Water jet cutting systems are made to cut through nearly every imaginable surface, but not all systems are alike. Different materials require specific water jet cutting systems.
There are a lot of factors that determine what type of water jet cutting system to use: Material thickness, strength, whether or not the material is layered, how intricate the design needs to be, and more. Cutting something relatively soft, like foam or rubber, is a totally different process than cutting metal or stone.
Using a water jet cutting system to cut glass presents a unique challenge. For starters, it’s important to note that you should never attempt to cut tempered glass with a water jet. Why? Tempered glass is designed to shatter when it’s disturbed. (Think of the windshield on your car.)
Non-tempered glass can be cut beautifully with water jets, provided you take some critical steps. Follow these tips for a clearly superior outcome – and so your project doesn’t come crashing down like…well…broken glass.
1. Consider Using an Abrasive
Water jet systems that only use water are great for materials that are easy to cut, but adding abrasives can seriously ramp up your cutting power. For cutting glass, we recommend using abrasives over a standard water-only cutting system.
Since glass is particularly susceptible to chipping, make sure to use a fine mesh abrasive. Using higher mesh sizes (100 to 150) can provide smoother results with less microchipping along the cut edges.
2. Proper Fixturing is Key
When you’re using a water jet cutting system to cut glass, it’s critical to ensure proper support beneath the glass to help prevent cracking. The support should be flat, uniform, and supportive – yet just soft enough that the water jet doesn’t ricochet back into the glass. A tricky balance, right? A water jet brick is a great option. Depending on the situation, you can also use clamps, weight, and tape.
3. Choose the Right Orifice Size and Pressure
Cutting glass requires high pressure (think: 60,000 psi) and serious precision. The right orifice size for cutting glass with a water jet cutting system is typically 0.007 – 0.010 with nozzle sizes of 0.030 – 0.035.
4. Eliminate Sagging in the Abrasive Line
We don’t have to tell you that glass is fragile. If there’s sagging in your abrasive line, that will interfere with the flow of abrasive into the material. Trust us – you don’t want sudden bursts of abrasives hitting your glass at 60,000 psi. That’s just asking for a crack. If your abrasive line is prone to sagging, consider switching to a shorter line.
5. Start with Piercing Pressure
When it comes to cutting glass, high pressure is key – and the same goes for cutting glass. Start out with piercing pressure from the pump so that high pressure water is hitting the material while the abrasive begins to flow.
6. Avoid Rapid Temperature Changes
Ever tossed a blazing hot glass dish straight from the oven into a sink full of cold water? We hope not, because it probably would have cracked. Glass is sensitive to rapid temperature changes, so when cutting glass with a water jet cutting system, it’s important to transition slowly between a hot water tank and cold air or cold water.
7. Make All Pierces Before Cutting
One final way to help prevent your glass from shattering: complete your pierces in the glass before cutting. Doing so will maximize consistency in the plumbing. Once all your pierces are made, you can cut with high pressure (remember to ramp up pump pressure slowly!). For best results, make sure to start your cutting inside one of the holes you’ve already pierced.
Whether all of this is clear as glass or you’re feeling a little fogged up, we’re here to help. We can answer any questions you have, plus we offer a free application analysis. Click here to schedule yours today.
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