Abrasive jet machining uses a water jet cutter capable of slicing into metal or other materials using an extremely high pressure stream of water and abrasive materials. This water jet machining process is essentially the same process as naturally occurring water erosion, but it occurs much more quickly and forcefully. Abrasive jet cutting is often used in fabricating or manufacturing parts for machinery and other accessories.
Diverse industries from mining, automotive and food processing to aerospace, model building and architecture use abrasive water jet machining for operations such as cutting, shaping, carving and reaming. Because the nature of the water jet stream can be easily modified, water jets can be used to cut a variety of materials such as rubber, foam, plastics, composites, stone, tile, metals, food, paper and more. Typically fabricated from stainless steel, water jet cutters consist of a water reservoir, an abrasive reservoir, a high-pressure water pump and a nozzle. The nozzle, positioned with automated devices above a worktable, mixes abrasives and water together after the water has passed through the inlet and jewel. The abrasive water is guided through the mixing tube and shot out of the nozzle at speeds of up to 900 miles per hour.
Water jet cutters are able to cut through virtually any material without forming any of the burrs, warping or discoloration that often result from sawing or plasma cutting. Water jet cutters can reach precision widths as small as 0.003", or the width of a human hair. Water jet cutting machinery uses very low amounts of water - typically one half to one gallon per project - and both water and abrasive materials are easily recycled within a closed-loop system. This adds not only to water jet cutting's appeal to environmentally sustainable manufacturing, but to cost economy as well. Abrasive water jet machining is considered a green technology, as the waste water and abrasive materials used are not hazardous and are easily recycled. Although initial equipment costs can be high, water jet cutting can quickly result in significant savings. The absence of burs and warping on materials cut by water jet cuts back significantly on costly secondary machining processes, a feature taken advantage of by both manufacturers and sculpture artists. Material waste is significantly reduced by water jet cutters' close precision; outlines may be far closer to one another, and excess material may easily be cut off and re-shaped without damaging the cut out parts or the remaining material. Unlike other types of material cutting and machining, water jet cutting does not create particle dust in the air, allowing manufacturers to cut down on costly facility air pollution control.