Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Waterjetting 12c - Jet assisted metal cutting

The first two posts in this section described how, in cutting through rock, the tool and the rock would be compressed together so that temperatures could be created in and around the tool that would exceed 2,000 deg C. That temperature is sufficient to melt the cutting tool, and in other situations is hot enough that it can ignite pockets of gas in underground operations that can have fatal results. However, by adding a small flow (less than 1 gpm) of water to the cutting pick not only is this risk of gas ignition or pick melting significantly diminished, but the water acts to remove the fragments of the rock as they are broken under the bit. This has two beneficial effects, first it removes the small rock that would otherwise be re-crushed and rub against the bit, causing the temperature rise due to friction. The second is that by also keeping the tool cool and sharp it can penetrate much deeper into the rock under the same forces, improving the efficiency of the cutting.

When a cutting tool is used to cut metal instead, the processes are somewhat different. However, because the tool rubs against the metal and cuts and deforms the metal that will be removed as a chip heat will still build up around the cutting zone.

Figure 1. Temperatures around a cutting tool in metal (Gear Solutions Magazine )

If you look closely at the temperature contours you will see that the lines stretch beyond the point where the cut is being made, and both the chip and the machined surface of the metal heat up to 500 degC. This narrow strip of metal on the surface of the piece is referred to as the Heat Affected Zone or HAZ, since the metal in this region has had its properties changed by the heat and deformation. And while the impact is more severe with a thermal method of cutting (such as plasma) there is some affect with mechanical cutting.

This can be seen, for example, if a metal piece is machined without cooling of the interface between the bit and the chip. Depending on the material being cut, this can lead to chips that are thermally damaged, are long and can be dangerously hot.

Figure 2. Strips of metal milled without cooling (Dr. Galecki)

If the surface of the chips are examined then the amount of heat damage is evident.

Figure 3. Surface of the chip showing the damage from the heat during cutting. (Dr. Galecki)

However this problem with the heat generated during cutting has been widely recognized, and so it has become standard practice to play a cooling fluid over the cutting zone during machining. To be effective the water must pass into the passage along the tool face and down into the cutting zone. It thus acts both to lubricate the passage of the chip up the blade, and separating it from the cutting tool, while cooling the bit and keeping it sharp.

Figure 4. Insertion of the jet into the cutting zone. (Dr. Mazurkiewicz)

When this is properly placed, and as with the jet assisted cutting of rock the precision required in placing the jet is around 1.10th of an inch, then the chip and metal surface are cooled and the tool remains sharp.

However, with conventional, lower pressure cooling, while the chip length is reduced and the surface is somewhat improved, overall cutting forces do not change.

Figure 5. Chips formed with conventional cooling (note the poor edge quality). (Dr. Galecki)

When the waterjet pressure is increased to the ultra-high pressure range, so as to ensure that adequate water reaches the tool, then the cutting forces are reduced and the amount of damage to the metal is further reduced

The result can be seen in the form of the chips that are removed, which are now much shinier in appearance:

Figure 6. Chips from high-pressure jet assisted cutting (Dr. Galecki)

Note that the surface of the chips are shiny, and that they are relatively small in size. The shiny surface is similarly reflected in that left on the machined part.

Figure 7. Cut surface left after high-pressure jet assistance to the cutting tool.

The resulting reduction in damage to the machined surface, as well as the lower machine forces, and the consequent lowering of the potential for “chatter” during cutting gives a higher cut surface quality which, because of the reduced damage to the surface has a higher fatigue resistance.

The amount of modification required to the equipment is not necessarily large, since the high pressure water can be carried to the tool through relative small tubing that has a small footprint. The pump can be located elsewhere. Further, while conventional cooling requires additives to the water (which make it more costly to treat the scrap) the clean water used in the jet makes this less of a concern.

Figure 8. Arrangement with a jet added to the cutting tool on a lathe. There are also instruments on the platform. (Dr. Galecki)

These results show that the heat damage that can be anticipated with conventional machining of metal can be significantly reduced with the addition of high-pressure water. This becomes even more clear where abrasive is added to the jet stream, and fortunately, thanks to colleagues in Germany, we have thermal images of this, which I will share, next time.

(For further reading see Mazurkiewicz, M., Kabala, Z., And Chow, J., "Metal Machining With High Pressure Water Cooling Assistance - A New Possibility," ASME Journal of Engineering for Industry, Vol. 111, February, 1989.)


  1. The lower machine forces, and the consequent lowering of the metal cutting potential for “chatter” during cutting gives a higher cut surface quality

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