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Abrasive Water Jet Machining

Abrasive water jet (AWJ) cutting is a nonconventional machining process in which, abrasive grains ,entrained in a high speed water jet ,collide with the work piece and erode it.

A water jet is used to accelerate the abrasive grains and to assist the material removal process.
WJM is suitable for cutting plastics, rubber insulation, and most textiles whereas ,harder materials such as glass, ceramics, concrete and tough composites can be cut by adding abrasives to the water jet.

AWJM uses a pressure of 4.2 bar to accelerate a large volume of a water (70 percent) and abrasive (30 percent) mixture up to a velocity of 30 m/s.

Working Principle
In AWJM, the water jet stream accelerates abrasive particles, not the water, to cause the material removal. The velocity of the water jet is up to 900m/s. It is obtained by a high pressure water pump with a typical pressure value of 400MPa. The pressurized water is forced through an orice made of sapphire. The velocity of the water jet thus formed can be estimated, assuming no losses as vwj = (2pw / w)1/2 using Bernoullis equation. Where, pw and w are pressure and density of water respectively.

The important parameters of the abrasives are the material structure and hardness, grain shape, size, and distribution.

Types of AWJM Systems

There are two different systems of abrasive water jet. One is called entrained abrasive water jet system and another one called suspended abrasive water jet system. Entrained abrasive water jet is much more popular and widely used in the industry. Entrained water jet, is basically composed of three phases, abrasive +water + air. Suspended water jet is composed of abrasive and water. In suspension AWJM, preformed mixture of water and abrasive particles is pumped to a sufficiently high pressure and stored in pressure vessel. Then the premixed high-pressure water and abrasive is allowed to discharge from a nozzle to form abrasive water jet.

After the pure water jet is created, abrasives are added using either the injection or suspension methods as shown.

Injection jet

Suspension jet

There are three different types of suspension AWJ formed by direct, indirect and Bypass pumping method.

Setup of AWJM

The Basic Machining System of AWJM

Water delivery
Abrasive hopper and feeder Intensifier

Mixing chamber Cutting nozzles



Intensifier is a positive displacement hydraulic pump.
By using direction control valve, the intensifier is driven by the hydraulic unit. The water may be directly supplied to the small cylinder of the intensifier.

As the larger piston changes direction within the intensifier, there would be a drop in the delivery pressure.
To counter such drops, a thick cylinder is added to the delivery unit to accommodate water at high pressure. This is called an accumulator which acts like a fly wheel of an engine and minimises fluctuation of water pressure

Hydraulic power pack delivers hydraulic oil at a pressure ph to Intensifier. Thus, pressure amplification at the small cylinder takes place as follows:

Abrasive Hopper
Waterjet ADS (Abrasive Delivery Systems) Hoppers used with waterjet tables, precisely monitor the availability of sufficient abrasive closely during the entire waterjet cutting process. Abrasive is stored in the abrasive storage vessel and pneumatically transferred to the abrasive metering assembly.

Mixing Chamber
Mixing means gradual entrainment of abrasive particles within the water jet and finally the abrasive water jet comes out of the focussing tube or the nozzle. During mixing process, the abrasive particles are gradually accelerated due to transfer of momentum from the water phase to abrasive phase and when the jet finally leaves the focussing tube, both phases, water and abrasive, are assumed to be at same velocity. The mixing chamber, is immediately followed by the focussing tube or the inserts.

The abrasives go on interacting with the jet and the inner walls of the mixing tube, until they are accelerated using the momentum of the water jet. During mixing process momentum loss occurs as the abrasives collide with the water jet and at the inner wall of the focussing tube multiple times before being entrained. The focussing tube is generally made of tungsten carbide (powder metallurgy product)having an inner diameter of 0.8 to 1.6 mm and a length of 50 to 80 mm. Tungsten carbide is used for its abrasive resistance. Abrasive particles during mixing try to enter the jet, but they are reflected away due to interplay of buoyancy and drag force

Abrasive Jet Nozzle

Purpose of the abrasive jet nozzle is to provide efficient mixing of the abrasives and the water jet and to form the high-velocity abrasive water-jet combination.

There is a difference between a pure water jet nozzle and an abrasive jet nozzle. With the abrasive jet nozzle, an opening in the side of the nozzle allows for the introduction of the abrasive to the high-pressure water stream. The two are mixed in a mixing tube and then exit the nozzle. With a pure water jet nozzle, there is no opening and no mixing tube and the high-pressure water is directed to the material after it exits the jewel.

Material- sapphire, tungsten carbide, boron carbide, ruby or diamond orifice. The nozzles are subject to wear and their cost must be taken into consideration for job costing. The orifice of a mixing tube will typically increase in diameter by about 0.001" per hour of cutting because of the erosion of the abrasive flowing through the nozzle. If this wear occurs in an even fashion, up to 120 hours of cutting can be realized with a nozzle. Controls allow for compensating for this wear by allowing the operator to change the tool offset. If the wear of the nozzle is not symmetrical, the water jet stream will also not be round. This will result in wider tolerances when cutting in a certain direction. The tolerance requirements of a job will dictate the actual number of hours a user can expect from a nozzle. The nozzle can, of course, be set aside and used later for looser tolerance jobs.


