Northwestern University Robert R. McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science

Advanced Manufacturing Processes Laboratory

Curved Waterjet-Guided Laser Material Processing

Waterjet-guided material processing is a novel hybrid technique in the field of micro-manufacturing which combines the capabilities of laser material processing with waterjetting. The principle of waterjet-guided laser processing is to couple a high-power, pulsed laser beam into a hair thin, low- or high-pressure waterjet. The cylindrical waterjet guides the laser beam by means of total internal reflection at the water/air interface, similar to conventional optical fibers (See Fig.1). When it reaches the work piece, the laser ablates the material by melting and vaporization. It offers several advantages over the conventional dry laser cutting process. [1]

  1. The cylindrical waterjet guides the laser beam parallel to its axis, ensuring uniform distribution of energy at the point of lasing action, compared to the Gaussian distribution of laser beam intensity in conventional laser material processing.

  2. The variable length of a stable waterjet eliminates the need for optical focus control allowing precision machining to a considerable depth.

  3. The instant cooling effect of the waterjet eliminates thermal effects avoiding deviations in tolerance.

  4. The inherent flushing capacity prevents contamination exerting a negligible mechanical force.

These benefits are of prime importance in the field of micro-manufacturing especially in the treatment of heat sensitive materials (biomedical devices) as well as in the high precision products (solar cells, wafer dicing, electronics) etc. The waterjet-guided laser systems developed to date uses the waterjet as an accessory and does not harness the tooling capability of the waterjet pressure.


Figure 1: Schematic of laser beam coupling with the water jet [2]

The idea of this project is to:

  • Simultaneous utilization of hydrodynamic pressure of the waterjet and thermal processing capabilities of the laser in a controlled proportion to achieve a wide range of machining and forming processes in the micro-scale.

  • Spatial manipulation of the waterjet profile by a custom designed electric field to control the position of the point of impingement of the waterjet in a scale beyond the resolution of the machine (see Fig.2).


Figure 2: Schematic of the proposed deflector assembly for manipulation of the waterjet, Left - Front View, Right - Top View

The objectives to be achieved are as follows:

The research objective of this project is to formulate a methodology and system for the electrical micro-manipulation of a waterjet serving as a laser beam waveguide leading to the development of a new multi-functional hybrid waterjet-guided laser micro-manufacturing process and a machine capable of laser ablation, micro-cutting, surface micro-texturing and modification and micro-incremental forming. The scope of this research is to:

  1. Understand the stability of micron-sized waterjets in terms of breakup length and identify the causes of disturbances in the jet profile and its growth along the length of the jet. Identify the parameters critical to the function of the waterjet as an efficient and stable waveguide and understand their specific effects on beam intensity and distribution at the end of the jet.

  2. Develop and demonstrate a method to control the trajectory and the position of impingement of the waterjet in waterjet-guided laser systems by utilizing the deflection effect of an external electrostatic field by controlling the voltage, geometry, size and arrangement of the electrode probes and distance from the waterjet. Understand the science behind the action of a non-homogenous electrostatic field on the trajectory of the waterjet.

  3. Develop a new hybrid micro-manufacturing process – micro-incremental forming –based on the enhanced spatial deflection capability of the multi-functional waterjet that uses the combination of laser and mechanical energy of the waterjet to deform the work piece.


MRI : Curved Waterjet-Guided Laser Micro-Manufacturing NSF CMMI Award #1234491; Link


  1. The Laser Microjet® Technology- 10 Years of Development (M401) -
    Frank Wagner, Ochélio Sibailly, Nandor Vágó, Rafal Romanowicz, Bernold Richerzhagen,
    Synova SA, Ecublens, CH

  2. : Revolution in Micro-machining