Returning to the clamp example from the previous post, let’s take a closer look at how the bolt holes were made through the side of the clamp.
In the photo below of the two clamp halves, you will notice that the clamp has indendations along the cut line where the bolt holes go. This makes it easier for a drill press operator to precisely locate the position of the holes.
The two halves of the split clamp before the bolt hole is drilled in the cut edge. Note the indentation which indicates where the bolt holes will be located.
Drilling a bolt hole in the cut edge of the clamp with a drill press. The indentation in the cut line helps locate the correct spot for the hole.
A similar indentation in the cut line can be used to mark the location of blind holes or other features created by secondary operations.
One common application of waterjet cutting is to make custom clamps to hold pipe or tubing in place. You can see an example of such a part in the photo below.
Note that the bolts holding the to halves of the clamp together pass through a hole in the cut edge of the part.
waterjet cut custom clamp holding two poles together.
For parts where t-nut construction won’t work, you may consider bending flat parts in a sheet metal brake.
Be aware that getting precise results from bending can be difficult. There are many factors to consider, including the bend radius of the material, the amount the material will stretch, and so on. Wikipedia has a brief overview of the subject.
Typically, an experienced brake operator will perform several practice bends on test parts in order to get the setup and bending procedure just right for accurate production parts. Thus, you should have several extra parts made and plan on your final accuracy being no better than +/- 0.01 inches in a small production run. You can compensate for this inaccuracy by, for example, elongating mounting holes in the part.
If you plan to use aluminum in a part which needs to be bent, you should use 5052 alloy instead of 6061, as 6061 is prone to cracking when bent.
Waterjet cut aluminum 5052 parts before bending on a sheet metal brake
The same parts as above after bending on a brake.
The position of the ends of the bend line can be indicated by indentations along the cutting line. In addition, the material can be made easier to bend by cutting narrow reliefs along the bend line. A drawing of such a part is shown below.
Drawing of flat piece to be bent.
The photo below shows the part waterjet cut from 0.08 inch thick aluminum. The reliefs on this piece are large enough and the material thin enough that this was able to be bent accurately by hand. For added strength, the length of the reliefs should be reduced.
0.08 inch thick aluminum 5052 piece bent (left) and original flat piece (right)
In a previous post, I showed you a little bit about how to choose a material. I’ve found in my work at Big Blue Saw that many people have trouble deciding on a thickness as well.
If you don’t have a set of calipers or a micrometer with which to gauge the thickness of the material you would like to use, you can use common household objects instead. Use chart below to get a feel for various thicknesses. You could also use any of these objects to measure existing parts.
For thicker measurements, stack several parts together. For example, 3 CDs are 3 X 1.2 mm = 3.6 mm or 0.142 inches thick.
|#9 Standard Razor Blade
|#12 Heavy Duty Razor Blade
|CD, DVD, or Blu-Ray Disc
|US Penny (Cent)
|Canadian Polymer Banknote
|Canadian 10 Cents
|Canadian 25 Cents
|Canadian 5 Cents
Table of material thicknesses
Waterjet quoting and final cutting is driven from 2D vector format files. However, many people use 3D modeling tools for their designs. Popular software packages in this category include Pro/Engineer, Sketchup, SolidWorks, Inventor, Geomagic (Alibre) Generating an appropriate 2D file generally means going though an export process to get the correct projected version of the parts to be made.
ViaCAD part export, zoomed out
The biggest stumbling block here is that many 3D design tools will add perspective information, such as hidden lines, to the final output. Lines in the drawing to indicate perspective simply confuse the waterjet software. Below is an example of this problem. The original design was exported as a 2D drawing from ViaCAD (though this problem is by no means unique to that package. When zoomed out, the part looks like a simple outline.
ViaCAD part export, zoomed in on the problem area
However, when you zoom in on the upper right hand corner of the image, you can see that the software has drawn the front and back of the part in perspective, plus a middle line. The extra lines will simply confuse the waterjet software, as there is no real indication which line represents the outline to cut.
Using your favorite design software
Most graphic design and CAD software allows you to export your design into a DXF format compatible with most waterjet cutting services.
Note that DXF format is a vector file format, as opposed to a raster or pixel based file format. Vector formats allow precise creation of curves, lines and other shapes. Examples of vector based desgin software include Inkscape, Adobe Illustrator and Corel Draw.
Exporting from design software that supports vector drawing to DXF is typically a matter of choosing File | Export from the menu or File | Save As…, and then picking the DXF format.
Exporting in DXF format
If you don’t yet have design software
If you are just getting started and don’t yet have CAD or graphics design software, don’t worry. There are many great software packages out there, all of which are free to use and are of professional quality.
1. Free vector based drawing software for Windows, Macintosh, and Linux:
Inkscape (see the note on Inkscape below)
2. Free Computer Aided Design (CAD) software for Windows:
Solid Edge 2D
3. Open source Computer Aided Design (CAD) software for Windows, Linux, and Macintosh:
QCad or Librecad
4. The Big Blue Saw Designer, an online tool for Java-enabled web browsers.