Waterjetting Technology – Pipe Straighteners

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

One of the advantages that became clear, even in the early days of waterjet use in mining, was that the jets cut into the rock away from the miner. It was thus a safer method of working, since it moved the person away from the zone of immediate risk. Rock has a tendency to fall when the rock under it is removed, and by using the jets to carry out the removal, so the miner is no longer as vulnerable.

But in the early days of jet use, the range of the jet was quite limited. Part of the reason for this is that the water is generally brought to the working place along the floor. It then has to be raised through bent pipes to the level of the nozzle and then turned so that the water in the pipe is flowing in the direction in which the nozzle is pointing.

Sketch of an early Russian waterjet mining monitor

Figure 1. Sketch of an early Russian waterjet mining monitor

Even though the pressure of the jet is relatively low, the volume flow rates were high and the bends leading into the nozzle set up considerable turbulence in the jet, so that the range of the jet was quite limited beyond the nozzle. There are a number of different ways of improving the range of the jet, and I will discuss these in later posts; many of these techniques apply whether the jet is being used at high volume and low pressure for mining or at higher pressures and lower flow rates for cutting into materials. But today the technique that I will discuss is the use of flow straighteners.

The two most dramatic instances that I immediately recall for their use were at the Sparwood mine in British Columbia, where the collimated jet was able to mine coal up to more than 100 ft. from the nozzle and in an underground borehole mining application where a Bureau of Mines commissioned system was able to cut a cavity to more than 30 ft. from the nozzle, which was centrally located.

Collimating jets to get better performance is not restricted to the mining industry. A visit to Disney, for example, will find jumping jets that appear to bounce from place to place (video here) (this one shows the start of the surface waves along the jet, known as Taylor instability, which grow and cause the jet to break up; and if you want to make one Zachary Carpenter has two instructional videos on how they are made (here and here).

Essentially, as those YouTube segments show, the flow straightness is achieved by dispersing the water – using a sponge – so that it flows through a large number of drinking straws. These straws act to collimate the water flow and it emerges as a glassy rod, which even acts as a light path so that light shone down it emerges at the far end. This can be used for a variety of different purposes, other than just for entertainment.

This then is the basic idea behind a flow collimator, although for larger mining flows drinking straws are too weak, and the flow volumes need to be larger. There are various designs that have been used for mining applications. Some of the earlier trials were at the Trelewis Drift mine, where the then British National Coal Board set up an experimental operation.

Sketch of Monitor used in the NCB Trials

Figure 2. Sketch of Monitor used in the NCB Trials (after Jenkins, R.W., “Hydraulic Mining” The National Coal Board Experimental Installation at Trelewis Drift Mine in the No 3 Area of the South Western Division, M.Sc. Thesis, University of Wales, 1961.)

A number of different designs were used for the flow straighteners that were located at the nozzle end of the straight pipe section leading into the nozzle:

Designs for the initial flow straighteners used at Trelewis Drift

Figure 3. Designs for the initial flow straighteners used at Trelewis Drift (after Jenkins, R.W., “Hydraulic Mining” The National Coal Board Experimental Installation at Trelewis Drift Mine in the No 3 Area of the South Western Division, M.Sc. Thesis, University of Wales, 1961.)

More recent designs, which vary according to pressure, flow rate and pipe diameter are a combination of those on the left above and those on the right. It was such a combination that allowed the Canadian miners at Sparwood to achieve production rates of 3,000 tons of coal per shift as an average over the operation of a mining section.

While the use of flow straighteners does not give any gain over having a long straight section of pipe leading into the nozzle, it can bring the flow condition up to that level in places where the geometry (or the resulting unwieldiness of the pipe) would make the long entry impractical.

One of the more interesting applications of this is in the borehole mining of minerals. Simplistically, a hole is drilled from the surface down to the seam of valuable mineral. Then a specially designed pipe is lowered through the hole with the pipe having a nozzle set on the side. Then, as the pipe rotates and is raised and lowered, the jet mines out the valuable mineral, which flows to the cavity under the pipe, where it is sucked into a jet pump and carried to the surface.

Schematic of a borehole mining operation

Figure 4. Schematic of a borehole mining operation (George Savanick)

As I mentioned at the top of the article, the jet cut a cavity some 30 ft in radius with the jet issuing through a nozzle some 0.5 inches in diameter. In order to achieve this range, it was important that the jet was properly collimated, yet the nozzle was set so that there could be no straight section.

