Waterjet Technology – Water Jet Stream Structure

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 last week’s post I showed some high-speed photographs of the plain water jets that come from the small diamond and sapphire orifices and that are useful in cutting a wide variety of target materials. Before moving away from the subject of high-speed photography, this post will use results from that technique to talk about why pressure washer nozzles may not work well and have limited range. From there it will raise the topic of adding abrasive to a waterjet stream.

Most of us, I suspect, by this point in time, have used a pressure washer to do some cleaning, typically around the house or perhaps at a car wash. The jet that comes out of the end of the nozzle is typically a fan-shaped stream that widens as the water moves away from the orifice. This flattening of the jet stream and the resulting spreading jet is achieved by cutting a groove across the end of the nozzle to intersect either a conic or ball-ended feed channel from the back end of the nozzle.

Schematic of how a fan–generating orifice is often made

Figure 1. Schematic of how a fan–generating orifice is often made

One of the problems with this simple manufacturing process is that the very sharp edge that is produced to give a clean jet leaving the nozzle is very thin at the end. This means that with water that is not that clean (and most folk don’t filter or treat pressure washer water) the edge can wear rapidly. I have noted several designs (and we tested many) where the jet lost its performance within an hour of being installed, particularly with softer metal orifices. And in an earlier post, I did show the big difference between the performance of a good fan jet and a bad.

So how do photographs help understand the difference and explain why you should generally keep a fan jet nozzle within about 4-inches of a surface if you are trying to clean it? That does, however, depend on the cone angle that the jet diverges at once it leaves the nozzle. We found that a 15-degree angle seemed to work best of the different combinations that we tried. If the jet remained of sufficient power, this would mean that it would clean a swath about half-an inch wide with the nozzle held 2-inches above the surface. At 4-inch standoff it will clean a swath about an inch wide and at 6 inches this goes up to over an inch-and-a-half. But that would require that the jet be of good quality and evenly distributed.

Back-lit flash photograph of a fan jet

Figure 2. Back-lit flash photograph of a fan jet, at a jet pressure of around 1,000 psi. It is less than 6 inches from the end of the orifice to the rhs of the picture.

In Figure 2, the lack of water on the outer edges of the stream shows that the water is not being evenly distributed over the fan. As the water volume leaves the orifice, the sheet of water begins to spread out into the wider but thinner sheet that forms the fan. But as it gets wider it also gets thinner, and, like a balloon, water can only be spread so thin before the sheet begins to break up. As soon as it starts to do so, the surface tension in the water causes it to pull back into roughly circular rings of droplets.

Fan jet breakup from a spreading sheet into rings (or strings) of large droplets that rapidly break down into mist

Figure 3. Fan jet breakup from a spreading sheet into rings (or strings) of large droplets that rapidly break down into mist.

These droplets start out as relatively large in size, but they are moving at several hundred feet per second. As single droplets move through stationary air, the air rapidly breaks them up into smaller droplet sizes and then into mist while at the same time slowing the droplets down. The smaller they get, the quicker that deceleration occurs. When droplets get below 50 microns in size, they become ineffective. (From a study that was done on determining the effect of rain on supersonic aircraft).

Showing the stages of the fan jet breakup from a solid sheet to mist that does little but wet the surface that it strikes

Figure 4. Showing the stages of the fan jet breakup from a solid sheet to mist that does little but wet the surface that it strikes.

However, if the nozzle is held just in that short range where the droplets have formed but have not broken down, then the jet will be more effective than it would have been at any other point along its length. This is because of something that was first discovered when scientists at the Royal Aircraft Establishment-Farnborough and at the Cavendish Lab at Cambridge University were studying what would happen if they flew a Concorde into rain while it was still going supersonic. (They actually tried this in a heavy rain storm in Asia and found it was a seriously bad idea).

The pressures that can develop under the spherical droplet can exceed twice the water hammer pressure so that the impact pressure on the surface can exceed 20-times the driving pressure supplied by the pump. But the region affected is very small, and the effect diminishes as the surface gets wetter. And the problem, as with all waterjet streams, is that it is very hard to know where that critical half-inch range is. It varies even within the same nozzle design models due to small changes on the edge of the orifice. And as a very rough rule of thumb, a perfect droplet moving at a speed of around 1,000 ft/sec will travel 138 diameters before it is all mist. Most drops aren’t perfect and thus will travel around 30 – 50 diameters and once they turn into mist they will decelerate to having no power in less than quarter-of-an-inch. The implication of this, which we checked with field experiments, is that if you hold a pressure washer nozzle with a fan tip more than 4-6 inches from the target you are largely just wetting the surface, and spending a fair amount of money in creating turbulent air.

