Water Jet Cutters - What They Can Do And Pros And Cons To Consider Before Purchase

There are a number of ways to cut metal into intricate shapes during steel fabrication, including the use of acetylene and oxygen torches, plasma cutters and even lasers. However, one of the most versatile cutting tools is the water jet cutter. These machines offer a number of significant advantages over other cutting devices, and below is more information on some of these benefits and the pros and cons of purchasing a water jet cutter for your fabrication needs:

How does a water jet cutter work?

Water jet cutters operate using a simple principle that should be familiar to most people: erosion. An extremely high speed, narrow stream of water strikes the the surface of the metal, and it displaces metal particles in its path. To obtain such high speeds, which are essential to water jet cutting of metal, the water must leave the machine at well over three thousand miles per hour, with some machines generating even higher speeds.

In addition to pure water, it is normal to add some type of abrasive material into the water stream. Garnet is a popular choice of materials, but others can be used. Due to the tiny nature of these materials, they can pass through the microscopic sized nozzles of the jet cutter and increase the cutting efficiency and speed.

What are the advantages and benefits of using a water jet cutter?

There are multiple reasons why a water jet cutter may make sense as an addition to your cutting tool repertoire. Some of these advantages are described below:

Elimination of heat damage to the working stock - One of the most important positive outcomes of using water jets is the complete elimination of heat during cutting. This prevents potential warping and melting of the stock or the desired product.

Precision levels are high - Another advantage of using a water jet cutter is the high degree of precision that can be reached. For example, some water jet cutters are capable of cutting lines through metal that are no thicker than a human hair. This is useful for cutting stock into small pieces, especially when those pieces contain a number of curves and other elaborate patterns.

Zero production of shavings or metallic dust - Water jet cutters are able to make extremely clean cuts that do not generate residual debris. This prevents the need to collect and dispose of shavings, and it also helps prevent possible long-term damage to machinery. Tiny particles of metal can create numerous problems with electronics, lead to mechanical linkages, and possibly contaminate fluids.

What are the disadvantages of using a water jet cutter?

Water jet cutters perform well in many environments and cutting scenarios, but they do have some disadvantages. Below are a few possible downsides of water jet cutters:

Cutting speeds are often slow - Depending on what material is being cut with a water jet cutter, it may slow the cutting speed to a crawl. Slow cutting speeds may not be much of a hindrance in certain industrial environments, but there are circumstances where it is not feasible to use water jet cutters.

Possible clogs and breakdowns - Water jet cutters rely on sophisticated, high-speed pumps to generate enough pressure to penetrate metal. These pumps can be put out of commission by a variety of causes, including general wear-and-tear issues, clogs in the plumbing, nozzle damage, and other problems.

Thick materials cannot be cut accurately - Thick steel or similar metals cannot be cut without skewing the dimensions of the project. The water jet slows considerably as it passes through these types of materials, and by the time it exits the materials, the jet may be directing at an angle away from 90-degrees to the cutting surface. This particular phenomenon can result in unusable cut-outs and other pieces that don't conform to specifications.