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In the 1950's Dr. Norman Franz, a forestry engineer, started experimenting which ultra high pressure water to cut trees into lumber.
His experiments did not lead to a successful commercial cutting machine but they prove that water under high pressure and high velocity could cut materials.
The first commercial waterjet cutting machines were developed in the 1970's. At pressures between 40,000 and 60,000 psi (276,000 and 414,000 kPa) a jet of water approximately 0.005" (0.1 mm) in diameter could neatly cut everything from paper to food products.
The early waterjet machines were expensive and required high maintenance but were still more cost effective than traditional methods of cutting troublesome soft materials.
Early uses of the waterjet included cutting of:
In the 1980's Abrasive waterjets or "Abrasivejets" were developed. Abrasivejets are waterjets that add an abrasive to the water increasing the power of the waterjet enabling it to cut most materials.
Abrasivejets operate with water pressurized up to 55,000 pounds per square inch (379,000 kP). The water is forced through a very small sapphire orifice at 2,500 feet per second - 2.5X the speed of sound. An abrasive is pulled into this high speed stream of water and mixed with the water in a ceramic mixing tube. The water-abrasive mixture leaves the mixing tube at 1,000 feet per second.
The jet of water-abrasive mixture is directed at the material to be cut. The jet drags the abrasive through the material in a curved path and the resulting centrifugal forces press the particles against the work piece. The abrasivejet's cutting action is a grinding process, but rather than using a solid grinding wheel, the forces and motions of the cutting action are provided by water.
Space and aviation industries were among the fist to embrace abrasive waterjet technology because of its ability to cut high strength materials such as stainless steel, titanium and Iconel as well as composites such as carbon fibers.
Like the early waterjets the first Abrasivejets were expensive and high maintenance machines. In the 1990's Dr. John Olsen developed a waterjet system that avoided the problems of the earlier systems that limited the waterjets to specialized facilities. He envisioned a computer based waterjet.
The result was a computer based control system coupled to a precision X-Y cutting table on which parts could be cut under water to eliminate excessive noise and dust. This was the first Abrasivejet cutting system designed specifically for the short-run and limited-production machine shop market.
Today's abrasive waterjets are versatile and indispensable in applications ranging from cutting disposable diapers to cutting materials used for space exploration.