Orifice on right is off-center

Types Of Nozzle
Two major design concepts are currently used for the design of abrasive jet nozzles.

Single-jet side feed nozzle:This design is based on a central water jet with abrasives fed into the mixing chamber from the side. This configuration is easily machined and can be made quite small, which is an advantage when cutting in tight locations. But this concept does not provide for optimal mixing efficiency and usually experiences rapid wear of the exit section. The major advantage with this system is this that, it incorporates a central, conventional water jet, the abrasive flow can be stopped and the system will function as a conventional WJM system.

Single-jet side feed nozzle

Multile jet

Once the abrasive jet has been used for machining, they may have sufficiently high level of energy depending on the type of application. Such high-energy abrasive water jet needs to be contained before they can damage any part of the machine or operators. Catcher is used to absorb the residual energy of the AWJ and dissipate the same.

There are three different types of catcher water basin type, submerged steel balls and TiB2 plate type.

Working Parameters in AWJM

The general domain parameters of machining system is given below:
Orifice Sapphires 0.1 to 0.3 mm Focussing Tube WC 0.8 to 2.4 mm Pressure 2500 to 4000 bar Abrasive flow rate - 0.1 to 1.0 kg/min

Stand off distance 1 to 2 mm

Machine Impact Angle 60o to 900 Traverse Speed 100 mm/min to 5 m/min

Depth of Cut 1 mm to 250 mm

Abrasives Used In AWJM

In pure WJM- commercially pure water (tap water) is used for machining purpose. In AWJM- water along with abrasives and stabilisers is used. ABRASIVES USED:Garnet is by far the most commonly used abrasive. It is environmentally clean, contains no free silica, and combines good cutting ability with reasonable wear. Garnet has three basic structural components. They are Almandine (Fe3, Al2 (SiO4)3), Pyrope (Mg3Al2(SiO4)3) and Spessartite (Mn3Al2(SiO4)3). The hardness of garnet abrasive particles of Almandine, Pyrope and Spessartite are 7-7.5 Mohs, 7.5 Mohs and 7-7.5 Mohs respectively. In industries 80 mesh garnet is a popular abrasive. Silicon Carbide (SiC) is known for its very high hardness and abrasion resistance. It is primarily used for grinding nonferrous materials such as brass, copper, bronze and Aluminum. Aluminum Oxide (Al2O3) is another popular abrasive used in AWJM. It is used for high-speed penetration in tough materials without excessive shedding or fracturing of the grains.

Due to its high Mohs hardness, aluminum oxide has been rarely used, for cutting of very hard materials. Because of its high hardness aluminum oxide rapidly wears out the nozzle and is expensive to operate. Other less commonly used abrasives are olivine sand, silica sand and slag by-products. Most shops use the abrasive once and then it is disposed as land fill waste. Stabilisers: The reason for using stabilisers is that at high velocity ,water jet that is discharged from the orifice, tends to entrain atmospheric air and flares out decreasing its cutting ability. Hence, quite often stabilisers (long chain polymers) that hinder the fragmentation of water jet are added to the water. The stabilisers used are Xanthan , Zycoprint ,Superwater etc.

Material Removal in AWJM

In AWJ machining of ductile materials, material is mainly removed by low
angle impact of abrasive particles. Further at higher angle of impact, the material removal involves plastic

failure of the material at the sight of impact.

In AWJ machining of brittle materials, material would be removed due to crack initiation and propagation because of brittle failure of the material. In abrasive water jet machining, the material removal rate may be assumed to be proportional to the power of the water jet.

The ability for AWJM to penetrate very thick material may be due to reentrainment of abrasive particles in the jet after the initial impacts at the top of the cut.

The cutting action of an abrasive jet is two-fold. The force of the water and abrasive erodes the material, even if the jet is stationary (which is how the material is initially pierced).
The cutting action is greatly enhanced if the abrasive jet stream is moved across the material and the ideal speed of movement depends on a variety of factors, including the material, the shape of the part, the water pressure and the type of abrasive.

Controlling the speed of the abrasive jet nozzle is crucial to efficient and economical machining.

Material Removal Rate


u cd do -

Constant that depends on the work material

Discharge coefficient of the orifice diameter of the orifice

pw w -

Pressure of water
Density of water

Process Parameters

Water jet pressure

Pc is the minimum critical pressure required to cut the material. A minimum critical pressure Pc exits because of the minimum abrasive particle velocity required to cut specific materials. The value of Pc for mild steel is between 20.7 and 27.5 Mpa.

