One of the most common questions we get at tradeshows or during waterjet demonstrations is, “Where does the waterjet fit with the other machine tools in my shop? How does it compare?” This is a great question to consider when trying to determine the ROI for an investment in an abrasive waterjet. Certainly you don’t want to add another tool that will simply do something you’ve already got covered. So where will the waterjet be able to take you that you haven’t already been?
First, let’s look at material limitations. An abrasive waterjet will cut virtually any material except for really hard ceramics. Compare this to a wire EDM which only works with conductive materials, a laser which can only cut non-reflective metals, a plasma which is generally only for metal cutting, milling which is not ideal for large parts in any material, or a punch press which does not do well with brittle or hardened materials. The abrasive waterjet is most certainly the most diverse machine you’ll ever own.
What about material thickness? A waterjet can handle material up to 12” thick, depending on the material type and your patience to wait for what could be a long cutting process. And for other machine tools? A wire EDM can handle 12” thick material as well, but a laser is usually less than 0.25”, a plasma less than 1.25”, punch press is thin sheets only, and milling is unique in that it can work on 3D parts.
Let’s consider speed and accuracy. A waterjet has an average accuracy capability of 0.003” compared to an EDM which is .0001”, a laser at .001”, a plasma .030 – .060” and milling at .0003”. Accuracy requirements for a job could necessitate the machine tool type but if the accuracy requirements aren’t as tight, the speed of the waterjet would win out over the wire EDM. A waterjet is 5-10 times faster than a wire EDM for materials under 1” thick. For the other machines – laser, plasma, and punching – they are going to be faster than the waterjet but only in very specific, thin materials.
The set-up of the waterjet is fast and easy, much more so than the set-up for milling or punching. Unlike the laser or plasma (and even some wire EDM operations) the abrasive waterjet creates no heat affected zone. In addition, there is no material distortion from cutting with a waterjet which is a possible issue for the laser, plasma and punch. The edge quality off of a waterjet is considered to be good but not excellent. The best edge quality will come from a wire EDM, milling or laser cutting with the worst edge quality being that of the plasma or punch press.
Brooks Associates is a proud distributor of OMAX and MAXIEM abrasive waterjets, some of the highest quality systems available in the industry, but we also represent machine tools in nearly every other industry as well. This puts us in the unique position of being able to hear your unique application and make a truly unbiased recommendation for the best machine to get the job done. Contact Brooks and we’ll be happy to meet with you to discuss your needs.