How can water cut through steel?

How fast does a waterjet cut?

Abrasivejet-cut parts.
Abrasivejet-cut parts.
Courtesy of OMAX Corporation

An abrasive jet can cut half-inch thick titanium at the rate of 7 inches per minute when a 30 HP pump is used. The abrasive jet moves in a manner very similar to a slowed-down pen plotter.

Abrasive jets have been used to:

  • Remove materials inside train tunnels
  • Help rescue "Baby Jessica" from the well in Midland, Texas
  • Cut virtually any shape in bullet-proof glass
  • Cut out the parts for the F-22 and Stealth bomber, and other aircraft and spacecraft
  • Cut into the hull, using diamond powder abrasive, of the submarine Kursk to recover the bodies of the Russian crew
  • Remove highway marking strips
  • Carve wooden signs
  • Create sculpture
  • Cut logs in a sawmill

Industries that can use abrasive waterjet and abrasivejet technologies:

  • Building: Patterns in stone material for floors can be cut. Matching parts of a lettered sign, made from stone and metal can be cut. Special shapes for metal and tile roofs can be cut.
  • Manufacturing: Precise gears and other intricate parts such as parts made of foam and rubber can be cut without use of any heat, like a laser would produce.
  • Designers: Intricate shapes can be cut for jewelry, sculptures, and mirrors.
  • Other: Waterjets are used to cut candy bars and diapers, too. There is a special drilling bit for oil exploration that has waterjets on the bottom to speed the drilling process. When used with a directional jets, a waterjet can bore under a road to route fiber optic cable.

Click the pressure reading to see and hear 5-second movie clip of a Flow Corporation abrasivejet. A 50 HP pump creates 52,400 PSI pressure for a jet of water and garnet abrasive mixture to cut 1/16-inch steel. This abrasivejet has an internal .013" ruby orifice to produce a .040" diameter jet of water. Look for a few sparks to fly!

Special thanks to ADR Hydro-Cut, Morrisville, N.C., Carl Olsen at and W. Glenn Howells at Berkeley Chemical Research, Inc. for technical help with this article.


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