Monday, March 23, 2015

Waterjetting 31c - Jet interactions and traverse speed

The last post included the idea that, with a jet penetrating to most of its final depth in the first 1/100th of a second, that the best traverse speed that could be used would end up around 50 ft per minute. Actually this is a little low as an estimate, and the reason for this goes back to a picture from another post. On the other hand the speed may be reduced a little, as a way of getting more material out of the target faster.


Figure 1. Jets penetrating through a bed of glass beads. The original image has been duplicated and the two shown together. The darker green is where the water has penetrated between the glass beads.

In the picture shown not only is the water penetrating and cutting down into the bed, it is also, to a small degree, penetrating into the side walls of the hole, and this becomes more evident as the jet reaches toward terminal depth, and the jet coming back starts to interact with the jet entering the hole, giving the bulge in the penetration, as the water starts to reach out further into the material.

While it obviously varies with the material, the side penetration of the jet into the material around, and ahead of the jet means that the material is, to a degree, pre-weakened by that penetration, and becomes easier to cut, so that the best speed for cutting can be slightly increased from the number derived last time.

There is another benefit to this, which the Chinese developed in one of their mining machines, although it also has application in milling and other removal techniques.

The high optimal speed of the jet was developed by oscillating a waterjet nozzle vertically, as the head was traversed, more slowly along the horizontal. Because of the benefits of the oscillation the head cut a wide path through the material to about the same depth as it did when the jet was traversed without oscillation. The volume removed however was roughly an order of magnitude greater.


Figure 2. Slots cut into a soft cement. The two slots are roughly equivalent in depth but the lower one had the nozzle oscillate perpendicular to the traverse direction across the block. (see here)

One can, as a result, remove much more material where a plain waterjet (as opposed to one that carries abrasive or cavitates) is moved across the target surface.

When looking for the best combination of oscillation speed, as a function of the horizontal speed in cases such as those shown in Figure 2, it is important to consider how much of the water has penetrated into the side of the cut, as shown in Figure 1.

The softer the material, and the easier that the jet penetrates into the wall of the slot, then the further apart the two passes can be made. But that inter-cut distance varies also with the speed that the primary cut is being made. If the cut is being made at the most efficient speed to remove material, then the speed will be high so that the rebounding jet does not start interfering with the incoming jet, as is shown in the lower parts of figure 1.

Thus the two adjacent passes should be made close enough that the two layers of darker green around the upper parts of the slot depths in figure 1 just barely overlap. On the other hand if the traverse speed is slowed so that the interaction of the incoming and outgoing jets does occur, with the result driving water into the ribs to the extent shown at the hottom of the holes in figure 1, then the two cuts can be spaced further apart, roughly at the distance shown in the figure. This is because any rib of material between the two cuts is now cut on either side and beneath by the penetration of the water, and will be removed with no additional energy being required.

This is particularly handy in materials that have a lot of joints such as, for example, coal or soil. Here the spacing can be increased significantly.


Figure 3. Slot cut into coal by a nozzle with two orifices (upper left) oscillating vertically on the front of the plow shape shown on the right. The slot is roughly 2-inches wide.

However this does not work as well where the target material is stickier, for example with a clay.


Figure 4. Cuts made into wet clay – to help in visualization the cuts are filled with bentonite (white) to contrast the shape and location with the darker clay that was cut through.

In drier clays and shales, where the material responds in a more brittle way, the rib between the two adjacent cuts may shatter and give the larger volume removal rates required.

Where this is not the case, and where the cutting ability of the two jets can be better estimated then two adjacent jets can be aimed so that they meet within the body of the target.


Figure 5. Waterjet cuts in claystone with the two cuts inclined so that they met at the bottom of the wedge shape shown. The wedge is loose, and can be lifted out of the block by hand.

In this way, by arranging a set of jets into a pattern which will be controlled by the shape of the cut to be made, and over what area, a large volume of material can be removed with the use of the least amount of water.

Making the best use of this combination does require some testing to determine how best to angle the jets so that they meet at the right distance into the target and with sufficient force remaining that they will remove the isolated blocks of material between the two (or more) jet paths. In these cases it is best where the jets are traversed over the surface of the target at a slower than optimal speed, since a small buildup in pressure at the bottom of the common slot will make it easier for the jet to dislodge the wedge of material between the two cuts.

As material gets stronger, however, the benefits of that penetration become less, and to make sure that the material between the two cuts is removed, the two cuts should be aimed so that they will intersect within the cutting depths. With vertical slots the two cuts can be brought quite close, with no interaction between them.


