Introduction of water jet
A water jet cutter is a cutting tool for industrial use that utilizes jet of water at high pressure. A version of water where a mix of water and an abrasive substance such as garnet is called abrasive water jet. An electrical discharge machine (EDM), on the other hand, uses electrical sparks to create shapes on a very hard metal surface (die EDM) or cut metal with a thin conductor (wire EDM).
Materials used with EDM are limited to conductive metals because the spark generated must be between an electrode and the metal to be cut itself. Water jets don’t have this limitation (except very hard materials) and cost less than EDM although it is impossible to use in cutting severely complex shapes and on delicate and fragile materials.
While Water jet and EDM are competing technologies, there are scenarios where they are used together such as in blanking-die projects, where a water jet is used to remove the bulk of the material and the EDM does small cuts to produce the final dimensions and finish.
Water jet cutting was originally for two-dimensional machining but modern cutters can now cut up to six axes, including three-dimensional shapes, bevels, and even pipe works. This is made possible through advancements in robotics and computer numerical controls (CNC). Abrasive material recycling has also become a trend which allows fabricators to reuse and recycle used abrasive in hopes of reducing costs. Another important technological breakthrough in waterjet technology is intuitive software, which greatly reduces training time for operators.
Challenges and Outlooks
Manufacturers are looking the build smarter and connected water jet cutters. Smarter means future water jets should be able to predict uptime and provide new preventive maintenance techniques in hopes of further reducing production and maintenance costs. Connected waterjet machines, following the Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT), would lead to more forward-thinking features and functionality specifically for process monitoring and production.
EDM engineers, meanwhile, are looking to carve through the generator challenge. An EDM machine is inherently a power-hungry machine because it produces electrical sparks to cut metals. Further improvements in digital anti-electrolysis generators and power regeneration circuit are expected in the near future.