Waterjet vs. Laser Cutting: Precision Metal Cutting Services Compared
Waterjet and laser cutting are two precision metalworking methods that are commonly cross-shopped or compared. That’s understandable, as waterjet and laser cutters both offer close-tolerance metal slicing capabilities. Both can also accommodate highly customized parts with intricate shapes and complex designs.
Obviously, the main difference is the actual cutting method. By analogy, you could contrast these two metal cutting services as the power of fire vs. water – laser cutting machines essentially burn through metal with super high-intensity light, while waterjet machines blast through metal using extremely high-pressure water.
How Does Laser Cutting Work?
Laser cutting machines produce an extremely intense beam of light that generates enough heat to melt or vaporize the metal in its path. The high-power laser beam is generated by stimulating lasing materials (such as carbon dioxide gas) with electrical discharges in the machine. The resulting laser beam is amplified bouncing between internal mirrors, before a series of additional mirrors reflect the beam through a spherical lens.
The emitted laser beam is then precisely controlled via CNC automation, which robotically guides extremely accurate cuts across the workpiece. Due to the highly controllable nature of laser beam intensity, partial cuts can be made for custom engraving or part marking.
For laser cutting services, the optimal material thickness is generally between 3mm to 10mm (0.12” to 0.39”), though thicknesses up to 30mm (1.18”) or more are generally possible with extra processing time and care.
The Advantages of Metal Laser Cutting Services:
- The Highest Speed and Precision Possible – Laser cutting is faster for cutting parts under ~1” thick. Laser cutting services can also offer a higher level of precision, accuracy, and repeatability in metal cuts.
- Extremely Small Part Features – Laser cutter machines can typically produce tiny, precise cuts as small as 0.15mm (0.006”), while waterjet cutters will typically only go as small as 0.5mm.
- Custom Laser Engraved Parts – Laser cutting can be used for custom part engraving services to imprint part numbers, bar codes, decorative features, or other product information.
How Does Waterjet Cutting Work?
As the name suggests, waterjet cutting machines utilize thin high-pressure jets of water to make clean, precise cuts with minimal burring or edge distortion. To put the power into perspective – your average consumer-grade pressure washer will reliably output around 100 bar (or 100 times greater than atmospheric pressure at sea level), 200 bar at the upper end. Compare that to waterjet machines which blast water and abrasives out at pressures up to ~4,000 bar.
All of that pressure is directed into an extremely precise and carefully-controlled water beam. The waterjet beam is then robotically guided via CNC technology which automates the metal cutting process according to the preprogrammed part design.
To sum up the advantages/disadvantages of waterjet vs. laser cutting: waterjet isn’t quite as precise, but it is better for processing thicker materials (1” or more), and thus offers a greater maximum limit to part thickness.
The Advantages of Metal Waterjet Cutting Services:
- Efficiently Cuts Thicker Materials – While laser cutting machines typically max out at a material thickness of 30mm (1.18”), waterjet machines can accommodate thicknesses of more than 1” with no problem. The technology offers increased capacity as well as increased cutting speed and efficiency for materials that would be around the limit of laser cutting.
- No Hazardous Fumes – While both waterjet and laser cutting are relatively environmentally friendly manufacturing techniques, you could argue that laser cutting is more hazardous due to the vaporization of material. Waterjet, on the other hand, produces no fumes, relying upon water and abrasives to do the work.
Custom Waterjet, Laser, and Plasma Cutting Services for the PA Region and Beyond
Alloy Fabrication’s full-service metalworking capabilities include custom waterjet and laser cutting, as well as 3D plasma cutting services.
Alloy provides full-service custom fabrication capabilities specializing in industrial steel products. Family-owned and operated from Reading, Pennsylvania since 1987, our company is proud to stand as one of the nation’s leading commercial fabricators.