Figure 1. Conventional tool path in cutting concrete, the tool has to cut through both the hard aggregate pieces as well as the softer cement.
The tools that cut through the rock mechanically must, therefore, be able to cut through all the different materials that they are likely to encounter. Where the rock is like a concrete, with hard and soft parts, then the tool must be able to cut through the hard (aggregate) as easily and fast as it removes the soft (cement) phase if the machine is to maintain productivity. When I wrote about cutting concrete, I pointed out that this “brute force and ignorance” approach to getting through material was expensive in the time that it took to make a hole, and in the energy that had to be expended, both combining to make the overall process itself more expensive than it need be. That cost includes not just the costs of the process itself, but is also less obvious in that the machine itself has not only to be bigger, but because it also typically sees a wide range in force applied through the cutters to the drive mechanism, it also has a shorter operational life because of these fluctuations. (One shearer model saw such failures within six months of start-up).
There are a number of different ways in which the sensible application of high-pressure waterjets can improve cutting performance, lower machine size and cost and provide a win-win situation. But there is a need for caution, since the small size of the waterjets that are often used is much below the scale of many other parts of the machine, and, as a result, the precision with which the jets need to be applied can often be neglected.
In an earlier post on this topic, I discussed how a mechanical tool will crush the rock over which it passes during cutting. This crushed rock confines the bit, and is often re-compacted so that frictional forces rise, and the temperatures can be high enough to soften tungsten carbide.
Figure 2. Crushed rock under the impact of a mechanical pick. The size of the indentation relative to the size of the crushed rock is evident.
If the jet is to be effective it has to be directed into the cut at the point where the crushed rock is being created, so that the jet can remove the broken pieces as they are being formed. It is this critical location of the jet relative to the bit:rock contact that is often missed by those who have tried to apply this technology in the years since Dr. Mike Hood first demonstrated the benefit.
A number of experiments over the years showed that if the jet is more than about a tenth-of-an-inch (2.5 mm) from the point of the pick where it enters the rock (or the edge of the tool if it is a broader shape) then the jet will not be able to reach and remove the crushed material. This is particularly true when the rock being cut is, as in the above figure, a basalt, which the jet of water cannot normally penetrate at pressures of 10,000 psi. thus, if the jet does not reach the crushed material then the energy put into its creation has been wasted.
There are two parts to that last statement. They deal with all three planes in which the jet lies, relative to the point of pick contact. There is the relative position at which the jet hits the rock, where it is critical that it hits just where the rock is being crushed, and then there is the distance of the nozzle from that contact point. The latter point is one that I have also written about in earlier posts, but which can also be neglected when engineers are designing systems. There are a number of papers (which seemed to be at a peak at the 8th International Waterjet Symposium in Durham, UK in 1986) where this distance was set incorrectly (values up to 0.3 inches and above were reported) and it is not, therefore, surprising that some investigators found that the results were not as good as expected.
Figure 3. Jet cutting at the front edge of a pick (Front cover of the 8th International Symposium on Jet Cutting Technology, BHRA, Durham, UK, Sept. 1986)
If the nozzle is too far from the rock contact, then the pressure of the jet will have fallen to a pressure that is too low to be effective. This has been a less obvious problem to overcome, since to many observers the jet seems coherent with distance, but, given that jet flow is often divided between a number of different nozzles on the cutting head, the individual orifice sizes can be quite small (perhaps 0.01 inches in diameter). If the effective jet throw distance is 125 diameters, then the range of the jet is 1.25 inches. Yet in a number of applications, because of difficulties in fitting the nozzle in place, the orifice can be placed more than 2.5 inches from the rock contact. Again the result of this is to make the jet sensibly ineffective.
The jet has to be put into the right place, and with the correct amount of power, if it is to be of any use. Sometimes that can mean that the nozzle is placed behind the pick (so that it can be protected by the pick from the rock, yet can be brought close enough to the crushed zone that it can penetrate it from behind. This is a little more difficult to achieve, since the precision of location is a little more difficult.
Others have tried feeding the jet down through the pick, and I will explain some of the benefits and problems with this as I continue on this theme next time.