Figure 6. Parallel adjacent cuts in sandstone, where the ribs are not removed by the jet between adjacent passes.

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Monday, March 16, 2015

Waterjetting 31b - short pulse lengths and traverse speed

One of the more surprising things that we learned at the beginning of the research into high pressure waterjet action was how quickly a jet will penetrate to almost full depth of penetration, and how slowly it will cut deeper after that. It is a lesson that often escapes even those who work with the technology today.

A series of tests was carried out in which a jet was exposed for very short periods of time to a fixed block of sandstone. The time that the jet hit the rock varied and the results were used to make the following plot:


Figure 1. Average penetration as a function of exposure time, for a continuous jet impacting a static target. (Polyox is polyethylene oxide) (after Brook and Summers )

The experiment was then repeated using a device that would only allow the jet to hit the rock for much shorter periods of time. When these results were plotted, the following graph was obtained.


Figure 2. The depth of penetration into sandstone as a function of time, for very short intervals. (ibid)

The depths achieved with the longer exposure times were therefore occurring within the first 1/100ths of a second, and the penetration that followed that initial impact time was at a much lower rate.

The reason for this had been suggested by earlier work by Leach and Walker at Sheffield who pointed out that once the jet starts into the hole it has no other path to exit rather than to turn around and come out the way it went in. Since the jet is continuing to flow into the hole, the result is that the pressure in the hole will diminish over time.


Figure 3. The effect of hole depth on the pressure developed at the bottom (after Leach and Walker).

It should be mentioned, however, that Leach and Walker built a special stand to make these measurements and the hole was built out of steel, rather than being eroded by a jet. The reason that this is important is that where the target is weaker then the turbulence generated by the jet:rebound will additionally erode the walls of the hole, particularly at the depth where the jet pressure falls to the threshold pressure of the material. At this point the jet begins to enlarge a cavity at the bottom of the hole. The pressure can then rise in the cavity, as the hole walls are reamed and the pressure bulb can cause spallation of the overlying rock. It is also why one has to be careful in the drilling of holes in glass, since a similar series of steps can also arise with abrasive waterjet cutting, and internal pressures within the drilled hole can cause the glass to fracture.

Rehbinder also built a narrow slot to measure pressure drop with depth of the hole, and showed that the rapid decline in pressure with depth that Leach and Walker found, was related to the relative narrowness of the hole, and that when the holes were wider, relative to the jet, that this decline was not as dramatic.


Figure 4. Changes in hole pressure with depth as a function of hole width. (after Rehbinder)

As I have mentioned in a previous post a logical progression is to then pulse the water so that each slug of water has time to leave the hole before the next one arrives. When this is carried out, in our case by building a small interrupting wheel that spun between the nozzle and the target, the jet will continue to penetrate although at a slower rate than that originally achieved.


Figure 5. The penetration of rock with an interrupted jet. (after Brook and Summers)

There have been several attempts since that time to use pulsed jets as a way of improving breakage, with a lower energy cost. This has centered around some form of water cannon, or similar tool, although the main problem – never really resolved – of maintaining a high firing rate without destroying the seals in the supply lines has led to that approach being shelved.

Other developments first led to a pulsation in the feed line to the nozzle, first described by Gene Nebeker of Scientific Associates at the 3rd ISJCT in Chicago in 1976. Although that work continued for a number of years it was never able to achieve commercial reality at the time. Subsequently Dr. Vijay pioneered the approach that led to the formation of VLN Advanced Technologies Inc. Using an ultrasonic method of pulsation, which produces very short duration pulses at a high rate in the stream, the company has developed a market, particularly in removing coatings from surfaces.

The mechanisms of target failure are different from those achieved with the more conventional, longer pulsed systems, where the length of the individual jet slugs allows more pressurization of cracks within the target. That kinetic energy allows the jets to operate under water, however shorter pulsation lengths (similar in some ways to rain) are attenuated where there is a layer of water on the surface particularly when this is confined, and Brunton and Rochester found that some of the advantages of the technique (including the ability to generate water hammer pressures are diminished when that layer is thicker.

However, if a waterjet penetrates to close to its maximum penetration within a period of around 0.01 seconds, and the jet is cutting a hole that is roughly three times the diameter of the orifice, then it is logical to suggest that after that residence time the nozzle should move further down the sample. If the jet is roughly 0.033 inches in diameter then the nozzle should move roughly 0.1 inches in 0.01 seconds or roughly 10 inches per second, or 50 ft. per minute. Lab studies have shown that shown that speeds in this range are most efficient where plain waterjets are used in cutting. Because abrasive waterjets penetrate material in a different way the best cutting speed for that technology is much slower.

