By Dr. David A. Summers, Curators’ Professor at Missouri University of Science & Technology
When I first began the research on the applications of high-pressure water that was to be one of the major parts of my professional life, I must confess to a certain naïve innocence in regard to other folk’s work. One assumed that other folk had made similar mistakes to mine and then corrected them, so that when different systems were compared that the early, obvious, mistakes had not been made.
One of the first times I found that this wasn’t the case was when we were asked to go and demonstrate that high-pressure waterjet technology could economically cut granite, in quarries located in the heart of the Granite industry, in Elberton, Georgia. We were working with Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) at the time and were asked if we could, at very short notice, go down to a couple of quarries and run a demonstration.
Back during my graduate studies I had found that Russian claims were true that said that it was possible, with a 10,000 psi jet pressure to cut through a rock with a compressive strength of 30,000 psi. (I’ll tell you how later)
Knowing this, and having a suitable pump at The University of Missouri-Rolla (now Missouri University of Science and Technology), our group ran some tests at the RMERC (Rock Mechanics and Explosives Research Center) to get the angles right between the two jets that we were to use, and then, about a week later, we went down to Elberton and set up a system in the quarry.
The trials demonstrated that high-pressure water could cut granite at commercial rates, we cut a slot some 11 ft long and about 2-ft deep, and, after a couple of days of work, we went home. Georgia Tech then went to one of our competitors who set up to run a similar test. We had been done in 2 days, it took them two weeks to cut a slot about 2 ft long and 6-ft deep. They were running a jet system at 45,000 psi, roughly 3 times the pressure of our system. Why did they do so badly?
Well it turned out that they connected their pumps to the nozzle through a very narrow length of high-pressure tubing, and we calculated (as later did they) that of the 45,000 psi being supplied at the pump, some 35,000 psi had been lost in overcoming friction between the pump and the nozzle, As a result they were trying to cut the granite with jets at a pressure of 10,000 psi effective pressure, and it was much slower than our system which retained most of the 14,000 psi from the pump to the nozzle. (Hilaris, J.A., Bortz, S.A., “Quarrying Granite and Marble using High Pressure Water Jet,” paper D3, 5th International Symposium on Jet Cutting Technology, Hanover, FRG, June, 1980, pp. 229 – 236.)
Now you may note that I said something about mistakes – it turns out that we had made an identical mistake a few years earlier and had added a second 10-ft length of narrow diameter tubing to the nozzle, and suddenly a system that had cut adequately with 10-ft of tubing did not work with 20-ft. The reason was that the pressure loss in the tubing was too great at the longer length, and the pressure fell below that required to cut into the rock. (But at the shorter length we were drilling the hard sandstone at 12-ft/minute).
It is a very simple mistake, and many folks have made it over the years. The system has to be designed from one end to the other to ensure that all the parts are properly sized for the systems that are to be used. (And I will refer to other cases such as that above as we go through this series.)
It is not just the diameter of the feed lines that is important. In 1972 it took, on average, 150 man-hours and about $2,000 for the U.S. Navy to clean a single ship boiler using chemicals and mechanical scrubbing and cleaning. An enterprising company showed the Navy that it was possible to use waterjet lances to clean the tubes. In the demonstration they cleaned a boiler in 10 hours, and it cost around $700. This being Government work, the Navy then arranged a competition to find the most effective contractor. Based on the performance of the system that had been used in the first demonstration they asked 5 companies to compete in cleaning boilers. The operating equipment was designated as having to operate at 20 gpm, at a pressure of 10,000 psi. The results were not even close, even with systems nominally the same.
One of the differences between the competing systems, you won’t be surprised to hear, was that some had smaller feed hoses than others.
There are many different reasons that the various systems performed as they did. One of the aims of this series is to ensure that, should you be asked to engage in such a competition, you will know enough to follow the path of company A, rather than company E.
As systems have become more sophisticated the different factors that control the performance of the jets have increased in number. As a simple example, when abrasive particles are mixed with high-pressure water in streams of abrasive-laden waterjets at pressures that can run up to 90,000 psi in pressure, for high precision cutting of material, the factors controlling performance now include not only the delivery system for the water, but also that for the abrasive, the type of abrasive and the configuration of the nozzle through which that final cutting jet is created.
Again, when we were asked to compare the performance of these different systems we set up nominally identical test conditions under which to determine which nozzle system would perform better. If I were honest I would tell you that before the tests began I expected that the variation in performance of the systems would vary by perhaps 10% between the best and the worst. We were quite surprised by the result.
I use these last two figures to show that all the details of a high-pressure waterjet system are important, when it comes to optimizing performance. One of the reasons to write this series is to ensure that folk that use these systems in the future do not make the mistakes that we made, as we learned how to tune the systems from getting poor performance to the commercially viable rates that are achieved today.
Unfortunately much of the early research and tests that are the basis for this knowledge were performed before the Internet existed. As a result I will have to use references to books and papers (as above) rather than using the electronic references that are the more common habit now.
This concludes the basic introduction to the series, which will now focus on more specific subjects.