Section showing the feed into the borehole miner nozzle

Figure 5. Section showing the feed into the borehole miner nozzle. Note the vanes in the section leading into the nozzle (George Savanick).

The turning vanes to achieve the flow collimation were designed by Lohn and Brent (4th Jet Cutting Symposium) to produce a jet equivalent to that achieved had the nozzle been attached to a straight feed.

Turning vanes used to achieve a jet capable of cutting coal to 30-ft from the nozzle

Figure 6. Turning vanes used to achieve a jet capable of cutting coal to 30-ft from the nozzle. (P.D. Lohn and D.A. Brent “Design and Test of an Inlet Nozzle Device” paper D1, 4th Int Symp on Jet Cutting Technology, Canterbury, BHRA 1978)

Tests of the performance of the nozzle showed that it produced a jet that was at least equal in performance to a nozzle with a straight feed, up to a standoff distance of 45 ft.

In simpler applications, the designs do not need to be that complicated for many simple spraying nozzles, for example, the straightener is made up of a simple piece of folded metal.

Simple flow straightener for use in low pressure and flow applications

Figure 7. Simple flow straightener for use in low pressure and flow applications.

The water has now reached the nozzle, but that is not the end of the story of the feed system, as I will start to explain, next time.

Waterjetting Technology-Adding Cracks to Nature

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 weeks of the KMT Waterjet Weekly Blog Series, I have focused on demonstrating, with examples, that water effectively removes material by penetrating into natural cracks in the material and causing them to grow. But what happens when there are not enough cracks to remove material at an economic rate? The modern approach has been to raise the pressure of the water so that smaller cracks grow faster, thus providing the production rates needed, but that option wasn’t available in the past.

I mentioned last time that miners in the Caucasus Mountains of what is now Georgia used the power of mountain streams to erode gold deposits over 3,000 years ago. Perhaps learning from that, when the Romans came to Las Médulas in Spain some 2,000 years ago, they thought of water again as a way of mining the gold-bearing sandstone of the local hills. And though they had to modify the initial idea, the result became the most important gold mine in the Roman Empire. It is now a World Heritage Site.

Location of Las Médulas in Spain

Figure 1. Location of Las Médulas in Spain. (Google Earth)

The sandstone was more resistant than soil, and so the Romans came up with two ideas to improve the rate at which the gold ore could be removed. The first idea was to run galleries into the sides of the hills, creating large chambers underground, with support for the roof from wooden supports that were left in place.

Tunnel driven into the bottom of the hill at Las Médulas

Figure 2. Tunnel driven into the bottom of the hill at Las Médulas.

Underground room at Las Médulas

Figure 3. Underground room at Las Médulas.

At the same time that the mining preparations were going on local streams were being diverted and dammed so that a large volume of water was held in reservoirs and then carried by manmade channels to a point over the mining chambers. With the water ready, the timbers, which initially weakened the overlying rock so that it began to fail, were set on fire falling into the opening, and as the support burned away, more rock fell into the opening until the cavity worked its way up to the surface. At this point, the reservoir gate was opened and water flooded down the channel to fall into the cavity. As the water fell it further broke the rock into grain-sized pieces, and carried these down and out through the original opening in the hillside.

A Collapsed cavity

Figure 4. A Collapsed cavity, not the two figures at the arrows to get a sense of scale.

The water and debris flow was directed into flumes, in much the same way as modern miners in Alaska practice today, except that where carpet is used to catch the gold particles in Alaska, in Spain the Romans used plant stems (silex) to catch the gold. After drying the plant could be burned easing to recovery of the gold. (In more modern times Spanish miners have lined the flumes with oxen hides.)

Artist sketch of the troughs used to capture the gold particles at the Spanish mines

Figure 5. Artist sketch of the troughs used to capture the gold particles at the Spanish mines.

The use of heat to weaken rock before using water pressure for cutting has been tried with a couple of interesting wrinkles both by researchers at Rolla and at the then U.S. Bureau of Mines and in Colorado among others. But those more modern trials will be described later in the series. Using water streams to erode surface outcrops of mineral survived as “hushing” in the North of England and elsewhere until fairly recently.

