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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