Over time many manufacturing tools have come and gone in popularity. There was a time when everyone used a basic knee mill daily, now much of that has been replaced. In fact many of the older manual machines have been pushed to the back of the shop to collect dust while new CNC machines have taken their place. Other machine tools have maintained or gained popularity over time including the abrasive waterjet.
The original abrasive waterjet system in the 1960’s and 1970’s were used to cut plastics and soft materials. In the mid 1980’s abrasive waterjet started being used for harder materials, such as titanium, and was put in to use in production settings. These early systems were inaccurate at best with a very rough finish on the parts. They also required their own room to operate in because of the huge mess they generated. Today the abrasive waterjet is holding incredible tolerances of .0006″ with a beautiful edge finish and sitting in high end R&D facilities next to million dollar pieces of equipment. Certainly the most dramatic improvements came in the first 10 years so why is the abrasive waterjet industry continuing its impressive growth rate? While the improvements now come at a slower pace they certainly continue to open the waterjet to new industries.
While the waterjet industry in general remains popular because it does not create a heat affected zone, can cut virtually any material at any thickness, and is an efficient tool for generating near net shape parts there are some specific reasons it’s continued its dramatic growth pattern in recent years.
Waterjet Goes Small – Micro machining, reducing the jet stream down to as little as .010″ with abrasive, is opening new doors every day in industries such as electronics and jewelry.
Waterjet Goes Big – Large tables, 40′-50′ long, are finding their way in to many shops now making large aerospace or ship building components a viable waterjet option.
Waterjet Goes Economical – All of the major waterjet OEMs have come out with lower priced, entry level machines in recent years. For the first time these machines have been able to produce quality, accurate parts at a fraction of the price of other waterjets. This has made it truly realistic for abrasive waterjets to be in every job shop, educational institution, and prototype facility in the country.
Reports of projected sales for various machine tools show abrasive waterjet continuing on an upward trajectory through at least 2020 making it a great investment option for many.