For beginners and professionals working with waterjet techniques, there often comes a time when they wonder which method to choose between abrasive vs pure water jet cutting. There are benefits to each and their applications can vary significantly.

This article will explore the differences between these two waterjet cutting methods, and which method to choose for a particular material.

Abrasive vs Pure Water Jet Cutting- What is the Difference?

Abrasive and pure waterjet cutting are two different types of the same basic technology.

Pure waterjet cutting involves a water stream piercing a material and creating the cutting action.

On the other hand, the abrasive waterjet cutting method utilizes fine particles called abrasives mixed in the water stream. The cutting action is majorly caused by the sheer force of the abrasives instead of the pure water jet stream.

Since abrasives are harder than water, abrasive waterjet cutting is ideal for harder materials that will take too long to cut using a pure water stream.

What is Pure Waterjet Cutting?

In pure waterjet cutting, the high-pressure water stream penetrates through the material and dissects it without any additional assistance. It is a minimally invasive process and the kerf width depends on the thickness of the water stream. Since it does not involve any abrasive, it is a cheap cutting method. However, it is used to cut only soft materials due to the unfeasible slow speeds for hard materials.

What is Pure Water Cutting Suitable For?

Pure waterjet cutting is suitable for a wide range of materials, such as:

Felt

Pure waterjet cutting is often used in the textile industry to cut materials like felt. In fact, pure waterjet cutting is the best way to cut felt because it is a cold-cutting process. Hot-cutting processes like laser cutting cause the felt to melt and create beads, ruining their appearance.

Foam

Pure waterjet cutting is a great option to cut any type of foam. Similar to felt, foam also burns when it is cut using traditional cutting methods that generate heat. Therefore, pure waterjet cutting is the go-to choice for foam cutting.

Food Items

Food items are regularly cut using pure waterjet cutting to preserve the hygiene and integrity of the food item. It also creates clean, high-quality cuts in any intricate design required.

Paper

One of the earliest applications of pure waterjet technology involved cutting industrial paper. Waterjet cutting can cut through paper reams of any thickness, without creating unwanted feathering effects. Additionally, the paper does not get wet due to the sheer force of water.

Insulation

Pure waterjet cutting is a great way to cut insulation materials such as duct liners. The elimination of heat-affected zones in HVAC systems using waterjet cutting makes it the preferable machining method for the same.

Cardboard

Pure waterjet cutting of cardboard provides very similar benefits to cutting paper. A pure waterjet stream can even cut through multiple layers of cardboard with high precision.

Rubber

Traditional cutting methods that generate heat often cause a foul smell and toxic fumes when cutting rubber. However, cutting rubber with a pure water jet stream does not cause any of these unwanted effects.

Thin Plastics

It is even possible to cut thin materials such as plastics with a waterjet cutting machine. Plastics, being softer materials, might not require abrasives at all up to a certain thickness.

Fabrics

Pure waterjet cutting is used extensively in the fabric industry to create clean cuts on very thick rolls. Waterjet cutting of fabrics is faster than using other methods.

Wood

Pure waterjet cutting is commonly used in wood-cutting operations. Wood is one of the softer materials, so it does not require any abrasive for the cutting action. Waterjet-cut wood is used for a variety of applications such as making carvings.

Metal Foils

While metals are hard, metal foils are quite soft. Therefore, a pure waterjet cutter is commonly used to cut through metal foils. The metal dust generated in the process is mixed in the water and can be collected later at a drain.

What are the Advantages of Pure Water Jet Cutting?

There are many reasons to choose pure waterjet cutting over its abrasive counterpart. These reasons are:

  • Cost: The major cost in waterjet cutting is the cost of the abrasive. By eliminating that cost, pure waterjet cutting tends to be quite cheaper.
  • Speed: Pure waterjet cutting does not require a mixing process for the abrasive. Therefore, the speed of this cutting method is faster.
  • Cold Cutting Process: Pure waterjet cutting is a cold-cutting process since no physical cutting tools are used. Even water itself is a coolant, so there are no heat-affected zones formed.
  • Precision: Pure waterjet cutting is one of the most precise cutting methods and its tolerances are the lowest after laser cutting.
  • Versatility: Pure waterjet cutting can cut through any type of soft, light, thin, or delicate material. This includes metals, non-metals, fabrics, and more.
  • No Damage to Workpiece: Pure water jet cutting has a very low kerf width. There is no chance of any damage occurring to the workpiece.
  • Intricate Cutting: Pure waterjet cutting can create intricate cuts, and even work in cavities where other cutting methods cannot operate.
  • Ease of Use: Pure waterjet cutting works automatically and can be operated with a computer. The operator just needs to select the cutting program which is preloaded into the software.

What are the Disadvantages of Pure Waterjet Cutting?