This story of jet breakup is a somewhat necessary introduction to two posts that I will publish before long. The first will be to discuss how we can use a different idea for nozzle designs to do a much better job at greater standoff distances and I will tie that in with some of the advantages of going to much higher pressure to do the cleaning job.

The other avenue that this discussion opens relates to how we mix abrasive within the mixing chamber of an abrasive nozzle design, and that will come along a little later.

(For those interested in more reading, there has been a series of Conferences on Rain Erosion, and then “Erosion by Solid and Liquid Impact” which were held under the aegis of John Field at Cambridge for many years, e.g. Field, J.E., Lesser, M.B. and Davies, P.N.H., “Theoretical and Experimental Studies of Two-Dimensional Liquid Impact,” paper 2, 5th International Conference on Erosion by Liquid and Solid Impact, Cambridge, UK, September, 1979, pp. 2-1 to 2-8. The founding conference was held under the imprimatur of the Royal Society, which devoted a volume to the Proceedings. Phil. Trans. Royal Society, London, Vol. 260A.)

Waterjet Technology – An intro to water jet structure

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

Once a waterjet starts to move out of the nozzle with any significant speed as the pump pressure begins to build, it becomes more and more difficult to look at the stream of water and get any realistic idea of its structure. Mainly what is seen is the very fine mist that surrounds the main body of the jet, and while some idea of the structure can be obtained by making cuts through material, it can be quite expensive to actually see within that structure. Part of the problem is that though the mist is very fine, it is also moving at speeds in the range of a couple of thousand feet per second. The human eyeball isn’t quite that fast. But we can use a very high-speed flash (in this case it was on for two millionths of a second) which has the effect of “freezing” the motion.

40,000 psi jet issuing from a 0.005 inch diameter orifice, front lit

Figure 1. 40,000 psi jet issuing from a 0.005 inch diameter orifice, front lit.

However, this mist still hides the solid internal structure of the jet and does not change much in relative structure, even when the internal jet conditions can be quite different. Fundamentally, the internal structure was described by Yanaida at the 1974 BHR Group Waterjet Conference and his description has been validated by many studies since.

The break-up pattern of a waterjet

Figure 2. The break-up pattern of a waterjet (Yanaida K. “Flow Characteristics of Waterjets,” 2nd BHRA Conf. 1974, paper A2.)

This structure holds for jets across a wide range of pressure and flow volumes, but it is difficult to determine the exact transition points of that structure conventionally. And this can lead to very unfortunate results. I have twice seen people back a nozzle away and then move their hand in front of the jet to show that even high-pressure jets (these were being used to cut paper products and had no abrasive in them at the time) could be “safe.” If both cases, the individuals were very lucky to escape injury (water can penetrate the pores of the skin and lacerate the internal parts without any surficial signs of injury, and, as I showed last time, if the nozzle is too close, it will slice through flesh and bone). I thought to take today’s post to show, though the use of photographs, why that was such a stupid action.

The photos that follow were taken in Baxter Springs, KS, which has been recognized as the Birthplace of Waterjet Cutting.

Baxter Springs, Kansas. Birthplace of Waterjet Cutting

Figure 3. Baxter Springs, Kansas. Birthplace of Waterjet Cutting

In the early 1970’s, we used what was then a McCartney Manufacturing waterjet intensifier (today KMT Waterjet Systems) to shoot jets of varying pressure and nozzle diameter along a path, so that we could see how coherent the jets were. As I mentioned above, the problem with looking directly at the jet is that the internal structure is hidden by the surrounding mist. To overcome that part of the problem, we shone the light along a ground glass screen (to diffuse it) that was placed behind the jet, so that we could see the outline of the internal structure.

Arrangement for taking photographs of a high-speed jet

Figure 4. Arrangement for taking photographs of a high-speed jet.

This more of the downstream mist from the photograph, and a much better idea of the internal structure of the jet, and where the solid section ended could be measured.

Backlit, 30,000 psi jet issuing from a 0.01 inch diameter nozzle, the distance across the photograph is 6 inches

Figure 5. Backlit, 30,000 psi jet issuing from a 0.01 inch diameter nozzle, the distance across the photograph is 6 inches.

