From early times, man has harnessed one of nature’s most powerful forces to help him achieve feats of engineering that would otherwise have proved impossible. Whether milling flour, sawing logs, weaving textiles, lifting heavy objects or generating power, water has always proved to be a flexible and useful ally. Through erosion, water has the power to wash away mountains and shape our countryside, and it’s from this natural process that waterjet cutting originally developed.
First used industrially in the early 1800s, coalminers in New Zealand and the Soviet Union diverted pressured water from streams to carry away loose coal and debris. Later, during the Californian Gold Rush of the mid-late 1800s, water under pressure was used to excavate gold from the soft rock and wash it downstream for collection by pan-wielding, gold-hungry miners.
In the 1930s the Russians were first to see the real potential of this technology and used a water cannon, pressurising water to 7000 Bars, for cutting rock. Later, in the 1950s, forestry engineer Dr. Norman Franz began experimenting with ultra-high-pressured water. He used it to cut trees into lumber, proving that water under high pressure and velocity could successfully cut a variety of semi-soft materials. A few years later in 1956, Luxembourg-based company Durox International and engineer Carl Johnson successfully developed a method for cutting plastic shapes using a thin-stream high-pressure waterjet.
Waterjet technology was slowly developing, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that the first commercial waterjet cutting machines were built in the USA. These machines were capable of creating a 40,000 Bar pressure, and waterjet mining – combining a drill with the waterjet – was a growth area. In 1972 Professor Norman Franz of Michigan, working with McCartney Manufacturing Company, was first to install an industrial waterjet cutter.
In no time at all, waterjet technology, using very fine pressurised jets of water, was being use to precision-cut everything from paper to food products. Although the early waterjet machines were expensive and high maintenance, they were still more effective in cost and application terms than traditional methods for cutting soft materials. Soon sand was being added to a pressurised cleaning system to give metal a white finish, and this quickly led to abrasive waterjet systems being used to cut through metal and ceramics.
The waterjet cutting industry had come of age.
Today waterjet cutting is used by the space, aviation, and other industries to cut high-strength materials such as stainless steel and titanium alongside composites including carbon fibre. The technology is constantly developing and innovations such as computer-based control systems, precision X-Y cutting tables, and sapphire and diamond orifices have led to waterjet cutting systems specifically designed to meet the needs of both industry and