Waterjet Cutting Vs. Laser Cutting

Dec 14, 2023

Laser cutting and waterjet cutting are two widely used methods in the world of manufacturing and fabrication. Both technologies have distinct characteristics, benefits, and best-use scenarios. Understanding their differences can help you choose the right method for a specific project.

Benefits of Laser Cutting

Laser cutting is a technology that uses a laser to cut materials. This method is typically used for industrial manufacturing applications but is also starting to be used by schools, small businesses, and hobbyists.

  • Precision and Accuracy: One of the main advantages of laser cutting is its high precision. Lasers can make extremely precise cuts with a very tight tolerance. This makes them ideal for applications requiring intricate detail and a high-quality finish.
  • Speed: Laser cutters are generally faster than waterjet cutters, especially when cutting thin materials. This can lead to increased productivity and faster turnaround times.
  • Versatility: Lasers can cut a wide variety of materials, including metals, plastics, rubbers, wood, and some ceramics. This makes them highly versatile tools in the manufacturing industry.
  • Low Deformation Risk: Since laser cutting is a non-contact process, the risk of material deformation is minimized. This is particularly important when working with delicate materials.

Benefits of Waterjet Cutting

Waterjet cutting uses a high-pressure stream of water, often mixed with an abrasive substance, to cut through materials.

  • No Heat Affected Zone (HAZ): Unlike laser cutting, waterjet cutting does not produce a heat-affected zone, which means there is no alteration to the material structure or properties at the cut edges. This is critical for certain materials that are sensitive to high temperatures.
  • Material Versatility: Waterjets can cut almost any material, including those that are heat-sensitive, such as certain metals, plastics, and composites. They can also cut materials that are too thick for laser cutting.
  • Environmentally Friendly: Waterjet cutting is a more environmentally friendly process, as it does not produce hazardous waste and uses water as the primary cutting medium.
  • No Material Limitations: Unlike lasers, which can struggle with reflective materials, waterjets can cut through almost anything, including reflective metals, laminates, and multi-layer materials.

When to Use Waterjet Cutting Over Laser Cutting

Waterjet cutting is typically chosen over laser cutting for thicker materials, materials sensitive to heat, and when working with a broader range of materials. It’s also preferred when the environmental impact is a concern and for materials that laser cutting struggles with, like reflective metals.

The Versatility of Waterjet Cutting

Waterjet cutting stands out for its unparalleled versatility. It can handle a vast range of materials, thicknesses, and complex shapes. This makes it a go-to solution for projects that require cutting through mixed materials, very thick materials or when a high-quality edge finish is essential without secondary processing.

Technical Details of Laser Cutting

As we delve into more technical aspects, it’s essential to understand the role of gasses in laser cutting. Different gasses are used depending on the material and desired outcome. For instance:

  • Oxygen is often used for cutting mild steel. It reacts with the metal to increase the cutting speed and produce a clean edge.
  • Nitrogen is preferred for cutting stainless steel and aluminum to prevent oxidation and produce a high-quality edge.
  • Carbon Dioxide (CO2) lasers are versatile and can cut through various materials, including non-metallic ones, but are typically slower than fiber lasers.

These gasses influence the cutting speed and quality and affect operational costs.

Technical Details of Waterjet Cutting

Garnet is the most commonly used abrasive in waterjet cutting, known for its hardness and ability to cut through a wide range of materials. Garnet particles’ type and size can vary based on the cutting application. For instance, finer garnet is used for detailed work on delicate materials, while coarser garnet is chosen for rapid cutting of thicker materials.

Comparative Speed and Efficiency

When it comes to speed, laser cutting is significantly faster than waterjet cutting, particularly for production applications. However, this speed comes at a higher cost, especially noticeable in low-volume runs. Therefore, waterjet might be more cost-effective for small batches or prototypes despite being slower.

Unique Capabilities of Our Laser Equipment

Our laser cutting equipment has the added capability of cutting tubes, a feature not available with waterjet cutters. This expands the range of possible applications, making it suitable for creating intricate designs and precision cuts on tubular materials.

In conclusion, while both laser cutting and waterjet cutting have their unique advantages, the choice between them depends on the specific requirements of the job at hand. Laser cutting offers speed and precision for thinner materials, whereas waterjet cutting provides versatility and no heat damage for a broader range of thicker materials. Understanding the strengths of each technology ensures the optimal cutting method is selected for each unique project.