The benefit of the technique is perhaps more evident when nozzles at different pressures and diameters and different chemistry are compared. First consider the change with an increase in jet diameter. From the front-lit view there is little difference in the jets. From the backlit, it is clear that the smaller diameter jet only reaches 3-inches across the screen, while the larger jet barely reaches the end of the range.

The effect of doubling the orifice diameter at the same jet pressure on jet range, the photo length is 6 inches

Figure 6. The effect of doubling the orifice diameter at the same jet pressure on jet range, the photo length is 6 inches.

One of the parts of the study we were carrying out in 1974 was to examine the effect that adding different long-chain polymers had on jet structure. The ones that we were looking at include some that are now used in the oil and natural gas industry to make the “slick water” that is used in the fracking industry to improve production from shale reservoirs. But it also has an advantage in “binding” the jet together. And so, in the study, Dr. Jacques Zakin and I tested a wide range of different polymers to see which would give the best jet.

There were a number of different things we were looking for. In cutting paper, soft tissue and water sensitive material for example, the polymer can bind the water sufficiently well as to further lower wetting to the point where it doesn’t have an effect. It also can improve jet cutting under water – but I’ll cover those in a few post on polymer effects that will come to later in the series.

The effect of a polymer (in this case an AP273) is shown in two tests where the only change was to add the polymer to the water for the lower one.

Jets with an orifice diameter of 0.01 inches at a pressure of 20,000 psi

Figure 7. Jets with an orifice diameter of 0.01 inches at a pressure of 20,000 psi, the range is 6 inches, and the lower jet has had the polymer AP273 added to the water.

The narrower stream in the lower frame is the effect that we were looking for. Putting change in diameter and the better polymers together gave, as an example, the following:

The effect of changing jet pressure, nozzle diameter and polymer content on jet cohesion

Figure 8. The effect of changing jet pressure, nozzle diameter and polymer content on jet cohesion.

It might be noted that the jet in the bottom frame has as much relative concentration (and power) at the end of the range as the top jet had at the beginning of the range.

Now it all depends on what you want the jet to do, as to which condition you wish to achieve. Inside abrasive mixing chambers, the object is much different than it is when the object is to cut a foot or more of foam with high quality edges. And there have been some interesting developments with different polymers over the years, but I’ll save those stories for another day.

But bear in mind that those individuals who could slide their fingers under the jet in the top frame of figure 8 would have had them all cut off if the jet had been running instead under the conditions of the bottom two frames, and in all three cases, to the naked eye the jets looked the same.

Waterjet Technology – Cutting Plywood and Pork, and water jet safety

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 two posts I have tried to show that there is a benefit to running an occasional calibration test on equipment to ensure that it is giving the best performance. This does not mean that the nozzle needs to be tested every day, although some of the cheaper pressure washer nozzles, for example, will wear out in less than an hour. An operator will learn over time about how long a nozzle will last and can, after a while, tell when it is starting to lose performance. But in working on a number of different jobs in succession, that sense of the performance may be missed, and it can be handy to have a standard target that a jet can be pointed at and that it should be able to cut in a known time.

One simple target is plywood, and, to continue the saga of nozzle comparisons through a slightly different approach, Mike Woodward used plywood sheets to compare different nozzles in one of the earliest comparisons of performance. We since duplicated his test equipment and ran tests with a more modern selection of nozzles but the basic results and conclusions remain the same.

In its simplest form, the idea is to build a holding frame that will hold small squares of plywood at fixed distances from the nozzle. In the frame shown below, the plywood pieces are set at one-foot distances apart with the nozzle held at a fixed point at the end of the test frame. Tests showed that it takes around 2,700 psi to cut through the plywood.

A simple frame to hold plywood samples

Figure 1. A simple frame to hold plywood samples

The initial tests that Dr. Woodward ran were run on nozzles that were run at 10,000 psi with a nominal flow rate of 10 gpm. The nozzles that were used cost in the range from $10.00 to $250 a piece. (And these costs were reported in 1985 at the 3rd American Waterjet Conference). Tests such as this are simple to run. Plywood pieces are set into the frame, the nozzle is placed at the end of the frame and the jet run for ten seconds. Over that time, the jet will cut through any of the pieces of plywood that it reaches with enough power to cut through, and generally, the jet will punch a hole through several pieces.