The topic will continue in the next post, since it is often difficult to persuade operators how fast they should be moving tools to get them to be most efficient.

Leach S. J. and Walker G. L. “Some aspects of rock cutting by high speed water jets”. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. 260A, 295-308 (1966).
Nebeker E.B. and Rodriguez S.E. “Percussive water jets for rock cutting,” paper B1, 3rd ISJCT, BHRA, Chicago, May 1976.
Brunton, J.H., Rochester, M.C., "Erosion of Solid Surfaces by the Impact of Liquid Drops," In Erosion-Treatise on Materials Science and Technology, ed Preece, pp. 185 - 248.
Rehbinder, G., "Some Aspects of the Mechanism of Erosion of Rock with a High Speed Water Jet," paper E1, 3rd International Symposium on Jet Cutting Technology, May, 1976, Chicago, IL, pp. E1-1 - E1-20.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Waterjetting 31a - Changing Jet Pressure, Diameter and Exposure

A high-pressure waterjet will penetrate into a material by penetrating into small cracks in the surface and pressurizing those cracks, so that they grow and join together freeing material. This mechanism changes where one moves to add abrasive, but that discussion will come later.

The larger the cracks in the material, then the lower the pressure needed to penetrate into the crack, and to then cause it to grow. Large grained, weakly bonded material, such as for example soil, can, as a result be washed apart by pressures as low as those caused by a heavy rain. As the material becomes more cohesive (think initially of a heavy clay) then the amount of force required to grow the fissures is greater, while the crack lengths are usually smaller. This means that the jet pressure will have to be higher for the same volume of material to be removed.

As one moves from soils to rocks and other materials will increasingly smaller grain size, so the pressure required to cut into the material must be increased. Initially we call the pressure at which the jet starts to dig a hole the initial pressure or threshold pressure of the material.

The way to find out its value is to point the jet at right angles to the jet and begin to raise the jet pressure. When the jet has not enough pressure to penetrate and grow cracks in the target, then it will flow along the surface after impact. However when the jet starts to drill a hole into the target, then the water going into that hole has only one way out – back the way it came, and now the jet comes back along the axis of the jet. (Hitting the operator if the lance is hand-held and this is partly why you need personal protective equipment).

Generally that pressure is not enough to give an economic removal rate and the jet pressure should be raised significantly above the threshold to reach that level. All other things being equal (such as nozzle diameter, standoff distance and traverse speed) then as the jet pressure is raised the depth of the cut will increase in proportion, as will the volume of material removed. This is the case whether the pump providing the water is an intensifier system (usually at higher pressure) or a triplex or similar pump. The main difference in the plot is because of the difference in the diameter of the cutting jets. Berea sandstone is a “standard” rock that has been used in many cutting tests over the decades because of its relatively uniform structure and strength. The uniaxial compressive strength of the sandstone is around 5,000 psi.


Figure 1. The effect of raising jet pressure on the depth of cut achieved in Berea Sandstone with the cuts made at a speed of 12 inches/minute.

This leads into consideration of the second important parameter, that of the flow rate of the jet, which is mainly defined by the diameter of the orifice through which the jet is formed. The flow volume of water is controlled both by the jet pressure (the higher the pressure the faster the water flows out of the nozzle) and by the diameter of the jet. When one is cutting with water alone then it is often better to have higher flow rates at lower pressure rather than the converse. The reason for this is that larger diameter jets hit more flaws on the surface than smaller ones, and the larger the area that is under attack then the greater the likelihood of larger cracks being present and allowing greater volumes of material to be removed. (There are statistical and mathematical justifications for this, but I will forgo going through that math).

When carrying out rough calculations on relative cutting performance over the years we have assumed that the relationship between the depth of cut and the diameter of the orifice is a power relationship with an exponent of 1.5. When comparing the data for Berea sandstone which we obtained as we changed jet diameters we found the following:


Figure 2. The effect of increasing jet diameter on the depth of cut achieved in Berea Sandstone with the cuts made at a speed of 12 inches/minute.

The exponents are not quite at 1.5, but using that value gives a fairly close initial estimate as to the performance that we can achieve.

Part of the problem in seeking a correlation between the jet cutting performance and the nozzle diameter is that the cutting range of the jet changes quite quickly with a change in nozzle diameter. And while we often use a first rough estimate that the jet throw is 125 – 150 diameters in reality the jet performance changes over that range, as the structure of the jet itself changes.

