As this happens, the cracks slowly grow and extend to the point that they meet one another, separating small pieces of rock from the solid.

Within the body of a piece of rock, the largest cracks that exist are normally at the boundaries of the grains of different minerals that make up the bulk of the rock. (Back in 1961, Bill Brace showed that the strength of a rock reduced as the square root of the increase in the grain size of that rock ).( Brace, W. F. (1961): Dependence of fracture strength of rocks on grain size. Bulletin of the Mineral Industries Experiment Station, Mining Engineering Series. Rock Mech. 76, 99± 103.) More recently, though still back in 1970, my second grad student, John Corwine, showed that it was possible to predict the strength of a block of granite knowing the size of its crystals.

Which makes a good time to tell a little anecdote. Back when I was doing my own doctorate at the University of Leeds (UK), we were looking at how waterjets drilled through rock and how that might be used to make a drill. We had already run some tests of different rocks that we placed under a nozzle, and gradually raised the pressure of the jet to see what pressure it took to make a hole in the rock. Tests on granite had shown that the jet (with a maximum pressure of just under 10,000 psi) would not drill a hole into those rock samples, and so the granite had been set aside. But, with the equipment just finished and yet having to go to lunch, I asked Dennis Flaxington, the lab technician helping me, to put a new sample into the rig so that we could run a test in the afternoon. When I came back I found that he had used a piece of granite. I made several disparaging remarks, at which point he noted that, having spent some significant time putting the rock in the apparatus, I should just go ahead and run the test (which normally took about 5 minutes) rather than being an unmentionable. And so we did, and, as I posted earlier, this is the resulting hole in the rock, which we were now able to drill right through in a process that took about half-an-hour.

9-inch thick block of granite drilled through by a 10,000 psi waterjet

Figure 1. 9-inch thick block of granite drilled through by a 10,000 psi waterjet at Leeds University. It took over 30 minutes. (Summers, D.A., Disintegration of Rock by High Pressure Jets, Ph.D. Thesis, Mining Engineering, University of Leeds, U.K., 1968.)

How could this now work, when a single jet clearly did not penetrate into the granite in the earlier tests? The answer is that as we moved the rock under the nozzle (we were slowly spinning the rock under the nozzle, and then raising the rock, since at the time there were no high-pressure swivels available for us to use) the jet passed successively over the edges of the different crystals in the granite. As it entered and pressurized these small fractures, the pressure in the crack was enough to grow the crack and remove individual crystals along the jet path. By starting at the center and taking successive passes around the axis, a large depression was cut into the surface, and the rock could then be raised, and a second smaller layer removed. Repeating this slowly removed the rock in front of the nozzle, and at the end of the test we had drilled through 9 inches of granite.

From this experience, over time we went on to cut, for a University, a lot of granite. Obviously, to cut at a competitive rate we had to cut at a higher pressure than just 10,000 psi. But, after showing that we could cut Georgia granite at a competitive rate in tests run at 15,000 psi down in Elberton, Georgia, Dr. Marian Mazurkiewicz and I led a group of our students in cutting 53 blocks of that granite to form the MS&T Stonehenge that now sits on the University campus.

Stonehenge at Missouri University of Science and Technology

Figure 2. View of the Stonehenge at Missouri University of Science and Technology, the vertical blocks are some 11 ft tall. The entire sculpture was cut by high pressure water jets operating at between 12,500 and 15,000 psi. (MS&T RMERC ).

Cutting commercially is not quite as simple as it might appear, since larger blocks such as those shown in Figure 2 will contain rock that varies quite significantly in properties as the cuts progress. In the Stonehenge case the rock came from close to the top of the quarry, and the cracks in the rock were quite well defined. Some fifteen years later, we were fortunate enough to be asked to cut a second sculpture, but this time working with the internationally acclaimed artist, Edwina Sandys. Edwina had designed a sculpture for the campus, the Millennium Arch, which required that we cut two figures from blocks of Missouri granite, and polish them to create one group, while using the original pieces as part of an Arch that would stand some 50 ft away.

The Millennium Arch at Missouri University of Science and Technology

Figure 3. The Millennium Arch at Missouri University of Science and Technology. (Each vertical leg of the Arch is some 15 ft long, and the figures removed and in the background, are 11 ft tall).

The vertical legs were first cut to shape, and then the figures cut out from them. In order to contain the crack growth to limit the amount of material removed the cutting lance had two jets inclined outwards and the lance was rotated at around 90 rpm, as the lance made repeated passes over the surface, removing between a quarter and half-an-inch of rock on each pass, until it had penetrated through the rock. It took 22 hours of cutting to isolate the female figure from the host block. The slot width was around an inch, and there was some significant difficulty in cutting this slot as the quality of the rock changed within the blocks being cut. (The problem was solved by raising the cutting pressure).

Partial cut for one of the figures of the Millennium Arch

Figure 4. Partial cut for one of the figures of the Millennium Arch, checking the depth.

This second sculpture illustrates both an advantage and a problem for the use of waterjets in cutting rock pieces. Use of the water gives a relatively natural look to the rock, although the vertical surfaces of the arch and the capstone were all actually “textured” to look natural using a hand-held lance at 15,000 psi. (The rock is a little harder than that from Georgia and most of the cutting took place at around 18,000 to 20,000 psi). But when the polished surfaces for the inside of the verticals and the isolated figures were prepared, the rough initial surface required much more time to grind and polish flat than a smoother initial cut would have needed.

Because water alone penetrates along crystal and grain boundaries in the rock, the surface left is relatively rough. This gets to be even more of a problem if waterjets are used to cut wood. Here the “grain” boundaries are the fibers in the wood structure. Thus when a relatively low pressure jet (10,000 pai) cuts into the wood, it penetrates between the fibers and the cut quality is very poor. One of the first things I have asked students to do, when given the use of a high pressure lance for the first time, was to write their name on a piece of plywood. Here is an example:

Student name written with a high-pressure jet into plywood

Figure 5. Student name written with a high-pressure jet into plywood. Note that areas of the wood around the jet path are lifted by water getting into the ply beneath the surface layer, and that part of the top ply between cuts is removed in places.

I thought about having you guess the student name, Steve, but this is one of the more legible ones. (Female students generally cut the letters one at a time and were more legible, male students tried to write the whole name at once).

There are many similar examples that I could use to illustrate that, while there are tasks where waterjets alone work well, when it comes to precision cutting, then adding a form of sand to the jet stream to provide a much more limited range to the cutting zone can give a considerable advantage, and so the field of abrasive waterjet cutting was born, and discussion of that topic will lead, in time, to a whole series of posts.