Move forward some 1800 years or so from Roman Spain, and at the turn of the 19th Century miners in both Russia and New Zealand had a problem in mining coal. In both countries there were good quality coal seams, but they sloped at a steep angle that made it difficult to move men around without their slipping and falling. It was also difficult to support the roof, which was achieved at the time by sawing wooden props to length and wedging them between the roof and floor. Both nations had the idea of modifying the Roman idea of using water to remove the mined coal, but coal was thought to be somewhat stronger and more resistant than the Spanish sandstone.

In the New Zealand case the mountainous countryside makes it expensive to drive roads and as early as 1891, wooden flumes were being used to carry coal to the consumer. However, it was then realized that the water could be used to also remove the mined coal, particularly that which was left in regions of the mine where it was not safe for men to go. The coal was therefore initially blasted, and then the flow from the nearby streams was directed at the debris pile. The volume of water and the slope of the mine combined to remove all the mined coal, often overnight, so that a new area could be worked the following day. It was not until 1947 that pumps began to be used to drive the water at greater pressures. At this point, with the higher pressures that pumping brought, it was no longer necessary to pre-crack and break the coal with explosives.

While the New Zealand coal seams outcropped at the surface in very hilly ground, the situation was somewhat different in the Donets coal seams in the Soviet Union, where the seams were thinner, and production was barely economic. The seams in these mines were much deeper than in New Zealand, and so jet pressure could be provided from the drop in height from the mine surface to the location of the large nozzle or monitor that was used to aim the water flow at the coal. As with the New Zealand experience the Soviet miners (at the Tyrganskie-Uklony mine) initially blasted the coal with explosives to weaken it with a high density of cracks, before applying the water. However the miners found that not only did the water double production (to 600 tons/shift) the streams were powerful enough that it wasn’t necessary to pre-blast the coal. The nozzle diameters of the time were up to 2-inches in diameter, and could throw a jet up to 60 ft.

Early Soviet underground coal miner

Figure 6. Early Soviet underground coal miner

It was from these small beginnings that hydraulic mining began, it was, in its time the most productive method of mining gold in California and was used for many years around the world for mining coal and other minerals. But that again is a subject for more detailed discussion at a later time.

The combination of explosives and water power remains in use in harder rocks, particularly in South Africa in the gold mines. Here again the seams of gold are very narrow and can slope or dip at a steep grade, the working area is thus kept very cramped and difficult to work. By blasting the ore with explosive, it can again be moved with water pressure, although there is an additional advantage to water here that I will further explain when I write about cleaning rust from plates.

Gold, as is shown by the way it can be collected in flumes, is very heavy, and part of the problem in the South African mines is that small pieces can get trapped in small pockets on the floor of the seam. The higher pressure water flows can flush out these pockets driving the gold particles down to a common collection point. In that particular, the practices haven’t changed that much in three thousand years.

Using Nature’s Crack System

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 this section of the series on Waterjetting, the focus is on the way in which high-pressure waterjets grow cracks in their target. As John Field showed, even the presence of microscopic cracks on a glass surface are enough to initiate the larger cracks that lead to failure. In many cases, however, the most useful growth can be achieved if the cracks only extend to the point that they remove a desired amount of material. This becomes important where there are weaknesses and flaws in the material – such as the layers between plies of wood, or even Kevlar – which should not be grown as the jet cuts down through the material. And in a later article, this topic will be a part of a discussion as exactly what happens as a jet drills a hole into a target. But, for today, I would like to talk about crack growths in rock and soil, both because it is one of the oldest ways in which water can penetrate into material, and also because it holds the potential to be one of the newest areas into which waterjetting is growing, and will likely further advance into a more significant business.

And to begin consider that, as water penetrates into the cracks in a rock and grows those cracks slowly under natural forces, rocks with minerals in them will see those mineral particles separately broken out. The classic example of this is with gold. One of the ways in which the Forty-Niners found the gold in California was by panning for the gold particles in the rivers and tracking the gold deposits back up-stream until they reached the original gold deposits of the Sierra Mountains. Not that this was the first time that water transport had helped in gold mining. One of my favorite stories to begin classes is to remind them of Jason and the Argonauts.