One way of showing this is to show how the cut depth varies when the target surface is at different distances from the nozzle, a value we often call the stand-off distance. In this case the rock is a sandstone, and similar to that used above, but the tests are made with the jet firing at the rock for different lengths of time, rather than traversing over it.


Figure 3. The effect of increasing exposure time and standoff distance on the depth of hole achieved in Sandstone.

Note that there is a relatively rapid drop in cutting performance as the target is moved away from the nozzle, which had a diameter of around 1 mm (0.04 inches). But the plot also shows that the cutting depth drops away very rapidly with time. After half-a-second the jet has cut roughly half an inch deep when the target is half an inch (12.5 mm) from the nozzle, but after doubling the exposure to a second the jet has only increased the depth of cut to 0.6 inches (15 mm) and with the time of exposure increased to five seconds the depth only increases to around 0.7 inches (17.5 mm).

This will be the topic for the next post, where the effect on the speed of cutting is the subject.

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Sunday, March 1, 2015

Waterjetting 30d - Applying cavitation damage

Much of the work that we carry out with high pressure waterjets requires that they cut with precision and, in consequence much of the focus has been on controlling the stream of the jet to obtain the tightly constrained cutting action that produces this result.

Yet two of the larger growth sectors of the industry, the sub-divisions that have now been given the titles “hydro-demolition” and “hydro-excavation” don’t have that focus. Rather they seek to remove critical volumes of material, generally to some specific depth, but with less concern over the edges of the hole that is being created (provided water doesn’t penetrate the edge materials).

Depth of cut control is a little more of a challenge using an abrasive waterjet system since I have seen AWJ cuts that penetrated through feet of reinforced concrete and have mentioned the problem that new owners of systems sometimes run into when they run the nozzle for too long in a fixed position over a target and discover that the jet has not only cut the material, but also penetrated through the bottom of the holding tank, and put a hole into the underlying concrete floor.

Precisely controlling depth then becomes a matter of controlling the length of time the jet cuts on a surface, and to get to a fixed depth that will also depend on the amount of abrasive in the water, the jet pressure and the distance from the nozzle to the surface. It can also, to a degree, be controlled by the pressure of the surrounding fluid, although that is an interaction with the driving pressure that can become a little more complex.

In the last post I mentioned that when cavitation is formed around the outside of a jet cutting down through water which is itself pressurized (perhaps only because the jet is under a significant depth as water, such as for example a diver cutting apart an oil platform in the North Sea) then the damage from the cavitation bubble collapse occurs most intensely over a short distance from the nozzle. That distance changes with the cavitation number (simplistically the ratio of the pressure in the water around the jet to the pressure driving the jet itself), the volume flow and in a secondary relationship to the surrounding fluid pressure as well as other factors.

The latter impact of chamber pressure on the cutting range of the jet can be demonstrated with a Lichtarowicz cell, which allows one to see the jet as it cuts through surrounding fluid to the jet, and where, by adjusting the chamber fluid pressure the jet and cavitation cloud length can be extended to and beyond the sample, or reduced so that the jet barely reaches the target.


Figure 1. Backlit picture showing the cavitation bubbles forming and hitting the target.

The problem with generating this type of cavitation cloud as a means of drilling forward is that the bubbles are on the outside of the jet, and so as the jet hits and flows across the surface it protects the surface from the bubbles which flow on the outside of the lateral action.

The bubbles need to be confined against the target surface, and this is easier to do where the bubbles are formed in the center of the jet. The ways of doing this were discussed in an earlier post but can be summarized as being either by creating a turbulent swirl in the jet, or by placing a flat-ended probe into the jet stream.


Figure 2. Methods of creating cavitation bubbles in the center of a jet. (After Johnson et al)

Of these two methods, that using the central probe is more effective over greater distances, since the jet remains relatively coherent, while the swirling jet tends to broaden and lose energy after much shorter distances.

Tests of the central probe device showed that it could very quickly drill a hole more than 18 inches deep – at which point, unfortunately, the probe within the nozzle was itself destroyed by the cavitation action.

These tests were, however, carried out with nozzles with orifice diameters on the order of 0.04 inches, with the probe diameter being roughly half of that. Such designs are difficult to make and then align – ensuring that the probe is centered within the orifice throat, as shown.

In contrast with abrasive waterjet damage, the damage from an individual event is not as critically affected by the particle size nor by the main jet velocity. The collapsing pressure jet from a cavity collapse is at around 1 million psi – as Dr. Al Ellis theorized and we were able to confirm at Missouri S&T. This occurs with relatively little control by the surrounding fluid, or originating jet (which instead is more influential in controlling the intensity of cavitation generation and the location of the collapse).

