Hybrid water jet and milling technology for efficient manufacture of complex components

L&D Jet Techniek based in Diest in Belgium, specialises in water jet cutting and is the first company in Benelux to acquire a hybrid water jet and milling machine. For some time now water jet cutting has been recognised as a good technology for cutting large components at high speed and with an excellent quality of finish. It can be used on materials difficult to process, such as titanium and carbon and glass fibre composites.

Water jet cutting is currently used specifically in the aircraft industry, thanks to the absence of delamination and fibre breakout when cutting, combined with speeds of up to 1,000 mm/m. Recent developments have lead to a 5-phase set-up that allows the processing of more complex components, resulting in the application no longer being limited to sheet materials, and also the inability to implement hollowing out and/or tapering in sandwich structures.

Limitations

However, there is a substantial limitation attached to water jet cutting, namely that it isn't suitable for operations where the entire depth of the material must not be penetrated. For instance with pockets.

Making very small holes in materials that delaminate can now be solved by drilling directly using an identical set-up.

Moreover, there must be sufficient space under the section being cut to allow the water jet to either flow onto the ground, or collected in a so-called catcher cup. This limits the versatility of the water jet cutter, both geometrically and also for creating features, and it means that components often require several operations, or more machines are needed, which in turn influences both costs and production times.

Hybrid set-up

It was decided to go for a hybrid set-up in order to overcome these limitations, which involves 5-axes water jet cutting combined with 5-axes cutting/milling/tapping. This makes it possible to process large and complex components with maximum efficiency and quality as a result, and is where each feature is processed using the most appropriate technology. Milling is for making pockets, finishing off ribs, making (small) holes, while the large contours are cut using the water jet.

The technology used at L&D Jet Techniek has a working range of 6,000 x 4,000 x 1,500 mm and an accuracy of 0.1 mm when using the water jet and a few hundredths when milling. This is a good example of a type of hybrid processing technology set-up where the combination of two different technologies creates synergy.   

(Figure: Hybrid water jet and cutting machine with a working range of 6,000 x 4,000 x 1,500 mm)

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