Movie poster for Jason and the Argonauts

Figure 1. Movie poster for the 1963 film version of Jason and the Argonauts (IMDb)

It is a theme that has been made into a movie several times, and tells the story of how the Greek Prince Jason and a band of companions go in search of the Golden Fleece, and the adventures that he has along the way. Despite the mythical creatures the story is thought to be likely based on some measure of truth, with the voyage taking place some time before 1300 B.C. But our focus is on the fleece rather than the voyagers.

Suggested path that Jason followed to get to the River Rhion in Georgia

Figure 2. Suggested path that Jason followed to get to the River Rhion in Georgia.(Google Earth)

Within the Caususus mountains of Georgia lies the modern town of Mestia, which was thought in Roman times to be the site of Colchis, where Jason found the Golden Fleece. The reality is not quite as dramatic as the legend since as the Roman historian Strabo noted

“It is said that in the country of Colchis, gold is carried down by mountain torrents, and that the barbarians obtain it by means of perforated troughs and fleecy skins, and that this is the origin of the myth of the Golden Fleece”

The torrents of water in the Svaneti valley outside Mestia

Figure 3. The torrents of water in the Svaneti valley outside Mestia, (Nika Shmeleva Google Earth at 43deg02’29.74”N, 42deg42’25.13E)

It is thought that the miners of the time directed the streams so that they flowed over the veins of gold and eroded out the particles so that the gold was carried down to the valley. Here it was fed through the troughs that Strabo described, and the heavy gold particles were captured as they tangled in the wool of the fleece. To recover the gold the miners would then hang the fleeces in trees, so that they would dry, and the gold could be shaken loose. Unfortunately as the fleeces hung in the trees they provided a tempting target for Greek thieves. (In a later version that I will write about in the next post the sheep fleece was replaced with brush that could be dried and burned to release the gold).

Water was thus, in one of the earliest “automated” mining processes, used to both dislodge and then carry the valuable mineral from the mining site. The overall power of water to move soil has been used to wash away material for over a hundred years. In the 1973 War between Egypt and Israel, the Egyptian Army gained a significant advantage in the early hours of the war by using waterjet monitors to wash away the defensive barrier along the edges of the Suez Canal, rather than using conventional mechanical excavators.

To deal with the massive earthen ramparts, the Egyptians used water cannons fashioned from hoses attached to dredging pumps in the canal. Other methods involving explosives, artillery, and bulldozers were too costly in time and required nearly ideal working conditions. For example, sixty men, 600 pounds of explosives, and one bulldozer required five to six hours, uninterrupted by Israeli fire, to clear 1,500 cubic meters of sand.

The quoted Sunday Times report of the time suggested that the Israeli Army had anticipated that it would take 24-hours to remove the barriers giving time for their Army to mobilize and arrive. However, using a set of five pumps per breech site the Egyptian Army was able to make an opening in as short as a 2-hour time, with the mobilized water cannon opening 81 breeches, and removing 106 million cubic feet of material in that first day of the war. They were thus able to initially advance into the Sinai with relatively little resistance.

The pressure of the water does not have to be high to disaggregate the soil, but large volumes were needed in that application both to break the soil loose and to move it out of the way. Moving the debris out of the way is an important part of the operation, and while, in the above case it could be just pushed to one side, in many more localized jobs, particularly in cities, that is not an answer. However if the soil can be collected with the water, then the fluid can help to move the soil down a pipe away from the working area. And, more importantly, if the soil can be captured as it is being broken loose, then both can be collected before the water has had a chance to penetrate into the soil around the hole, and so the walls of the hole will not get wet and will remain stable and not fall in.

One way that we have achieved this is to rotate a pair of waterjets relatively rapidly (depending on the material the jet pressure can range from 2,000 psi to 10,000 psi) so that the surface layer is removed, and to immediately take this away by combining the jet action with a vacuum for removal. (In the initial trials we used a Shop Vac to remove both water and debris). This combination has become known as hydro-excavation, and will be the topic of a couple of posts in the future.

Similarly the use of high pressure to break an ore down into its different parts, so that the valuable mineral can be separated from the host rock at the mining machine, is become a new way to reduce the costs of transporting and processing the ore and make mining more efficient. As yet this latter is still more of a laboratory development, though it will develop for greater use in the future, and there will be additional posts on this too in the future. But, in both cases, the use of waterjets to effectively rely on extending pre-existing cracks makes the systems work. In the next post I’ll write about a couple of other ways of getting enough cracks into the rock as ways of making it easier to separate and remove valuable materials from underground.