Pure waterjet cutting has a couple of disadvantages that can be eliminated by using abrasives. These disadvantages are:

  • Slower Cutting: Pure waterjet relies on the cutting force of the water alone. Therefore, the cutting speed of this method is slower than abrasive waterjet cutting.
  • Material Limitation: Pure water jet cutting becomes unfeasible when cutting hard materials because of the extremely slow cutting rate. Therefore, this method is only limited to the soft materials mentioned above.

What is Abrasive Waterjet Cutting?

Abrasive waterjet cutting utilizes hard particles mixed with the water stream to create the cutting action. The abrasive material can vary based on the workpiece material. The general idea is that the hardness of abrasive should be more than the hardness of the workpiece material.

What is Abrasive Waterjet Cutting Suitable For?

Abrasive waterjet cutting works great for a wide range of materials, such as:

Steel

Steel is one of the most common materials cut with abrasive waterjet cutting. In fact, abrasive waterjet cutting easily cuts through steel blocks that are 12 inches thick. This includes all types of steel.

Aluminum

Aluminum is softer than many other metals and alloys. Therefore, abrasive waterjet easily cuts through aluminum.

Copper

Abrasive waterjet cutting of copper is used for a wide variety of applications such as copper ducts, pipes, plates, and more.

Thick Plastic

While pure waterjet techniques are good for thinner plastics, thick plastics and composites will require abrasive waterjet cutting.

Stone

Abrasive waterjet cutting of stone is useful for decor, architecture, and even for mining applications. In fact, modified waterjet systems can cut through 100 feet of stone and earth in mining.

Marble

Cutting marble requires a method that can preserve the visual appearance of marble as well as handle its brittle nature. For this reason, abrasive waterjet cutting works out great.

Granite

Granite ranks quite high among hard materials with non-conductive nature. Therefore, not many cutting methods work on it. Using metal blades can be expensive, slow, and unfeasible for high thicknesses. Therefore, abrasive waterjet cutting is a great fit for granite cutting.

Ceramics

Abrasive waterjet technology on ceramics has a lot of applications for insulators, art pieces, and more. While ceramics can handle a lot of heat, other cutting methods can often cause them to break due to their brittle nature.

Glass

Cutting glass using abrasive waterjet technology works great in a variety of use cases such as decor, architecture, glassware, and more.

What are the Advantages of Abrasive Cutting?

There are many benefits of using abrasive water jet cutting, such as:

  • Versatility: Abrasive water jet cutting has the most versatility among all cutting methods. It works for metals, nonmetals, hard materials, softer materials, and any other type of materials you can think of.
  • Environment Friendly: Abrasive water jet cutting is a green technology. All the water used in the process is recycled back into the system. Even the removed material can be collected and recycled.
  • Material Integrity: Abrasive water jet cutting preserves the integrity of the workpiece material. This is because there is no formation of any heat-affected zones during the cutting process.
  • Ease of Use: Abrasive water jet cutting machine is easy to set up and easier to use. All the cutting programs can be executed by using the control panel, without having to manually handle the cutting head.
  • High Precision: Abrasive cutting is a high-precision method. It can create some of the lowest tolerances among any industrial cutting technologies out there.
  • Intricate Designs: Abrasive water jet cutting works even in cavities inside a material that other cutting methods can not reach. Higher-axis machines are capable of intricate 3-dimensional designs.

What are the Disadvantages of Abrasive Waterjet Cutting?

Abrasive water jet cutting can have certain cons, such as:

  • Cutting Time: Abrasive water jet machining can be a time-consuming process as compared to pure waterjet. However, the cutting time can be reduced by design optimization methods.
  • Mechanical Failure: Due to the use of abrasive material, there is a higher wear and tear of parts. This leads to more frequent mechanical failures.
  • Initial Cost: The initial cost of abrasive water jet machining can be high, especially if opting for a higher-axis machine.
  • Thickness and Accuracy: As the thickness of materials increases, the accuracy will decrease. However, the accuracy obtained is still higher than most other cutting methods.

Which Water Jet Cutting Process is Right For You?

The decision of choosing between pure and abrasive water jet cutting can vary from the situation, depending on quite a few factors such as:

  1. Material: Pure water jet cutting works well for softer materials or hard materials of little thickness. Therefore, the choice of material will play the biggest role in determining which method to use.
  2. Operation Cost: The main cost of operating a water jet cutter is the cost of abrasive material. Therefore, if budget is a constraint, opt for pure water jet cutting.
  3. Precision: Pure water jet cutting will offer a higher precision than abrasive water jet cutting. However, for hard materials, this will also mean a significantly longer cutting time.

Endnotes

Abrasive and pure waterjet cutting machines, both have their benefits. Therefore, the right machine should be chosen based on the requirements you have. Each of these machines is an innovative solution and works exceptionally well. However, to get the most out of any water jet machine, it is important to go for quality equipment.

Techni Waterjet CNC waterjet cutting machines are the best value for money in this regard. They have a rugged construction along with innovative features at a reasonable price. They can handle whatever you throw at them and more. Additionally, there are a lot of models to choose from, based on your price, required features, and the number of axes.

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