The different designs of nozzle that Mike Woodward tested in 1985

Figure 2. The different designs of nozzle that Mike Woodward tested in 1985

The profiles show that there was only one of the common nozzles at the time that fitted smoothly onto the end of the feed pipe. In the other cases, there is a small gap between the nozzle piece and the feed tube so that turbulence would be generated just as water entered the acceleration section of the nozzle.

The hole size in each plate was then measured and that width plotted as a function of the distance from the nozzle so that a profile of the jet cutting path could be drawn.

Profiles cut into the different pieces of wood showing the cutting power of the different jets

Figure 3. Profiles cut into the different pieces of wood showing the cutting power of the different jets as a function of distance and the actual amount of water flow as measured

As an additional part of the testing, a rough measure was kept of the effective nozzle life. Some other performance parameters for the different nozzles can be put into a table.

Performance of the different nozzles

Figure 4: Performance of the different nozzles

Clearly, just going out and buying the most expensive nozzle on the block is not necessarily the best idea. But it also depends on the use to which the nozzle is going to be applied. There are two different applications: that of cleaning a surface and that of cutting into it. The broader path achieved by nozzle 1, for example, which also removed the largest volume of wood per horsepower, makes it a good selection for cleaning and for reaching further from the nozzle as would be needed if one were cleaning the pipes of a heat exchanger bundle.

On the other hand, the more coherent flow through nozzle 2, which gave a narrower cut, might be a more effective tool in a cutting operation. In other cleaning operations, where the nozzle is being operated very close to the surface, then nozzle 3, which has a wider path, might be a better choice, though that is lost if the target surface is further away. And though there was not a great deal of difference in performance between nozzles 1 and 5, there is a considerable difference in price.

A smaller, lighter nozzle may be a beneficial trade-off if the nozzle body is fitting on the end of a lance that will be operated manually for several hours at a time.

There is an alternate way of using plywood as a target that I have also used in teaching class. The student is using a manually operated high-pressure cleaning gun at 10,000 psi and is to swing the gun horizontally so that the jet cuts into a piece of plywood that is set almost parallel with the jet path, but with the stream hitting the wood from the side initially further from the operator. But as the swing completes the jet cuts up where the nozzle almost touches it and then sweeps on past.

The result is that, over the distance, the jet can cut into the wood and a groove is carved into it.

Horizontal cuts into plywood

Figure 5. Horizontal cuts into plywood. There were about half-a-dozen students who had swiped the nozzle so that it just cleared the left edge of this 4-ft wide piece of plywood, and you may note that the cuts extend roughly ¾ of the way along the surface

Once the students had seen this cut, I would ask them how far away they thought, based on that measurement, the jet would cut into a person. Typically they said about three feet, and then, as a precaution, I suggested they add a foot or so more.

Then I took them over to a metal frame where we had hung a piece of pork. We carefully measured off the “safe” distance from the end of the nozzle to the pork.

“Now assume that is you”, I would say, “swing the jet as fast as you can, so that it barely has time to hit “your arm”, and we’ll just check that distance is correct.”

Piece of pork that has been traversed by a 10,000 psi jet several times

Figure 6. Piece of pork that has been traversed by a 10,000 psi jet several times, with a typical stand-off distance from the nozzle of more than four feet.

Invariably we got the result shown in Figure 6. The jet would cut into the meat to a typical depth of around two inches and groove the underlying bone. It was a salutary way of getting their attention about the safe use of waterjet technology, and I noticed that the staff also got a bit more cautious after we ran this class every year.

Waterjet Technology – Testing Waterjet Nozzle wear by cutting foam

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

Last week’s post discussed a simple test which helps to show not only how to compare the effect of different operating conditions (varying abrasive type, nozzle design, AFR etc) as a way of finding a possibly better and cheaper cut. It is also often handy to know when a nozzle is starting to wear out, so that different cutting operations might be scheduled to allow the nozzle to continue to work, without threatening the quality of a critical product.

Change in the cutting depth of a jet stream at 50,000 psi when traversed over ASTM A108 steel

Figure 1. Change in the cutting depth of a jet stream at 50,000 psi when traversed over ASTM A108 steel as a function of the time that the nozzle had been in use

While we have found that nozzles from a given manufacturer roughly agree in cutting performance and times before they wear out, the pattern of wear and performance change differs from one nozzle design to another. Also there is some variation in performance between nozzles even of the same design and under the same conditions.

There are also times when cuts are made without abrasive or when the cutting/cleaning jet is hand-held – what to do in those cases? Mainly we have used foam as the cutting target, set up so that the jet won’t cut all the way down through the foam all the way along the cut, so that, as with the steel, some idea of not only cutting depth but also cut quality can be seen.

