Future of the industry

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General trend towards smaller waterjet machines

In general, there is a push towards smaller, more precise, and cheaper machines. These make great compliments to existing machine shop operations, or additions to existing waterjet shops. Expect to see a lot of new machines of this type.

This trend is analagous to what has happened with the printing industry beginning in the last part of the 20th century. Back then, if you wanted something printed, you went to a specialty shop that had a printing press, and paid a lot to get your printing work done. To keep costs manageable, you printed huge quantities at once. The setup was tedious, the equipment was big and messy, and it required a lot of special skills.

Today, most offices have several printers, and a photocopier. You might still send some work to the printers for large volumes, but for the most part you do everything on your easy to use, small, and affordable desktop printer.

picture of small waterjet machining center 26 x 26 inch cutting area

This trend is already underway and will probably continue. There are even people who suggest that “desktop waterjets” are possible—although they would be lower power (that is, slower) they would still be able to cut most materials. Like the printing press, there will still be a market for huge machines and high production.

Between now and the year 2015

In the next half-dozen years or so, you can expect to see the following changes:

  • More manufacturers
    Machines will be made by more manufacturers, most of whom will be system integrators who buy existing components and assemble them in unique ways. Others will spawn from job shops that have abrasivejet equipment, but think they can make it better.This is close to the current situation.
     
  • More machines in different shops
    You can expect to see more and more machines out there in many different shops. Most of these shops at this moment do not think they have a need for such machines because they don’t yet understand what they are really capable of.
     
  • More engineers who understand waterjets
    Engineers who have been using these machines in college will graduate knowing how to best design parts to take advantages of these machines. Many large engineering universities now have at least one waterjet. Some of them have several. Waterjets are even showing up in Community College programs as prices drop and more people become aware of the technology.
  • Easier maintenance
    There will be many improvements in terms of maintenance on the machines, and overall quality of the parts used in construction of the machines. In general, there will be a lot of refinements and polish in the machines, making them more user friendly, nicer looking, and easier to work on.
     
  • Faster and more accurate machines
    Manufacturers will make incremental, but steady, improvements in precision and speed. By 2015, the machines of the early 1990’s will seem quaint and crude.
     
  • More direct drive pumps
    The shift from older intensifier pump designs to more efficient and faster cutting direct drive pumps will continue. Nearly all manufacturers will have direct drive pumps by 2015. Intensifier pumps will probably still be used on some older machines, or for specialty applications.
  • Cheaper better mixing tubes
    Somebody will make an absolute fortune by introducing a cheap, long-lasting mixing tube. Mixing tubes are expensive and tend to be worn down in only a few hundred hours of use.

Before the year 2030

The waterjet industry is at about the same place the automotive industry was in the 1920’s. There are a lot of companies that are making a lot of strange contraptions with different designs, but as time goes on we will see a more standard look to the machines as all the manufacturers borrow the good ideas from their competitors.

  • There will be small size waterjet machine tools in nearly every shop that has a vertical machining center, or a lathe.
  • There will be even more huge machines used for high production.
  • There will always be a lot of custom machines as well for custom applications.
  • The total number of waterjet manufacturers will decrease as companies merge. A few of the others will appear and disappear. A few will be very successful.

Beyond 2030

Looking this far into the future, especially with technology changing at an ever accelerating pace, it gets harder to accurately predict. Still, there are certain trends that are bound to continue.

Throughout the machine tool world and other industries, controller technology will be astonishingly flexible. Remember C3PO in Star Wars? This kind of technology will be available probably around 2050, and certainly by 2100.

This will be driven by a combination of:

  • Neural Network software
  • Genetic Algorithms
  • Nano technology
  • Software and hardware architectures that use fractal like neural net structures
  • A continuation of the current trend of exponential increases in computer speed and memory
  • New processor architectures that exploit the various aspects of serial and parallel computing, as well as 3-D design and advanced cooling and organic electro-optical materials and devices
  • Chemical computing (for example DNA), optical computing, and quantum computing may also play a part in this, though maybe not too soon.
  • Other technologies yet to be discovered, such as holographic multidimensional computation and display devices..

Eventually, this will lead to the ultimate machine tool controller. This will be one that you walk up to and say, “Make something that pleases me.”

In the future, people will look back at the early 21st century as the beginning of the most exciting period in the waterjet industry. Just as the Ford Model-T is seen as quaint and old-fashioned, the state-of-the-art waterjet machines of today will seem out-of-date and underpowered.

Welcome to the cutting edge!


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