This means that it is quite possible to use larger jet streams and still achieve quite destructive effects. In Johnson’s early paper on the topic he was using a jet pressure of 1,600 psi and able to drill through blocks of granite. The best advance rate that he could achieve at that time was around 3.5 inches/hour – which is not a practical value for commercial operations.

And unfortunately, for a while, this led us to be distracted into seeking higher and higher operating pressures to drive the jet, forgetting that this did not really change the bubble collapse pressure. It was only later, when we followed Dr. Lichtarowicz’ advice that we started adjusting the back pressure in the system and then we began to achieve useful material removal rates (on the order of cubic inches per minute).

However we did not carry out tests at larger flow rates, where we know, from the evidence at the Tarbela High Dam that much greater volumes of material may be removed, even at relatively low operating pressures.

At the Boulder Dam in the United States cavitation generated a cavity some 100 ft long and roughly 25 ft wide cutting into the rock wall to a depth of 40 ft. along the spillway during the course of a season, as reported by Warnock.

As a result of these tests it is clear that there is a considerable development potential for the practical use of cavitation – at significantly higher production rates than achieved to date, and over the wide spectrum of minerals (since the high destructive pressures exceed those necessary to disintegrate all natural materials).

It will be interesting to see when interest in the topic regenerates.

Johnson, Kohl, Thiruvengadam and Conn “Tunneling, Fracturing, Drilling and Mining with High-Speed Waterjets Utilizing Cavitation Damage.” First ISJCT
Benjamin T.B. and Ellis A.T. “The Collapse of Cavitation Bubbles and the Pressures Thereby Produced against Solid Boundaries,’ Proc. Royal Society (London), A262, pp.221-240.
Wanock J.E. “Experiences in the Bureau of Reclamation,” Cavitation in Hydraulic Structures – a Symposium, ASCE vol 71, no 7, p 1053. (Sept. 1945)

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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Waterjettting 30c - why cavitation isn't being used in machining metal.

Most applications of high-pressure waterjets need the jets to make relatively precise cuts into a target surface. When examining different ways of improving jet cutting performance, the narrowness of the cut which is achieved is therefor often a critical factor in deciding how to make the cut.

In this short segment of the series I have been discussing some of the findings that Dr. El-Saie made in his Doctoral Dissertation, and at the end of the last post had shown that he had found that, under the right conditions, a cavitating jet would remove more material from a surface than would an abrasive-laden waterjet of equal power within the same time frame, and at the same operating jet pressure.

This work was carried out prior to the submission of his Dissertation in 1977, and – because most of the work on refined nozzle design had still to be done – the nozzle designs that were used in the study were considerably cruder than those that have been developed, by a number of companies, in later work. For this reason it is not realistically possible to compare the results achieved in the early studies with the current state-of-the-art, particularly since, while there has been a great deal of work on improving the design of AWJ nozzles there has been almost none focused on improving the cavitation destruction of a waterjet.

The important distinction to make is that while there has been considerable work on reducing the damage that a cavitating flow can achieve when it impacts on a surface, there is almost none that has been aimed at making that damage worse. Part of the problem that this lack of work has left us with is that, in most cavitating systems, part of the cavitating cloud will collapse within the nozzle assembly. While this may only be a small fraction of the total, within a relatively short time (and this has been measured in fractions of a minute in an intense erosion design) the nozzle is destroyed. It is therefore unlikely that the most efficient nozzle design for inducing cavitation erosion has yet been developed.

Part of the reason that it has not has to do with the requirement that is listed at the top of the page. Where abrasive particles are mixed within a very narrow jet of high-pressure water, the abrasive cutting is confined, so that the slots can be controlled to a high degree. We have shown, for example, that it is possible to make cuts through titanium within a tolerance of 0.001 inches of the design requirement, and with a smooth surface over the full surface of the cut. (This requires, in thicker materials, that the nozzle be slightly tilted so that the jet taper over the depth of the cut is compensated for over the desired edge cut).

Unfortunately this precision in cutting cannot be achieved (at least with the current levels of understanding of the process and controls) with a cavitating jet system. In part this is because of the omni-directional nature of the collapse of the cavitation bubbles over a surface. An abrasive particle has the great majority of its velocity aligned with the axis of the cutting jet (though this might slightly deviate if the particle cuts into the surface more than once over the depth of the cut). Cavitation attack can occur in a more omnidirectional way.

To illustrate the point consider an experiment where we fired a waterjet along the edge of a block of dolomite, in such a way that the jet did not contact the rock, were the test to be carried out in air. The jet was carried out underwater, with back pressure of the surrounding water adjusted to intensify cavitation along the edges between the waterjet and the surrounding water. The collapse of those bubbles against the side of the rock eroded the cavities shown.


