Giant waterjet capabilities go on show at Sheffield Uni AMRC

Posted on 5 Feb 2013

More than 100 manufacturers discovered the capabilities of a giant new waterjet machine installed at the University of Sheffield AMRC with Boeing last week.

The two-day open house was organised with tier one member of the AMRC with Boeing, WARDJet, which supplies its water jet technology to the centre.

Waterjet machines use a precisely controlled stream of extremely high-pressure water, containing a small amount of abrasive particles, to rapidly cut metals and other materials.

The AMRC’s GCM-series machine is a giant gantry-style composite milling centre combining waterjet technology with high-speed five-axis machining, providing efficient and flexible cutting of composites and metals. With over 1.5 metres of vertical travel for the cutting head and four metres of cross-beam travel, it is one of the world’s largest combined waterjet-machining centres.

Adam Carder of WARDJet used the GCM machine to cut the two partners’ logos into a large cylinder made of carbon fibre composite. The design was then finished using the centre’s milling head.

“The cylinder had a two-and-a-half foot vertical wall, which made it a challenge – you can’t do that with the usual five-axis machine,” commented Carder. “It shows the unique capabilities of this five-axis, and the sophistication of the software to programme it.”

The GCM was tailor-made by WARDJet to fit the available space at the AMRC Factory of the Future, and to showcase the state of the art in waterjet machining.

“This machine combines CNC milling and waterjet, so we can put a part down and get the best of both worlds,” Rich Ward, president and founder of WARDJet, told visitors to the event.

“We’re looking to put metrology onto the machine, so we can carry out 3D imaging of the part and compare that to the model, cut and measure the part, then compare that to what we had before.”

AMRC visitors inspect the cylinder with an inscription cut by a giant new waterjet machine

The GCM machine has several features that extend the capabilities of waterjet machining, and is well suited for shaping large composite parts. The five-axis waterjet head can rotate an unlimited number of times without having to unwind pipes or cables.

“When you are rotating the cutting head, you have high-pressure water, abrasive and air, and all the controls and power needed at the head,” Mr Ward said. “We’ve come up with a method that lets us bring all that through a system with unlimited rotation and no need to unwind. To do that with water at up to 90,000 PSI is quite some achievement.”

WARDJet recently renewed its membership of the AMRC for another three years.

“In the next three years we’re going to see a phenomenal amount of opportunities in waterjet,” Ward said. “There’s some fantastic technologies in nozzle design, and incredible work in increasing cutting power.”

AMRC researchers will use the GCM to explore innovative applications for waterjet cutting of metal and composite parts for aerospace and other industries, and new techniques to improve performance and productivity.