Waterjet Cutting Systems for the Toughest Manufacturing Tasks

Waterjets Are an Excellent Choice for Shops That Require the Versatility to Cut a Wide Range of Materials, Including Thick Materials and Those That Need to Eliminate HAZ

By Nancy Lauseng, Jet Edge

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Waterjets are among the most flexible cutting systems available. They can cut virtually any material and have become a principal method of fabrication and metalworking for a variety of compelling reasons.

Jet Edge in St. Michael, Minnesota, is a leading developer of this technology, designing and manufacturing ultra-high pressure waterjet systems for precision and mobile cutting, water blasting and surface preparation. Jet Edge offers an extensive range of systems that gives customers flexibility in choosing a solution that best meets their needs.

As a high-profile example, during the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010, British Petroleum needed a waterjet system that was operable 5,000 feet under water. To deal with a major, time-critical problem that had never been solved before, Jet Edge created a system that blasted away hydrate ice crystals clogging a containment system and preventing BP from stopping the flow of crude oil into the Gulf.

Of course, most Jet Edge machines are on the shop floor, not the sea floor. Ultra-high pressure (UHP) pumps and waterjet cutting machines enable fabricators cut intricate parts in all types of materials ranging from soft foams and rubber gasket stock to thick tool steels and space-age composites. The cuts can be simple straight lines or can be extremely intricate, with large or small pierced holes. By using waterjet cutting systems (a cold-cutting process), fabricators avoid heat-affected zones (HAZ) and don't burn the material during cutting. They can enjoy reduced raw material waste and less damage from cutting that would otherwise require rework or secondary processing. Waterjet cutting systems also can be used in applications that process flammable materials. More traditional ways of cutting parts include stamping with metal dies, shearing and sawing (dies, knives and blades dull over time), laser cutters (limited to cutting thinner metals and can't be used to cut highly reflective materials) and plasma cutters (limited to cutting metals and can't cut materials as thick as a waterjet can cut).
Waterjet systems have a higher initial acquisition cost than saws, plasma cutters and flame/torch cutting systems, and they cut slower than saws, plasma, lasers or torch systems and stamping systems. Waterjets, however, are an excellent choice for shops that require the versatility to cut a wide range of materials, including thick materials and those that need to eliminate HAZ.

Complex Cutting With PC-Based Control

Also Read:  Water Jet Builder Connects With Unified Control Platform

"To maintain extraordinary levels of precision, high-end motion control is critical, especially for maintaining cut edge quality and for meeting tight dimensional tolerances," says Jude Lague, Jet Edge's president. "Accuracies of cuts often must be within 0.005 inch or less. Waterjet manufacturers such as Jet Edge meet these requirements by powering their equipment with fast, accurate, reliable and consistent motion control products and sophisticated software. Our gantries feature a closed-loop drive system on X and Y axes; ac digital brushless servomotors, absolute encoders and SERCOS communications. They include preloaded anti-backlash recirculating ball screws and linear bearings with hardened precision ground ways."

The new control gives the operators an error code and tells them they should not do that because they are going to produce an inaccurate part.

The need for a flexible system is also important, Lague states. "We needed an open system that could easily integrate the full array of sensors that Jet Edge uses, while providing intricate motion control."

Jet Edge motion controls started with traditional industrial PC-based analog controls supplied by major vendors and more specialized custom manufacturers.

Ten years ago, Jet Edge decided to change to a digital motion control platform. "With the progression of our technology and our previous controls vendor not advancing its code, we needed a new platform that could help our technology grow," Lague says. "After an extensive search, we chose to work with Beckhoff Automation for a complete control solution. With Beckhoff industrial PCs (IPCs) and TwinCAT CNC software, Jet Edge was able to seamlessly and incrementally migrate to new technology. We chose Beckhoff for its flexibility and because the company is conveniently located here in Minnesota."

The TwinCAT system has become an integral component in Jet Edge's high-rail and mid-rail gantry machines. Jet Edge partnered with the Beckhoff to rewrite the Jet Edge HMI, and created an innovative CNC waterjet motion system by harnessing the power of the CNC capabilities in TwinCAT. The high-rail and mid-rail gantry systems are designed to be exceptionally stable with a rigid platform that minimizes machine vibration. The system is capable of advanced three-dimensional waterjet movement over the work area and ultra-high precision cutting.

Since making the shift to TwinCAT software, Jet Edge has seen an overall improvement in cutting tolerance and cut edge quality. "This is difficult to define as a numeric value, but we can operate with higher machine resolution with the new control system," says Jeff Schibley, Jet Edge regional manager. "This is partially associated with the speed and response time of the system in conjunction with SERCOS and a higher resolution motor and drive package. The cutting system now is less forgiving of programming errors. In the Aquavision 1, the operator could execute a program with sloppy geometry and overlapping kerfs in the cutting path. The new control gives the operators an error code and tells them they should not do that because they are going to produce an inaccurate part."

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