Figure 1. Samples of dolomite attacked by a cavitating jet. The jet is, in both cases aimed parallel to the cut face (along the line of the red arrow) and just off the block surface.

The samples shown in Figure 1 were exposed to the jet for a minute, with the samples held under water in a cell where the back pressure (BP) could be adjusted.

At a pressure of 6,000 psi, with a back pressure of 60 psi and a nozzle diameter of 0.02 inches the damage to the rock is small. Although it should be noted that there is a hole that eats into the rock perpendicular to the direction of jet flow.

This is more immediately obvious with the sample shown on the right, which was cut with a 7,000 psi jet, against a back pressure of 35 psi, and with a jet diameter of 0.030 inches.

It is also worth noting that the hole generated is not consistent in diameter as the hole deepens. The penetration of the jet into the wall, perpendicular to the main jet flow, is caused by the individual collapse of cavitation bubbles against the surface of the rock. And this is not a consistent phenomenon along the jet length, but for varying conditions it will occur at different distances from the nozzle. In this case the hole widens and deepens about half-an-inch below the rock top surface, eating further into the rock relatively consistently for the following few inches.

In a separate experiment the resulting hole can be seen to vary in depth over the length of the cut into the rock.


Figure 2. Hole cut into dolomite by a cavitating jet. Note that softer layers of the rock are excavated more deeply into the hole wall by the collapsing bubbles. The hole is roughly six inches deep.

The cut is also much broader than the originating jet, as can be seen from the cavity eaten into the rock surface perpendicular to the jet at the bottom of the sample. The cut is much more ragged than the precise line that would be cut by an AWJ, so that, although more volume is removed, the removal path is not as precisely defined as is needed in most applications. The irregularity of the slot shape can be seen where a cavitating jet is traversed over a 2-inch long block of dolomite over a period of five minutes.


Figure 3. Traverse path of a cavitating jet eroding a slot into dolomite. The block is roughly 2 inches long.

Clearly, at this stage in its development, there is little precision to the slot that is being generated in the rock, and it has little application in machining.

However the operating jet pressures of these cuts are within the range of those pumps that are available at relatively low cost at hardware stores, with the simplicity in use that this implies. And yet they are capable of disrupting, into the constituent grains of mineral, even the hardest of rocks that will be encountered. Gold ore, for example, can be relatively expensive to drill, because of its strength and toughness, and yet it can be penetrated in the same way, and with the constituent minerals separated, as was the dolomite.


Figure 4. Cavitation erosion of a sample of gold ore.

The problem comes in collecting the very fine grains of the mineral from the rest of the ore sample, once it is disaggregated.

Cavitation therefore, at present, is a tool better used in applications beyond those of the machine shop. It does not, however, have to stay limited to that restriction.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Waterjetting 30b - An opportunity missed, and a question raised

In the last post I wrote about the benefits of cutting a deep slot around the edges of a tunnel, and made reference to the work done here by Dr. El-Saie back in the mid-1970’s as part of his Doctoral Dissertation.

One of the concerns that we had to address was that the waterjet had to be able to penetrate all the different rock types that it might encounter, and at the same time, since the jet would only cut a short depth on each pass we also had to find a way of cutting the slot wide enough that the nozzle assembly could enter and deepen the slot over consecutive passes around the edge. Given that the available pressures in those days were limited, for us, to 30,000 psi and this pressure was insufficient, by itself, to cut through all the rocks we might encounter, Dr. El-Saie looked at several different ways of enhancing performance. These included adding abrasive to a high pressure jet stream, inducing cavitation into the jet stream and the potential for using the break-up of the jet into droplets to enhance cutting using the impact water hammer effect.

Because of other operating conditions it was not considered practical to try and develop the droplet impact idea for this program, and the work concentrated on examining the potential differences between abrasive waterjet injection and cavitation. To simplify the comparison the same basic nozzle design was used for the tests that were then run, although the shroud fitted to create the secondary (vacuum) chamber was modified to either allow abrasive entrainment, through ports, or to create cavitation. The presence of the ports did, however, allow the strength of the vacuum generated in the chamber to be measured as the jet passed through.


Figure 1. Nozzle designs used by Dr. El-Saie. Note that the upper design has ports leading into the vacuum chamber, so that abrasive can be drawn in by the jet passage. In the lower design there are no ports, and cavitation will be induced in the chamber by the jet passage, with the bubbles then drawn into the exiting jet.

