Many manufacturers are torn between the different types of material cutting capabilities, primarily fiber laser, plasma cutters, and waterjet cutting machines. While each machine has specific pros and cons, we are focusing today on the capabilities of waterjet cutters. But who exactly are these machines for? And what can you gain by investing in one?

Read through this blog to see who would benefit and what are some possible cons of waterjet machines.

Pros of Waterjet Machines

Material Compatibility: Waterjet machines can cut through a wide range of materials. These cutting machines can handle diverse materials including metals, plastics, glass, ceramics, stone, and composites. This makes them suitable for diverse industries and an easy choice if you are cutting multiple different materials.

Thickness Range: If you cut multiple thicknesses of materials, then a waterjet may be the best solution for you. They can handle both very thin and very thick materials. Depending on the type of material, up to several inches thick can be cut by waterjets. 

High Precision: Waterjet cutters can achieve very high levels of precision. The tolerances for cuts are often within 0.001 inches when calibrated and used correctly. This makes them ideal for intricate designs and detailed cuts.

No Heat-Affected Zone (HAZ): One of the problems when manufacturing metal parts is the presence of heat affected zones when using a fiber laser or plasma. Since waterjet cutting is a cold cutting process though, it eliminates the risk of material deformation or warping due to heat. This eliminates the need to account for a heat affected zone.

Smooth Edges: Again, depending on material type and thickness, cuts produced by waterjet machines are typically clean and burr-free. This cutting process reduces the need for complicated secondary finishing processes.

Minimal Kerf: When cutting with a waterjet, the kerf is minimal. This leads to less material waste and can help achieve a tighter tolerance in manufacturing components.

Cons of Waterjet Machines

Initial Investment: Prices for a quality waterjet typically fall between the price of a plasma cutting machine and a fiber laser machine. For larger companies this makes waterjets a great mid-tier option for cutting equipment with versatility. For smaller businesses getting into material cutting, this may be a barrier to entry.

Maintenance Costs: Waterjet machines, like all industrial machinery,  require regular maintenance. This maintenance is crucial to ensure optimal performance and maintain quality cutting capability. While critical, maintenance requirements add to operational costs.

Slow Cutting Speed: Compared to laser or plasma cutting, waterjet cutting is typically slower. This is particularly true for thicker materials. So, if speed of production is a primary consideration and you’re not cutting plastics or wood, a fiber laser may be a better choice for you. 

Nozzle Wear: All cutting machines will have consumables. The abrasive materials used in waterjet cutting will cause wear and tear on the nozzles. This necessitates frequent replacements.

High Water Consumption: Depending on your shop location, this can immediately disqualify you from a waterjet. These machines consume large amounts of water. This can be a concern in areas with water scarcity or water restrictions. However, there are ways to mitigate this. By adding a Water Recycling System also known as a Closed Looped System, you are able to recycle the cutting water from the waterjet cutting process. This provides for zero discharge of wastewater, but is an additional cost.

Abrasive Material Management: The abrasives used in the cutting process need to be properly managed and disposed of. This involves additional handling and storage considerations. Additionally, there may be environmental considerations. The Fabricator has an article found here about selecting the right waterjet abrasive. 

Who would benefit from a waterjet?

Given the overview of the pros and cons of waterjet cutting machines, it is clear that while the technology offers significant advantages such as precision, versatility, and quality cuts, it also comes with challenges. Understanding these factors is crucial for potential buyers to know whether the benefits align with their requirements and capabilities. But what industries and professionals are best suited to leverage the unique capabilities of waterjet machines? Who should consider investing in this technology to enhance their operations and achieve superior outcomes?

Manufacturers

Manufacturers across various sectors, from aerospace to construction, can benefit from waterjet cutting. The technology allows for precise cuts on a wide range of materials, including metals, composites, and glass. Versatility like this means manufacturers can streamline their production processes and offer a wider variety of services. This also allows manufacturers to create complex shapes or intricate designs. These features of waterjet cutters are especially advantageous for manufacturers creating bespoke components.

Architects and Designers

For architects and designers, a waterjet opens up a world of creative possibilities. The precision cutting ability allows for the creation of intricate patterns and complex structures. These designs would be challenging or impossible to achieve with traditional cutting methods. The versatility of a waterjet lends itself to designers and architects too. The ability to cut stone, glass, or metal allows a variety of parts to be created in-house. This flexibility allows architects and designers to experiment with different materials and push the boundaries of their designs.

Fabrication Shops

Fabrication shops, whether small or large, can benefit from the gains provided by a waterjet cutter. The technology can cut through various materials accurately. This reduces the time and labor costs associated with manual cutting or outsourcing. While the initial investment in a waterjet cutter can be significant, the long-term savings in labor and outsourcing can make it a cost-effective solution. Additionally, waterjet cutters, when taken care of properly, have long lifespans.

Educational Institutions

For technical schools and colleges, a waterjet can be an invaluable teaching tool. It allows students to gain hands-on experience with advanced manufacturing technology. This prepares them for careers in engineering, design, and manufacturing. Additionally, universities involved in research and development can use waterjet cutters for prototyping and experimenting with new materials and designs. This process of experimentation can lead to innovations and advancements in various fields. Many colleges like the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Michigan, employ a waterjet in their design school.

Job Shops

Job shops that handle custom cutting jobs for various clients can greatly benefit from a waterjet cutter. The ability to switch between different materials and projects makes it an ideal tool for shops that need to be responsive to client needs. With job shops, the quality of the finished product is paramount. Waterjet cutting typically leaves a clean, precise edge. This requires minimal finishing which leads to a faster turnaround time.

Conclusion

Investing in a waterjet cutter can be a transformative decision for a wide range of professionals and industries. From enhancing precision and efficiency in manufacturing to enabling creative expression in art and design, the benefits can be extensive. As technology continues to evolve, the potential applications of waterjet cutting are likely to expand even further. However, potential buyers should carefully consider the operational costs, maintenance requirements, and specific needs of their applications to determine if a waterjet machine is the right investment for them. By weighing these pros and cons, businesses can make informed decisions that align with their production goals and financial considerations. If you are unsure if a waterjet makes sense for your business, reach out to Moore Machine Tools today to let our dedicated team help guide you!