Waterjet Cutting Laminated Materials is one of those tasks that a waterjet machine is often the ultimate tool for, and sometimes almost the only workable solution. Waterjet is a versatile tool that is great for cutting almost any material. Laminates can be very challenging to cut and waterjet is one of the best processes that you can find. A waterjet can cut almost any material or combination of materials that can be stacked up and bonded together.
At Accurate Waterjet we have cut multiple layers of glass bonded together, up to 7 layers deep for a total thickness of 2.5″. We have cut carbon fiber, 60 layers deep or more, as well as fiberglass. We have cut multiple layers of metal bonded together, such as shim stock that is different thicknesses stacked together and can be peeled away to give the exact thickness of shims in the shape required when assembling parts that require very precise placement.
We have even cut metals and plastics laminated together in order to give a lightweight material that is thick and durable but can be covered with metal on the face for a better surface finish look.
The somewhat negative side of waterjet cutting laminated materials is that piercing any material with the waterjet that is more than one layer and is bonded together is risky at best. For a little better understanding of the process you can read more on piercing with waterjets in a previous blog. The reason for the difficulty in piercing laminated materials is that the material is normally much stronger than the bonding agent. So, as the waterjet goes through the first layer, it finds less resistance to go sideways rather than go through the next layer of material. This causes de-lamination and can ruin the material in a second. It can de-laminate an area the size of a dime or sometimes 12″ in diameter or more. If there are no internal features that need to be cut, then you may be able to just lead in from the edge of the material and cut without piercing or drilling at all.
There are numerous solutions that waterjet machine manufacturers have come up with and I have tried many of them, but none that I have seen are foolproof and you still have a certain amount of risk of de-lamination occurring. I won’t go into all of the different solutions that can be found for this as I am sure what you are most concerned with is, can we fix the problem. The answer is, yes we can, and the safest solution is to just pre-drill the start holes by mechanical means, so that the waterjet can fire on in a hole through the material and not have to pierce it. This takes care of the risks involved and can be done with a CNC mill, or Router if there are a lot of holes that need to be put in, or can be drilled with a had drill if there are only a few holes required.
So, there is a solution, it just depends on what the situation is. A few being things like what the material is, what the part shape is, if it is outside cuts only or includes inside features as well, how many layers in the laminate, and how many parts are required. Also, as a side note, the thinner or fewer layers that we work with, the lower the risk is of de-lamination. Thinner materials with fewer layers will pierce much faster and also the larger the feature for internal cuts the easier. If you have a larger area to choose the pierce point from, you will be less likely to de-laminate an area large enough to affect the part.
So, for waterjet cutting laminated materials, Accurate Waterjet is your best choice as we have cut almost all types of laminates.
Next time we will talk about cutting glass with the waterjet.