In 1992, although I knew absolutely nothing about waterjet cutting, I believed it had a great future, and would one day be a sought-after production tool by many industries. Looking back, waterjet cutting has passed even the most optimistic predictions.
The last 15 years have seen every aspect of waterjet cutting change. The machines have become easier to operate, program and service, while the capabilities and applications of waterjet cutting have done a quantum leap. Initially viewed with skepticism, for just the thought of trying to cut a piece of stone with water seemed ridiculous, water technologies are now viewed as precision machining tools, opening up new ways of addressing challenges in cutting and fabrication.
From simple, straight-line actuators slitting materials to systems running multiple 5-axis cutting heads, swiveling around high-tech parts mounted on rotational multiaxis indexers, simultaneously monitoring every aspect of the process all controlled from a remote cell phone, waterjet technology is here to stay.
Yet, as advanced as this technology becomes,
there are still certain aspects that have to be understood and cared for. You can go and
purchase the latest car of your dreams with every bell and whistle, but if you don't
put air in your tires, you won't get far.
Waterjet technology is the same. As sophisticated as the systems become, it is still vital
to take care of the basics. Who would ever think a bead of sweat that dropped into the abrasive
as it was being loaded into the hopper could cause a blockage and shut down a $200,000 piece
So, what are some of the helpful tips one should know when looking to own and operate a waterjet system?
PEOPLE ARE EVERYTHING
Get the right person to oversee and to run the machine.
It is often better to have the right characteristics in the individual, than previous experience.
Look for reliability, a willingness to learn and retain the new knowledge, and someone who is interested — ideally fascinated — with waterjet technology. When everything is running great, anyone can be in charge. But when something stops working, you suddenly need a depth of knowledge and understanding. Find someone who is inquisitive, and get as much training as you can lay your hands on. Every minute will pay for itself hundreds of times.
Very few safety issues are a must with waterjet, and recorded injuries with CNC waterjet cutting are rare, but the consequences are devastating. If your staff is not prepared to follow the rules, don't get a waterjet machine.
Most important is eye protection. You will never be able to blink in time. Ear protection could be important if sound levels are above the acceptable limit, and be sure to observe all electrical and safety rules of the machine.
Remember you are working with high pressure. Keep a medical explanation for the attending physician in your wallet, and have it attached to the machine in case of an emergency. The manufacturer of your equipment should provide this for you.