Figure 5: Several years ago, programming a waterjet to cut a complex part with multiple sharp angles and bevels could have taken a long time. Today advanced machine control software makes the job easier by simply taking the CAD file and creating the cutting path in seconds.
Fabricating for the Future
As more fabricating shops adopt five-axis abrasive waterjet cutting in an attempt to diversify their businesses, many industry experts foresee the technology being used to cut new kinds of materials—not just metals. Such a capability will prove extremely beneficial as more component designs incorporate less metal and more composite-type materials.
As manufacturing materials and part designs continue to change, fabricators must consider which technologies will increase their manufacturing versatility. Fabricating shops wanting to remain relevant in the next 20 years will be those that continue to adapt the latest technologies, such as five-axis abrasive waterjet machines.
Figure 3: The combination of an articulated cutting head and a rotary chuck allows fabricators to use a waterjet for intricate tube cutting.
Within the Limitations of Safety
A true five-axis machining system is one that moves and cuts in any direction. But in the case of abrasive waterjet cutting, doing so raises an important safety issue.
Abrasive waterjet streams pack a lot of power, even after cutting through a part surface or periphery. So where the stream is pointed and where it goes next must be carefully considered. Plain waterjet streams break down quickly in the air, but the abrasives in an abrasive waterjet stream do not dissolve and will continue moving at a high rate of speed. This fact is why abrasive waterjet machine OEMs are required to work within safety limitations and restrict the movement of articulating heads for five-axis machining.
While true 5-axis waterjet cutting systems have been around for some time, they have been housed in special containment rooms or enclosures lined with either concrete or steel to prevent the abrasive waterjet from wearing out the walls. Within these systems, a stand-alone robot hanging from the ceiling points the abrasive waterjet in any desired direction. Because of safety concerns, machinists are not able to be in the contained area while the system runs.
As opposed to a dangerous, true five-axis abrasive waterjet, modern articulating head movement is limited to any angle within specific safety parameters. These machines still provide five-axis movement, but the abrasive waterjet stream cannot be programmed to move into a position other than generally downward toward the machine’s water tank.