Cuts through thick stiff packing foam

Figure 2. Cuts through thick stiff packing foam. Note the rough edge at the bottom of the extracted pieces, but the good initial quality of cut that was achievable for some 14-inches.

There is a caution in cutting foam in that some of the softer varieties are going to fold into the cut and give a slightly inaccurate measure of true performance; although for a quick comparison to see how a nozzle is lasting that is not a real issue. When cutting thicker material and also when going for higher quality cuts that is, however, something that should be borne in mind.

The white expanded foam that is used as a packing material is also very easy to cut, even with the pressures that can be found with a pressure washer type of system. Thus, if you are going to clean a deck or other surface, it helps to check by swiping the jet across such a piece of material to be sure that you have a good nozzle on the end of your lance before you start.

This may seem fairly logical; after all you just went to the hardware store and bought a new packet of nozzles. Well, as with the other nozzles we have looked at, quality is only assured after testing. In this particular case, we ran as many different varieties of fan nozzles as we could to see how they would perform when cutting across a piece of packing foam. It is not hard to cut packing foam with a high pressure jet. And since domestic cleaning is usually carried out at either 1,000 psi or 2,000 psi, we ran tests at both levels.

Results from a good, top, and a poor nozzle with cuts at 1,000 and 2,000 psi and with the foam moved through the jet at a distance of 3 inches

Figure 3. Results from a good, top, and a poor nozzle with cuts at 1,000 and 2,000 psi and with the foam moved through the jet at a distance of 3 inches. The number identifies the nozzle. Note that at 3 inches, number 18 could barely remove the top of the foam.

A fan jet is defined by the amount of water that it will allow to pass at a set pressure and by the angle of the cone with which the jet spreads out from the orifice. In passing, we found that the cone angle that the jet actually spread at was a little larger than that designated on the package.

The worst nozzle design that we found had difficulty in cutting into the foam even at a very close range:

On the other hand, the best nozzle was still able to cut the material with the nozzle held some nine inches from the foam.

Cutting result with the good nozzle held at nine inches above the foam target

Figure 4. Cutting result with the good nozzle held at nine inches above the foam target. At this distance the jet is removing as much material as the poor jet did at a 3-inch standoff.

A very typical result would have the jet fail to cut into the foam much beyond four inches from the nozzle. (I’ll use some photographs in a couple of weeks to explain in more detail why that is). And as a short editorial comment to those of you who clean around your house with a domestic unit, how many of you hold the nozzle that close to the surface? (Or at the car wash?) If you don’t you are losing most of the power that you are paying for and you are in the company of most of the students that I ran this demonstration with in my classes).

However there is one other feature to the photographs of the cuts that I would point out. Fan jets distribute the water over a diverging fan shape. But the results of the design fell into two different types, one where most of the water still concentrated in the middle of the jet, (as in Figure 4) and those where it was focused more on the side.

Cutting pattern with the jet streams more at the side of the flow

Figure 5. Cutting pattern with the jet streams more at the side of the flow (arrow points). Note that the two pressure cuts are on the other sides of the sample here.

The benefit of using foam is that it allows this picture of the jet structure to be easily seen, with very little time taken to swipe the nozzle over a test piece of material at the start of work, to make sure that the jet is still working correctly.

This is both an advantage and a disadvantage. Because the foam is relatively easy for a jet to cut even at a lower pressure, this means that the cut can become more ragged with depth where deep cutting is required.

One of the programs that we ran, some years ago, looked at how deeply you could cut into the stiff packing foam that is used in some industrial plants, where the item being packed needs to be held firmly yet will be released easily when needed. This requires that the foam be cut to a very tight tolerance, and at the time, pieces were still being cut by hand and then glued together. (Figure 2 above)

We found that we could cut up to about a foot of material before the small cut particles became sufficiently caught up in the cutting jet that the edge quality of the cut fell below specification. But in order to get to that depth we did have to add a small amount of a polymer to the cutting water. This helped to hold the jet more coherent over a greater distance and also reduced the amount of particulate that got caught up in the jet allowing the greater cutting depth.

Foam works as a simple sample to give some sense of the jet shape where the pressures are lower. When they are higher, a stiffer material is needed though it should still be cut by water without the need for abrasive. Plywood is a useful target in this case, and I will write about those tests next time.