Make Architecture




History of Waterjet and Abrasivejet

First uses of waterjets

Waterjets found their first industrial use in the early 1970’s. At pressures between 40,000 and 60,000 psi, a jet stream of water approximately 0.005″ (0.1 mm) in diameter could neatly cut many materials including food products and cardboard. Specialty machines were created to help cut line production products which previously were tricky to produce. Examples of these early applications include:

  • Cardboard
  • Disposable diaper lining material
  • Insulating material
  • Shapes from foam rubber
  • Soft gasket material
  • Carpet material for automotive applications
  • Food products ranging from chocolate bars to fish fillets
  • Fabric and sheet goods
  • Components for shoes and leather products

Waterjets find new applications

Despite its cost and difficulty of maintenance, waterjets gained acceptance as a solution for cutting challenging materials. Waterjets were a viable alternative to knives and mechanical cutters which were far more costly and difficult to maintain. In addition to production line applications, waterjets soon were added to specialized machine shops working on a contract or job basis. These shops typically cut foam rubber, and other material into particular shapes for manufactured products, gaskets, custom signs, and other applications.

Birth of the Abrasivejet

While the ideal solution for troublesome soft materials, waterjets could not machine hard materials adequately. In the 1980’s garnet abrasive was added to the water stream and the abrasivejet was born. This was accomplished through the development of a ceramic mixing tube that could not only create the water stream, but also mix in the garnet by means of aspiration. This new abrasive-laden stream could cut harder materials such as titanium, Iconel, glass, and ceramics.

Development of the Abrasivejet

Like their waterjet predecessors, abrasivejet machines were initially very costly and difficult to maintain. As a result, these systems were only used for specialty materials such as titanium wing panels on military aircraft or cutting difficult shapes from glass or ceramics. These original systems cut the materials in the open air, allowing the operator to actually see the stream and manually adjust the feed rate of the garnet according to the path of the nozzle. Accompanied by a cloud of garnet and material shavings, these early abrasivejet systems were limited to specialized job shops employing highly skilled workers.

In the early 1990s, waterjet pioneer Dr. John Olsen began to explore the concept of abrasivejet cutting as a practical alternative for traditional machine shops. His end goal was to develop a system that could eliminate the noise, dust and expertise demanded by abrasivejets at that time.

Such a system should also be simple enough to maintain without extensive training or expertise. Most importantly, the system would have a computer control system eliminating specialty training for operators and trial and error programming. If such a system could enable an unskilled operator to quickly produce an individual part to precise specifications on the first try, it could be used by thousands of small job shops and prototype shops for making one-of-a-kind and short-run parts.

Dr. Alex Slocum of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology teamed up with Dr. Olsen in order to help with the design of the mechanical system. Dr. Olsen used cutting test results and a theoretical cutting model originally proposed by researchers at the University of Rhode Island as a guide in developing the unique control system. The result was a PC-based control system combined with a precision XY cutting table on which parts could be cut underwater. This submerged technique drastically reduced noise and eliminated floating dust. Here was an abrasivejet system suitable for the short-run and limited-production machine shop market.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


Instructor: Nick Gelpi TA: Skylar Tibbits TA: Varvara Toulkeridou
Class Times, Monday, 1-4pm - room 5-216
4.184 is an intensive introduction to methods of making explored through a wide range of brief but focused 1-week exercises. We'll engage the real and leave behind representation in the focused context of this class gaining skills for utilizing a range of fabrication machines and technologies from lasercutting, waterjet, 3D printing, welding, formworking-molding, casting, gears, joints and composites.
In this workshop we'll constrain ourselves to the territory of the 1:1. Students will represent architectural constructions at full scale and develop a more intimate relationship with technology by engaging the tools and techniques that empower us. We will gain access to the most cutting edge machines and technologies in the MARS lab at the Center for Bits and Atoms.
The second layer of information for this course will be to look at a series of case studies in which construction methods and technologies have played a dominant role in the design process .
Over the past 20 years, architects have focused on the technology of representation to create new ideas of what architecture could be. Looking back today, much of that research failed to substantially change the way we design buildings by focusing on apriori formal configurations. This class makes the contention that this failure comes from a lack of considerations of the potentials within fabrication knowledge. We look to the future of what building might become, given the expanded palette of personalize-able technologies available to us as architects. Students will participate in curious technological and material investigations, to discover the potentials, known and unknown, for these various technologies.
The sub-disciplines of what's drawn and what's built have been compartmentalized and disassociated as the representational tools of architecture have distanced themselves from the techniques of making. At the same time the technologies for “making” in architecture have provided us with new possibilities for reinventing how we translate into reality, the immaterial representations of architecture.


%d bloggers like this: