While cutting with water is possible for soft materials, the addition of an abrasive turned the waterjet into a modern machining tool for all materials. This began in 1935 when the idea of adding an abrasive to the water stream was developed by Elmo Smith for the liquid abrasive blasting. Smith’s design was further refined by Leslie Tirrell of the Hydroblast Corporation in 1937, resulting in a nozzle design that created a mix of high-pressure water and abrasive for the purpose of wet blasting.
Working with Ingersoll-Rand Waterjet Systems, Michael Dixon implemented the first production practical means of cutting titanium sheets–an abrasive waterjet system very similar to those in widespread use today.By January, 1985, that system was being run 24 hours a day producing titanium parts for the B-1B largely at Rockwell’s North American Aviation facility in Newark, Ohio. By August, 1985, Rockwell estimated the system had already resulted in $2 million in labor savings.
Dr. Mohamed Hashish, who led an engineering research team at Flow Industries working on abrasive waterjet technology, was granted a patent for his design in 1987. Dr. Hashish, who also coined the new term Abrasive Waterjet AWJ, and his team continued to develop and improve the AWJ technology and its hardware for many applications which is now in over 50 industries worldwide. A most critical development was creating a durable mixing tube that could withstand the power of the high-pressure AWJ, and it was Boride Products (now Kennametal) development of their ROCTEC line of ceramic tungsten carbide composite tubes that significantly increased the operational life of the AWJ nozzle. Current work on AWJ nozzles is on micro abrasive waterjet so cutting with jets smaller than 0.015 inches (0.38 mm) in diameter can be commercialized.