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Full Stream Ahead: Waterjet Smooths Production

Stephen Bruner
By Stephen Bruner Vice President of Marketing, OMAX Corp.

More shops than ever are embracing waterjet cutting systems. And for the most part, the reason is that a number of customer-driven improvements/innovations to waterjet technology make it even more user friendly, productive and appealing to an ever-broadening array of manufacturers.

Two such key innovations include user-experience-focused software and the optimization of the overall waterjet cutting process to a wider range of applications.

Software usability is paramount to efficiency and productivity. To produce the best results for all users, software must accommodate those with a diverse range of programming abilities. It must exceed the needs of operators that prefer push button controls and those with advanced programming capabilities.

Controller software must align with the expectations of all these groups. When it does, entry-level users can more easily operate machines and make significantly fewer mistakes, which increases a shop’s output. The software also makes operating the machine easier for all users, especially those less familiar with technology. User-friendly software allows smooth transitions between multiple machine tools and other production devices.

For tech-savvy programmers, advanced scripting functionality can expand waterjet use into multiple shop processes and workflows. These advanced software elements combine to increase a machine’s performance and productivity.

Advanced software uses built-in hardware capabilities to raise the efficiency of cutting path programs through specialized algorithms. Such software creates the best cutting program for each specific part without any additional programming required by the user. It takes into account all the cutting parameters and implements an optimized cutting strategy.

OEMs now have a more refined understanding of a waterjet stream’s inherent behaviors, and are able to help shops tackle a broader range of applications. With a deeper understanding of the jet and abrasive, OEMs create sophisticated algorithms to increase cutting speed, optimize costs and improve precision.

For example, a jet directed perpendicular to the cutting surface will lag behind as it is moved across the workpiece, but a jet tilted slightly forward eliminates the lag and thus allows for faster cutting speeds. Plus, a complete knowledge of waterjet motion allows for the optimization of cornering strategies that use the jet’s inherent behaviors to advantage.

In terms of application-centric cutting, today’s engineers continuously develop enhanced approaches to abrasive waterjet technology, particularly in difficult applications. For instance, thin materials present challenges to taper-free cutting. This is not necessarily because the materials are hard to cut without taper, but because the workpiece itself is so thin that shops are unable to measure the taper with current instrumentation.

That’s why a new way has been devised to measure the taper on such thin parts. Engineers are now better equipped to accurately assess the performance of waterjets in ultra-thin parts, and can modify the cutting model (algorithm) accordingly.

The number of waterjets on shop floors is expanding because the technology increases productivity by offering versatility over conventional chip machining operations. Waterjet machining centers replace slower, less efficient processes to boost output, especially for roughing or near-net cutting operations where the use of waterjet is faster than conventional machine tools.

Waterjets cut virtually any material in a wide range of thicknesses. The cold-cutting nature of the process is free of negative thermal effects. This delivers advantages in applications where shops are concerned about the creation of heat affected zones.

Accessories also spur shops toward waterjet ownership. For instance, innovative solids-removal systems make waterjets easier to maintain. Those systems remove spent abrasive material from the machine and place it in an external hopper, which reduces the frequency and duration of catcher tank cleaning.

Recently developed fully enclosed machining centers are also responsible for the advancement of waterjet technology. These centers make waterjets more appealing to those concerned about the particles and liquids that may be dispersed in the cutting process. Enclosed systems can also improve the precision of a waterjet by keeping thermal conditions constant.

Not long ago fabrication shops, for the most part, were the only ones using waterjet technology. But now shops in many different industries have and continue to discover the advantages of waterjets. They’ve realized that improvements in waterjet technology—especially in the areas of software and application support—continue to make the technology easy to use and beneficial for a virtually endless range of applications.

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