One of the advantages of cavitating the jets is that the cavitation bubble collapse will spread out over a larger area on the target surface, so that the slot generated can be quite a bit larger than the originating jet. This can be shown in two pictures of a block of dolomite exposed to the same cavitating jet, at a pressure of 6,000 psi but one with the jet traversed along the block in a minute, while in the second case the jet is moved at a slower speed, taking five minutes to cross the block, which allows the jet to exploit the cracks generated by the cavitation. A fuller description of the process is given here.


Figure 2. Cavitation damage pattern on a block of dolomite showing the initial width of the jet (red lines), and the zone of damage that is being created around the traverse path.


Figure 3. Cavitation damage on a block of dolomite at a slower traverse speed, showing the width of the damage track that can be created. The slot is about half-an-inch deep.

In the course of the test program different shroud shapes were tested, but in all cases the comparison between an abrasive-laden jet and one containing cavitation bubbles was made with shroud shapes of the same overall dimensions.

The ratio of the exit diameter (discharge) from the shroud (D2) to that of the initial jet orifice (D1) was first changed to one of four different ratios, though the diameter of the initial jet was kept at 0.04 inches (1 mm). Of the different sizes tested the greatest vacuum in the chamber was measured with the smallest of the discharge diameters was tested.


Figure 4. The effect of increasing the throat length of the shroud on the vacuum pilled in the chamber, at different pressures.

If the discharge diameter was increased to 6.35 mm then the jet pressure had to be increased to 12,500 psi to obtain the same levels of vacuum achieved otherwise at 7,500 psi.


Figure 5. Vacuum pressures measured with a larger discharge diameter from the shroud, for different lengths and jet pressures.

Impact force measurements from the jet hitting a target at varying distances from the orifice, with and without the shroud showed relatively little difference in the overall total impact force (not considering abrasive) out to a distance of 6 inches. There was thus no apparent effect due to jet disintegration from the use of the shroud over these distances.

In order to compare the performance of the abrasive-laden jet with that of a cavitating jet, a new nozzle design was developed, and small samples of granite were rotated in front of each nozzle assembly, for 20 seconds. Because the jet had to be brought up to pressure for each test, and shut down afterwards, a steel shutter plate was placed between the nozzle and the target. One of the irritants in doing the tests was that the jets kept cutting through this shutter plate.


Figure 6. Steel shutter plate cut through in 6 seconds during system start-up.

The shroud, made of stainless steel, was also wearing out within a few minutes. Unfortunately we did not recognize that this was demonstrating that abrasive waterjets were an effective method for cutting metal – that commercial development had to wait for the more perspicacious Dr. Hashish to work with Flow Research and bring the technology to the market in 1980.

Part of the reason for our lack of interest was because of a different conclusion that Dr. El-Saie drew from his work, based on the following two curves. The first comparison of different jet results occurred with a jet pressure of 7,000 psi.


Figure 7. Volume of material removed from granite samples, as a function of distance, for four different jet conditions at a jet pressure of 7,000 psi.

Note that the three water jets do not have much significant effect on the granite at this distance and jet pressure (we had to learn some later lessons to make them more productive at this pressure). But even at this pressure the abrasive waterjet was effectively cutting the granite.

But it was the change in the relative position of these curves, as the pressure was then increased to 20,000 psi that caught our attention. (The intermediate plots are not given here).


Figure 8. Volume of material removed from granite samples, as a function of distance, for four different jet conditions at a jet pressure of 20,000 psi.

The water feed was not useful, since the power required to accelerate that volume drew heavily from that available through the jet.

The plain jet, without a shroud will cut granite at this pressure, particularly when moved over the surface. (And we later used this system to carve the Millennium Arch_ – as well as the Missouri Stonehenge). But the performance at that time was not that impressive.

Opening the ports on the shroud, without feeding anything into the jet caused, we believed a greater jet breakup and thus some additional droplet impact effects that improved cutting performance over that of the plain, more coherent jet, in part because the jet was spread over a larger contact surface.

Closing the jets induced cavitation in the stream, and this gave the best performance of the four – including abrasive injection. Again this was, in part because of the larger area of damage that the cavitation generated on the target, over the narrower slot of the abrasive-laden and plain jets.

In comparison the abrasive waterjet did rather poorly. In retrospect this is perhaps more of a surprise – but it should be born in mind that there was little attempt at optimizing the feed condition (which later research shows has a dramatic effect on performance) or the chamber geometry. Further the slot cut was much narrower than that created by the cavitating jet.

But it certainly caused us, in that time interval, to look more at cavitation, and to totally miss the implications of the AWJ result.

