The controller’s job is made harder because a waterjet is a “floppy tool” that is picky about feed rates and accelerations. Unlike a saw with a rigid blade, a waterjet is a stream that bounces off the material, lags behind when moved, and generally behaves in a chaotic and difficult to predict way. Predicting the behavior of the waterjet stream requires complex algorithms in the controller.
Traditionally, waterjets have used CNC controllers, but CNC controllers are just not good at automatically setting feed rates and accelerations. Some can do it, but not very well. If the controller does not automatically handle this chore, you have to do it by hand. CNC’s have the advantage of being able to do highly sophisticated multi-axis work, but are much more difficult to program, even for 2-D work, especially in the area of setting speeds and accelerations.
Since the mid-1990’s standard PC computers have become the platform of choice for controllers. They have the advantage of being relatively low-cost and since computer power is always increasing, the controller software benefits from this speed increase. When the controller software is moved to a new generation of computers, the software is faster with little or no adjustment to the code.
The “user interface” (UI) is what you see when you work with the controller (or any piece of software). The UI can make sense and be easy to use, or it can be complicated and difficult to figure out, with many obscure icons.
In general, the UI has to find the right balance between simplicity and power. If the UI is too simple, then there’s not much you can do with it. Adding power and flexibility to the UI will complicate it and make it more difficult to learn and use.
You are the best judge of whether or not the software is easy to use, so you should be sure to work with the software before purchasing the system.
The other important thing about controller sofware is how compatible it is with other CAD / CAM software. Can you import files from AutoCAD, MasterCAM, Adobe Illustrator, and other popular CAD / CAM packages?