Cooporate Blog Entry: The History of Water Jet Cutting
As with any invention, it is hard to pinpoint the exact creation of water cutting. From as early as 2000BC ancient cultures have diverted the flow of rivers to cut through previously impassible routes and many medieval mote systems were hand-dug on the understanding that flowing water would eventually finish the job without the use of manual labour. A stone in a river will eventually be worn to sand. Upon the invention of steam engines and pumping systems, the 1800s saw the beginnings of what we now think of as water jet cutting. Quarry faces were hosed down with large gauge streams of pressurised water, washing off loosened coal and minerals for later collection. Pumps where large inefficient and the materials used to construct them limited.
It wasn’t until 1933 that the Paper Patents Company in Wisconsin Illinois developed a paper metering, cutting, and reeling machine. The machine used a water jet to cut a horizontally moving sheet of paper. A humble start but the beginnings of something bigger. Between the 1950s and 1970s, Dr Norman Franz utilised a pure stream of high-pressure water to cut lumber. His machines utilised two forms of pump; an intensifier and a direct drive. The direct-drive pump worked through a crankshaft which forced water into an intensifier. This second intensifier pump used hydraulic pistons to force water through a tiny opening and out through a nozzle. The thin gauge nozzle and high pressure created a hair-thin stream of water capable of cutting soft materials such as card, paper and foam.
The fundamental principals of water cutting had been proven but it took Dr Mohamed Hashish to build on Franz’s work and tackle harder materials. Franz’s machines were limited by their use of pure water. Hashish envisioned mixing an abrasive compound with the jet stream to handle tougher surfaces. In 1984 the first commercial systems hit the market but the introduction of the abrasive compound meant that nozzles, seals and other components were subject to great wear during the life of the machine. The potential was great but the execution far from perfect. With larger companies such as Boeing and The Boride Corporation and OMAX adopting the technology, the problem of breakdowns needed to be addressed. Amongst the companies new strides were made such as the adoption of better seals; developed by Boeing in the 1940s and improved upon in the 1980s, more effect OMAX pumps, as well as Boride supporting Franz and his team in the creation of corundum crystal nozzles. Where Hashish had improved on Franz, Franz then improved on Hashish. A true collaboration of great engineers resulting in our modern manufacturing system capable of cutting machine tools, titanium and glass. Accuracy is improved through the adoption of CAD control systems and the fundamental nature of water means that traditional issues of heat distribution and tooling marks can be eschewed.
As water jet cutting continues to develop we are seeing it combined with digital modelling tools and CAD automation to create not only simple net fabrication but also more complex machine parts such as impellers and micro gearing. With multi-axis cutting now possible more and more companies around the globe are utilising water jet cutting to create more and more detailed products and lower and lower costs. As systems improve not only the accuracy of cuts but also the overall manufacturing speed can be increased. The development of water jet cutting has been difficult to patent since the number of collaborators and companies involved in its evolution has been vast. Hopefully, the collaborative nature of its creation will move into its future and we can all benefit from the results.