Most of these illustrations come from the Doctoral Dissertation by Dr. A. A. El-Saie “Investigation of Rock Slotting by High Pressure Waterjet for Use in Tunneling”, Mining Engineering Department, Missouri University of Science and Technology, (Then University of Missouri-Rolla), 1977.

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Monday, February 16, 2015

Tech Talk - enjoy it while you can

It is perhaps an odd time to be writing about oil shortages. The price of gas in our town has just moved above $2 a gallon up significantly from the $1.64 it was at its recent lowest point, but still very reasonable. Debate still rages as to whether the global price of a barrel of oil has found a bottom, although there are signs that the price is beginning to increase, in part due to other issues than overall availability of crude. So why be concerned?

There are several issues, and perhaps the first is that of industrial inertia. Despite the daily fluctuations in oil price, many of the events that occur between the time that oil is found in a layer of rock underground and the time that some of it is poured into your gas tank take a long time to initiate, and similarly can’t be turned off overnight. It takes, for example, roughly 47 days for a tanker to travel from Ras Tanura in Saudi Arabia to Houston.

One response to the drop in oil prices has been to reduce the number of rigs drilling for oil in the United States. Again this is not an immediate response, but rather one that grows with time. This is particularly true with the number of oil rigs that are used to gain access to the oil reservoirs. As the price for this oil falls, so rigs are idled and the potential for additional oil production also declines. This drop is particularly significant in fields that are horizontally drilled and fracked because of the very rapid decline in production with time in existing wells and the need for continued drilling to develop and produce new wells to sustain and grow production. The most recent figures show a fall of 98 rigs in the week from the 6th to the 13th of February, with the overall count now standing at 1,358. This rate of decline has held at nearly 100 rigs a week now for the past three with no indication of any immediate change in the slope of the curve. At the same time the number of well completions in the Bakken is falling, as producers hold back on the costs for producing oil that would be sold at a loss.

The impact from this will take time to appear, North Dakota has reached a production rate of 1.2 mbd in December and the DMR estimates that it will need around 140 rigs to sustain that production level this year, with the most recent rig count being 137. This number is likely to continue to fall through the first six months of the year.

The impact is not just in the immediate loss of production. Rather, once the rigs are idled it will take time, even after the markets recover, for the companies to adjust their planning and finances, and to re-activate the rigs. What this effectively does is to shift the production increment into later years, when the production base from existing wells will have declined beyond current levels. This means that the peak level of production will likely also be lower than would otherwise be the case, and the period over which this peak production is sustained will also be shorter.

The problem that this all presages is that lower levels of production against an increasing world demand will induce a faster rise in price than many now anticipate. There is a complacent feeling that oil prices won’t reach $100 a barrel for some considerable time - perhaps even years. If the current difference between available oil supply and demand is below 2 mbd, Euan Mearns has suggested that roughly half of this might be eaten up by increased demand, while the other half would disappear as production levels drop, although he doesn’t see this bringing the two volumes into rough balance until the end of 2016.

I rather think that it will happen faster than that, and that the price trough will steepen faster than currently anticipated, and likely before the end of this year. The problem (if you want to call it that) with the perceptions of the ability of global production to meet demand is that it is all tied to the production of the United States and Canada. I have noted, over the past two years, how future projections of increasing global oil demand have been met, in models, by increased production from the United States, and that this was anticipated to continue. (Increased production from Iraq, if sustained, is more likely to be needed just to balance declines in production from other countries).

Yet the US industry is going into a relatively rapid decline because of the way that it is structured that is going to be hard to stop, and much slower to reverse than anticipated. (In a way it is similar to the intermittent traffic congestion one finds on roads which result because we brake a lot faster than we then accelerate). This will not only stop the growth in production that is currently anticipated, but will go further and before the end of the year will lead to a drop in overall volumes produced. Yet demand is expected to increase. Where will the supply come from, if not the United States?

While Saudi Arabia can produce more, one gets the sense that they are quite comfortable where they are, thank you and won’t be increasing their contribution, and while Russia may bemoan the price they are getting for their oil, if the price goes up they are not going to be able to meet an increased demand, nor are there likely to be others with spare capacity that they can bring to the table. And because of the inertia in the system the United States will still be in a mode of declining production.

So I rather suspect that what we can anticipate is that prices will start to recover through the summer, and then, as the full impact of the rebalanced situation starts to become evident, will move higher at an increasing rate. Because if, in fact, we are reaching the period of a tighter balance between demand and available supply, then the market will change its perceptions quite quickly and be driven by a totally different metric.

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