An educational series brought to you by AMERICAN MACHINIST and Flow International Corp., Kent, Wash.
Waterjets lack versatility.
Supersonic erosion, which erodes almost any material regardless of thermal propertiesor electrical conductivity, gives waterjet systems their versatility. Adding to this, the systems require few secondary operations, produce net-shaped parts with no heat-affected zone, heat distortion, or mechanical stresses.
For automotive, aerospace, paper, food, stone and tile, tool and die, and fabricating industries, waterjets cut both hard and soft materials. Abrasive waterjets, for instance, handle metal, stone, plastics, composites, glass, ceramics, and rubber in thicknesses up to 8 in.
Besides versatility, waterjet systems offer short fixturing and setup times, and with intelligent PC controllers like the FlowMaster from Flow International Corp., operators don't have to be master craftsmen to produce parts.
Technology In Action
TCI Precision Metals, a Gardena, Calif.-based metal service center and job shop, wanted to diversify its machine tool technology and replace near-net cutting methods such as plasma and flame cutting. The shop incorporated abrasive-waterjet cutting.
"We knew abrasive waterjets would expand markets for us," says TCI President John Belzer. "It gives us a new tool to work with for delivering a more-refined product to customers."
The company, an Alcoa aluminum warehouse distributor, offers comprehensive premachining to customers in markets such as semiconductor, aerospace, medical, high-tech, commercial, and more. It also furnishes premachined blanks and finished parts from materials that include stainless steel, brass, copper, titanium, plastics, nickel alloys, carbon steels, ceramics, spring steel, iron, and tungsten.
For such a wide variety of materials, TCI uses an X-Y Gantry and an Integrated Flying Bridge, both of which are from Flow International Corp. The X-Y Gantry has an 8 X 2-ft table and two cutting heads.
"We purchased these waterjet systems to cut certain materials, such as Inconel, titanium, tool steels, and others we couldn't do before," says Belzer. Multiple cutting heads mean TCI makes at least two parts simultaneously, and the flexibility of the two systems lets the shop create prototypes and produce short runs of complex shapes.
"Versatility of the waterjet is key," says Belzer. "The systems integrate well with the rest of our operations and allow us to deliver high-quality materials and parts to customers."