Abrasive Flow Rate And Particle Size

Abrasive flow rate versus depth of cut is a linear relationship up to a point Above a critical flow rate, the cutting efficiency decreases. This is because of the fact that, as the abrasive flow rate increases ( with a fixed water flow rate), particle velocity begins to decrease faster than the rate at which the number of abrasive particle impacts increase. The most common abrasive particle sizes used for AWJM range from 100 to 150 grit An optimum abrasive particle size also exists for each particular nozzle mixing chamber configuration.

Data generated by some researchers indicate that depth of cut is approximately linear relative to SOD. Increasing SOD decreasing the depth of cut. When mixing is efficient and process parameters are correct, a deviation in SOD of up to +-12.7mm can be tolerated without degradation of the cut quality. If SODs are increased to a distances of about 80mm, the process will no longer cut but will efficiently clean and descale surfaces.

Factors Affecting Precision & Quality Of The Waterjet

The cut generated by an AWJM is called a kerf.

Top of the kerf (bt) is wider than the bottom of the kerf (bb).
bt is equal to the diameter of AWJ or AWJM.

Diameter of AWJ is equal to the diameter of the focussing tube or the insert if the stand-off distance (SOD) is around 1 to 5 mm. Taper angle of the kerf can be reduced by increasing the cutting ability of the AWJ.

Effect of feedrate upon kerf angle

Kerf angle, or bevel, refers to the dimensional difference between the top and bottom of the cut cross-section. Cutting too fast will result in a wider kerf width at the top of the cut crosssection and a narrower kerf width at the bottom of the zone. In the picture, from left to right, cuts were done at 26 inches per minute (ipm), 14 ipm and 9.7 ipm (660 millimeters per minute [mm/min], 355 mm/min and 246 mm/min). All other parameters were held constant.

Drag of waterjet stream and cut quality

Increasing feed-rate results in increased trail back of waterjet stream. This concept is shown below. Rougher edge quality is the result of more shearing action versus erosion action of abrasive at slower speeds.

Increasing trail back of waterjet steam with increasing speed

Effect of nozzle height

For best cut quality, an optimum distance between the nozzle and the work piece should be maintained. Typically, between 0.040" and 0.060" (1.0 - 1.5 mm) is the optimum height for abrasive waterjet cutting. As the distance increases above 0.060", rounding on the top edge of the cut will result. This occurs because the waterjet stream looses coherence as it travels through open air. Increased nozzle height will also result in increased kerf angle.

Striation marks

It may be observed that the surface quality at the top of the kerf is rather good compared to the bottom part. At the bottom there is repeated curved line formation. At the top of the kerf, the material removal is by low angle impact of the abrasive particle; where as at the bottom of the kerf it is by plastic failure. Striation formation occurs due to repeated plastic failure. Thus, in WJM and AWJM the following are the important product quality parameters. Striation formation. Surface finish of the kerf. Tapering of the kerf. Burr formation on the exit side of the kerf.

Higher feed rates/faster machining High speed High accuracy Robust construction No heat generated. Leaves a satin smooth finish, thus reducing secondary operations. Unlike machining or grinding, waterjet cutting does not produce any dust or particles that are harmful if inhaled. The kerf width in waterjet cutting is very small, and very little material is wasted. Waterjet cutting can be easily automated for production use. Waterjet cutting does not leave a burr or a rough edge, and eliminates other machining operations such as finish sanding and grinding.

Slow material removal rate. The process produces a tapered cut. Thick parts can not be cut with waterjet cutting and still hold dimensional accuracy. If the part is too thick, the jet may dissipate some, and cause it to cut on a diagonal, or to have a wider cut at the bottom of the part than the top.

Waterjet lag

Taper is also a problem with waterjet cutting in very thick materials. Taper is when the jet exits the part at a different angle than it enters the part, and can cause dimensional inaccuracy. Decreasing the speed of the head may reduce this, although it can still be a problem.

Stream lag caused inside corner damage to this 1-in.-thick stainless steel part. The exit point of the stream lags behind the entrance point, causing irregularities on the inside corners of the part. The thicker the material is or the faster an operator tries to cut it, the greater the stream lag and the more pronounced the damage.

Materials that are reflective, conductive, heat resisting, or heat sensitive are ideal candidates for abrasive water jet cutting. As the material thickness increases AWJ becomes the preferred cutting technique, especially where accuracy must be maintained. Edge finishing De-burring Polishing Paint removal Cleaning Cutting soft materials Cutting frozen meat Textile, Leather industry

Computer Controlled AWJM

Advanced water jet and AWJ machines are now available where the computer loads a CAD drawing from another system. The computer determines the starting and end points and the sequence of operations. The operator then enters the material type and tool offset data. The computer determines the feed rate and performs cutting. Other machining systems operate with a modem and CAD/CAM capabilities that permits transfer from CATIA, AUTOCAD, IGES, and DXF formats. The computer runs a program that determines, in seconds, how to minimize the waste when cutting blocks or plates.