If you're trying to find a material for your project, the options can be overwhelming. Waterjet cutting offers so many choices that it can be difficult to pick the material that fits both your design and budget.
The truth is most projects can be done with 6061 aluminum, 304 stainless, cold roll steel, or clear polycarbonate. Our customers have found that each of these four fills a unique niche.
Here's a chart that ranks the three materials against each other in terms of cost, appearance, and specific strength (also known as strength-to-weight ratio). 4 is best, 1 is worst.
|Stainless Steel 304||1||4||2|
|Cold Roll Steel||3||1||3|
It's worth noting that though we've ranked them against each other in terms of appearance, none of these materials look particularly bad. Stainless steel is more durable than aluminum, and thus holds its finish better. If you need a transparent material, then, of course, a metal won't work at all and you need a plastic like polycarbonate.
Cold roll steel doesn't come out on top of any of the above categories, but it's still useful. Why? It is harder (good for sliding or wearing parts), denser, and can be welded more easily than the other materials. It's also magnetic.
|If you're considering||But Need||Try|
|Aluminum 6061||Better formability (ability to bend the material into shape)||Aluminum 5052|
|Aluminum 6061||Better electrical conductivity||Copper 110|
|Carbon Steel||Higher strength||Prehardened steel alloy 4130 or similar|
|Polycarbonate||Lower cost||PETG, Acetal, UHMW-PE or Laser cut acrylic|
|Stainless Steel 304||Maximum corrosion resistance (like in salt water environments)||Stainless Steel 316|
|Stainless Steel 304||Lower cost||Aluminum or one of the laser cut metallic appearance acrylics (Brushed Bright Nickel, for example)|
Of course, there are quite a few materials which can be cut on a waterjet that don't appear on any of these charts: various kinds of wood, stone, metals, and plastics. If you're considering these, you probably already have a good idea of what you need.
One of the great advantages of waterjet cutting is that prehardened metals can be cut quite easily. Certain metals can be purchased in bulk as bar or sheet, and then cut on the waterjet. This saves the extra step of having the material heat treated for hardening after machining.
Cutting glass on the waterjet
Most ordinary glass will shatter when cut on the waterjet. Certain types of untempered glass can work, but will typically need to have a test cut performed on them first in order to make sure that they can be cut without breaking.
Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF) and plywood on the waterjet
Unfortunately, Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF) is quite sensitive to moisture. This means that when the waterjet stream starts to cut into MDF, it immediately swells up and makes a big mess.
Most quality plywood will cut on the waterjet and can be a good substitute for MDF in some projects.