Many kinds of materials – metal, glass and some ceramic materials – can be cut by water jet cutting machinery. Water jet cutters shape work pieces like metal sheets by spraying concentrated streams of water at their surfaces.
Water jet cutting processes are generally limited to the cutting of thin materials, though complex, thicker shapes like metal gears can sometimes be cut by water jets. Water jet cutters, depending on their design, can produce streams of water at pressures as high as 120,000 PSI, though typical water jet cutter capacity ranges between pressures of 30,000 and 90,000 PSI.
High pressure water jet cutting processes are usually limited to the cutting of very strong materials like titanium or other strong metals; the strongest metals can sometimes require the use of abrasive media mixed into the water stream to make cutting easier. Shatter-prone or brittle materials like glass are cut with streams at lower pressures in order to reduce the risk of breakage.
Products generated by water jet cutting always bear a near-perfect resemblance to their technical drawings; water jet cutting process are almost always managed by computer numerical control (CNC) systems, which control the movement of the cutting equipment.
Compared to other cutting processes that involve potentially hazardous equipment or conditions like blades or extreme heat, water jet cutting is much less hazardous. Because no workers are near the water jet during its operation, the process requires few accommodations for worker safety. The only substantial occupational hazard involved in water jet cutting processes is noise.
The process is very loud, but a combination of soundproofing and personal ear protection can easily reduce any noise-related risk to workers. Water jet cutting systems are also highly efficient alternatives to other cutting methods. Laser cutting, for example, is also very precise and can be fully automated. However, it generates fumes and sparks that can be hazardous to workers.
Many laser cutting processes, particularly those that involve exotic reflective materials and high heat generation, are inefficient and very expensive. Water jet cutting involves few if any exotic materials and it is generally very efficient. The efficiency of water jet cutting processes is due in large part to its reclamation system; most of the water and abrasive media expelled during the process can be collected and recycled, greatly reducing the consumption of water and abrasives.