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Miniature Gears Made with Jets of Water
Micro abrasive-waterjet technology created these tiny machined part.
Credit: Peter H.-T. Liu, OMAX Corporation

This Research in Action article was provided to LiveScience in partnership with the National Science Foundation.

Machine-powered jets of water give rise to tiny mechanical parts, thanks to new technology.

The development of micro abrasive-waterjet technology takes advantage of the inherent technological and manufacturing merits of waterjet technology to complement, or even replace, existing machine tools.

Waterjet technology is a top-down machining process wherein material is removed by streams of individual, high-speed water droplets or abrasives in an abrasive-waterjet stream. The size of a machined feature, such as the diameter of a hole, is proportional to the diameter of the waterjet stream.

The process has many advantages, such as efficacy with a range of material types and hardness, the ability to create parts from the micro to the macro scale, cold cutting that leaves does not lead to heat damage, and it is environmental friendly since it doesn't create hazardous byproducts.

Although engineers demonstrated the technical feasibility of applying waterjet technology for meso-micro machining in the mid-1990s, micro abrasive-waterjet technology remains in the research and development stage. Currently, abrasive-waterjet capability is limited to features around 200 micrometers and larger.

With the support of a National Science Foundation Small Business Innovation grant, OMAX has made several technical advancements have been made to meet such 'tiny' challenges: Including improvements in abrasive flows and novel nozzle designs. The image above depicts titanium and stainless steel prosthetic components machined using OMAX’s abrasive-waterjet technology, as depicted in the video below.

VIDEO: Watch the abrasive water jet in action.

Editor's Note: Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. See the Research in Action archive.