Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Waterjetting 18d - Abrasive considerations

It would be best if, before I ended this short session on abrasive, I mentioned some of the practical constraints that sometimes limit the options for choosing abrasive types. To give a simple example, we were, at one time, demonstrating the ability of a waterjet drill to penetrate limestone. In the demonstration that morning we had used garnet as the abrasive and had made a steady penetration down to about 70-ft but the contracting office on the project did not seem overly impressed. So, after lunch, I suggested that we switch to an aluminum oxide abrasive, since we knew it was more aggressive.

Unfortunately for the afternoon program we were using a DIAjet type of system, where the abrasive is added to the water under pressure just downstream of the nozzle, and upstream of the delivery nozzle. While that worked well with the garnet abrasive (which passed without significant damage through the swivel on the end of the drill) that was not the case with the aluminum oxide. This is a much sharper abrasive and less prone to damage in mixing. As a result once we had the rig back in operation we were immediately struck by the black color of the water coming out of the hole – as the aluminum oxide stripped the inner lining from the hose carrying it to the nozzle. We then watched as, in real time, the pressure gage on the driving pump slowly slid back from the 10 ksi initial pressure to about 2 ksi as the abrasive ate out the orifices of the nozzle. Needless to say, having pretty much destroyed the downstream equipment in about five minutes, the afternoon demonstration was a bit of a disaster.

I also remember the first time that we used steel shot to try and cut through some rock, without giving too much thought to encasing the cutting operation. Those small spheres retained a lot more energy than most particles, and we were dodging the equivalent of shotgun pellets which ricocheted around the lab as we raced to shut the system down.

Both abrasives are, in their place, very effective tools in cutting materials that might be more difficult or uneconomic to cut by other means, but the peculiarities of their nature require that special precautions be used when they are used to make sure that there are not unintended consequences.

Sometimes the choices are simply practical. When we were cutting the walls of the Omnimax theater under the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, where we had to cut straight down (within half-an-inch either way over 15-ft of cut depth) through dolomite and chert it took less than a day to realize that the cost of using garnet to achieve the 12 – 15-inch individual cut depths was going to drive us out of economic reality within a week. Changing to a blasting sand (which we bought by the ton) did not change the cutting performance by much, but had a remarkable effect on overall costs.

Figure 1. Effect of abrasive type, size and feed rate on the depth of cut and optimal cutting condition when cutting rock. (after Yazici*)

Abrasive type and abrasive size both effect the depth of cut, and thus the economics of a cutting operation. Yet it is not possible to draw absolute rules since the different abrasives have different relative cutting efficiencies in different materials. For example, in the above plot boiler slag was relatively ineffective in cutting rock. On the other hand, with the right type of slag and steel Faber and Oweinah** have reported that slag can cut steel more than three times as efficiently as garnet. (This is partly because the slag shatters on impact and the fragments go on to scour the uplifted edges of the cavities generated by the initial impact of the particle.)

And while the British Welding Institute use smaller particles to cut softer materials, they have found it critical to use larger particles to get viable performance as the target material gets harder. In cutting steel I had mentioned in an earlier post, that garnet becomes less effective at a particle size below 100 micron. Yet in cutting aluminum (which is softer) the particles can be smaller and yet still effective.

Figure 2. The effect of particle size when cutting aluminum using corundum particles (after Faber and Oweinah ibid)

Yet, as discussed at the beginning, the cost of the abrasive must not only be set off against the potential for improving the cutting rate, one has to also look and see if there is an increase in the operating cost of the system when a harder, and thus often more effective cutting abrasive is used. Zaring et al showed this with a plot that they published at the 6th American Waterjet Conference***.

Figure 3. Relative benefits and costs of changing abrasive type (after Zaring et al***)

All things are, however, relative, and in some small cutting operations we have found it more economic to sacrifice the nozzle over the cutting time required in order to achieve a cut that could not be effectively achieved any other way.

As with many things in the waterjet business, while there are general rules that can be laid down to guide operations, when it comes to specific cases then it is often worth running a small series of tests on the projected target material, using different abrasives, at varying size ranges and feed rates, before calculating (usually using a normalized cost in dollars or gms per area of cut) the most effective abrasive for a given operation.

*Yazici, Sina, Abrasive Jet Cutting and Drilling of Rock, Ph.D. Dissertation Mining Engineering, Univ. of Missouri- Rolla, Rolla, MO, 1989, 203 pp.
**Faber, K., Oweinah, H., "Influence of Process Parameters on Blasting Performance with the Abrasive Jet," paper 25, 10th International Symp Jet Cutting Technology, Amsterdam, Oct, 1990, pp. 365 - 384.
***Zaring, K., Erichsen, G., Burnham, C., "Procedure Optimization and Hardware Improvements in Abrasive Waterjet Cutting Systems," 6th American Water Jet Conf, Houston, TX, Aug, 1991, pp. 237 - 248.

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