Is It A Mill, A Waterjet Cutter Or Both?

An enclosed waterjet module that installs on a shop's existing knee mill or VMC temporarily transforms that equipment into a waterjet cutter.


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If you remove the cutting head and high-pressure pump from a waterjet cutter, then you’d be left with essentially a machine frame and computer numerical control motion. A CNC vertical machining center also possesses both of these things.

With that in mind, WardJet (Kent, Ohio) recently developed its compact, enclosed M-Series waterjet module that, when installed on a shop’s existing knee mill or VMC, temporarily turns that equipment into a waterjet cutter. According to the company, the conversion takes 20 minutes and requires only sources of water and compressed air at the machine for operation. The module can be removed as simply as it installs, turning the mill back into a mill.

It’s easy to imagine the inevitable damage that would occur if a waterjet’s abrasive liquid cutting media happened to splash upon vital mill components such as ballscrews. That’s why the M-Series provides a self-contained waterjet cutting environment, isolating the entire cutting operation in a sealed “tent” module to keep harmful media from contacting mill components.

The module bolts to a mill’s T-slot table as would a fixture or vise. The mill must be capable of supporting the entire waterjet assembly’s weight of approximately 600 pounds and provide at least 23 inches of Z-axis clearance to accommodate its height. The base of the module is a shallow tank filled with ball bearings. These dissipate the waterjet stream’s cutting energy, which, on a typical cutter, is accomplished by a deep tank of water.

A toolchanger plate in the top of the tent installs in the mill’s spindle. The system’s waterjet cutting head then attaches to the underside of the plate inside the tent. Once water, air and abrasive lines are connected, then the mill becomes a waterjet cutter.

Two tent versions are available with X-Y work envelopes of 16 by 30 inches and 24 by 48 inches. The larger model allows a standard 4-foot by 8-foot sheet of material to be cut in fourths and loaded into the tent. The workpiece material is supported by grates inside the tent and held in place with a clamping system that accepts workpieces from 0.5 to 4 inches tall.

A 20,000-psi pneumatically powered intensifier pump permits waterjet cutting using existing shop compressed air. This pump, along with an abrasive hopper and electrical box, is mounted on a cart located next to the machine. Larger pumps are also available in 40,000 psi and 60,000 psi versions.

The M-Series is perhaps best suited for shops that currently don’t have a waterjet cutter, possibly because of a lack of available floorspace. The package not only works for mills, but it can also be applied to lasers, wood routers, robotic arms, oxy-fuel cutters, plasma cutters—virtually any type of CNC equipment.