The two most common cutting practices used by manufacturing companies are laser cutting and waterjet cutting. While not always appropriate for the same applications, these two fabrication techniques offer value to manufacturing processes, albeit in different ways. To understand waterjet vs. laser cutting more fully, it’s essential to understand the methods themselves and the differences between them.
What Is Laser Cutting?
Laser cutting is a metal cutting process that makes use of high-density energy beams, usually produced with gas. These beams of energy are directed by mirrors to cut into materials. The beam vaporizes materials on contact, creating smooth, clean cuts.
Laser cutting is ideal for any cutting job that requires high degrees of precision and accuracy. Sometimes, clients come to us for relatively simple work like laser-cutting rings and discs. Other times, we use laser cutting to create highly complex and specialized components for different industries.
Laser cutting is also highly compatible with mass production operations. Laser cuts provide consistency through tight tolerances and a high degree of repeatability.
At Laserfab, we use a tool known as a fiber laser for cutting. A fiber laser is a basic seed laser that uses several additional glass fibers and pump diodes to achieve reliable, high-powered cutting.
Using a fiber laser over a carbon dioxide (CO2) laser offers a few advantages. One of the benefits of this construction is that it enables the laser to provide a more focused, intense beam and amplify the cutting power. Another is that it minimizes potential damage from highly reflective metals — like copper, brass, bronze and polished stainless steel — that are very common in production applications. These materials easily bounce light back to its origin, so with a CO2 laser, the concentrated beam of light could instantly reflect off the metal and damage the laser’s internal components. A fiber laser lowers the risk of this damage by using fiberoptic cables to transmit the light in a way that reduces the risk of unwanted reflection.
Fiber lasers are also relatively low-maintenance pieces of equipment, so they allow a team to spend less time on repairs and more time turning projects around quickly for clients. At Laserfab, we use several models of high-quality fiber lasers to facilitate fast cutting and handle a wide variety of metals easily. We also use advanced supporting software like AutoCAD, IGEMS, Lantek Expert and SOLIDWORKS. This software guides the cutting to provide reliable levels of accuracy and precision and ensure high quality in the final components.
What Is Waterjet Cutting?
Waterjet cutting primarily differs from laser cutting in its specific methods — instead of a laser beam, a waterjet is used to cut material. This waterjet contains abrasive materials like aluminum oxide or garnet to help improve cutting ability, creating cuts through abrasion rather than vaporization.
Waterjet is ideal for difficult or complex cuts that might otherwise be too thick to cut or susceptible to heat-affected edges. Our waterjet cutting machines generate up to 87,000 pounds-per-square-inch of pressure to slice through hard, dense metal easily. That’s almost 20 times the water pressure of a pressure washer and 75 times the water pressure of a fire hose. It can also cut through up to 8 inches of metal.
We often use waterjet cutting with thicker sheet metal that would pose a challenge to laser cutting. We also use it to create finely detailed cuts or cut oversized components for use in various applications.
Our waterjet cutting processes use three main components — a heavy-duty nozzle, a steady stream of water and a hydraulic intensifier pump. The pump pressurizes the water to the desired level, and the nozzle guides the stream of water for precise cutting. When abrasives are necessary to facilitate advanced cutting, we add them to the stream of water before it flows through the nozzle.
At Laserfab, we also use high-tech computer numerical control (CNC) software to run our waterjet cutting operations. The software guides the cutting tool, allowing for incredibly high precision, repeatability and dimensional tolerances. For waterjet cutting, we primarily use IGEMS, an advanced software platform that lets us program entry and exit points, plots and gaps and automatic lead-in, lead-out and rapid traverse lines.
Laser cutting and waterjet cutting have a few common qualities. Both processes are helpful for cutting various metals for use across numerous industries and applications. Below are a few of the characteristics these two processes share:
- Versatility: One of the great benefits of laser cutting and waterjet cutting is that both processes are highly versatile. They can handle a wide range of metals, from steel and stainless steel to aluminum, copper and bronze. They are also highly tailorable, so they can help your business produce custom parts for just about any application.
- Accuracy and precision: Both processes provide exceptionally high accuracy and precision in many applications. They make component production processes highly repeatable and ensure consistency across product batches.
- Minimal waste: Both laser and waterjet cutting produce little waste. They also often generate reusable and recyclable scraps, further boosting a business’s sustainable practices.
- Small kerf width: In material cutting, “kerf width” refers to the amount of material taken off the workpiece with each cut. Both laser cutting and waterjet cutting offer very small kerf width, with waterjet cutting averaging about 0.01 inches and laser cutting offering incredibly thin kerf widths, as well. These thin cuts allow for exceptionally fine detailing and intricate shape creation.
- Suitability for automation: Because laser cutting and waterjet cutting offer pinpoint precision and accuracy, they’re ideal for the repetition involved in automated processes. They can make the same cuts over and over, producing the same dimensions and overall results every time.
- High quality and quick delivery: With Laserfab, whether you choose laser cutting or waterjet cutting, a few aspects of your customer experience will remain constant. You’ll get the highest-quality workmanship because of the superior equipment and advanced software we use to ensure precision and accuracy. You’ll also receive your products quickly because of our efficiency and commitment to rapid turnaround times.
Both laser cutting and waterjet cutting are ideal for applications across a wide range of industries, like these:
- Chemical mixing
- Industrial baking
- Industrial racking
- Medical science
- Wireless communication.
The differences between these two approaches don’t just lie in their methods, but in their results and applications, too. When choosing between fiber laser vs. waterjet cutting in your applications, consider the following:
- Materials: Both laser and waterjet are excellent choices to cut metals. Any required secondary operations will help determine which technology is the best for the job. In general, waterjet cutting is better suited for thicker, harder materials than laser cutting because of its high-pressure capabilities.
- Precision: Laser cutting delivers extremely high precision, reaching tolerances of +/-0.005″, depending on the speed of the laser. Waterjet cutting typically holds a tolerance of +/- 0.03″.
- Speed: Laser cutting is generally a bit faster than waterjet cutting and cuts more inches per minute.
- Costs: In terms of laser vs. waterjet cost, laser cutting is a more economical option as it can cut parts faster. Waterjet cutting is comparatively expensive, requiring many components to run properly, including a high-pressure pump, abrasive materials and cutting heads.
- Component cleanup: Laser cutting can sometimes leave a few burrs on the cut surfaces of the components. The components then require deburring for optimal smoothness, functionality and safety. Waterjet cutting, on the other hand, generally necessitates minimal cleanup after cutting — the cut components are smooth and ready to go.
In the end, each of these metal fabrication methods has its own advantages and disadvantages to understand as you select your preferred method. If you need assistance deciding between custom laser cutting vs. custom waterjet cutting, Laserfab can help!
Contact Laserfab for Dependable Laser Cutting and Waterjet Cutting
Laserfab has an extensive, experienced background in offering metal laser cutting services for a variety of industries and can help your business choose between a laser cutter vs. waterjet cutting for your next big project.
When you work with Laserfab, you’ll receive quality laser cutting or waterjet cutting services, along with much more. We pride ourselves on being a true partner in your supply chain, and we’re happy to work with you to address the challenges of getting your products to market quickly.
We offer numerous additional benefits, including our ability to cut metals in a wide variety of thicknesses, our accelerated lead times, our highly skilled professionals and craftspeople and our customer-focused services. All these advantages mean you’ll gain the components and rapid order fulfillment you need, and you’ll gain peace of mind knowing you can depend on your high-quality finished products to stand up to rigorous use. You’ll also have trusted partners you can rely on for assistance if questions or challenges arise.
Contact us today to request a free quote or get more information on our superb laser cutting services!