A Guide for Choosing Laser, Water, or Plasma for Your Next Metal Cutting Project





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Before you can begin to think about your latest metal project, your primary focus of attention may be on which way to cut the metal parts from the sheets of metal stock you have chosen for this metal cutting project.

In this post, let’s examine laser, waterjet, or plasma arc cutting as your choices at hand. Then let’s further enhance your metal-cutting project by putting you in touch with a metal-cutting project leader at Glenn Metalcraft, your one-stop metal-cutting project service provider.

Laser Cutting for Your Metal Cutting Project

Let’s take a look at what laser cutting consists of to gain a better understanding. First, LASER is an acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. When you laser cut the pieces for your metal cutting project, you use a thermal-based fabrication method to cut, etch, and otherwise prepare the needed components for your metal cutting project.

That might be a bit of a mouth full, but in short, the produced laser beam in our shop is guided through CNC equipment, focused through various optics, and then used to slice through the sheets of metal stock, producing your needed metal parts and pieces.

Ideal Metals to Cut With Laser Cutting

Some metals have characteristics such as being light-reflective or extremely heat conductive. Copper and aluminum are examples of such metals and require cutting from sources other than lasers. Brass, steel, nickel, and tungsten are ideal for laser-cutting technology.

Pros of Laser Cutting

  • High precision: Laser cutting machines can cut metal parts with a high degree of precision, resulting in clean edges and minimal distortion.
  • Fast cutting speeds: Lasers can cut metal quickly, making them an efficient choice for high-volume production runs.
  • Versatility: Laser cutting can be used on a wide range of metal materials, including steel, aluminum, and titanium.

Cons of Laser Cutting

As with any thermal process, laser cutting can come with its own set of drawbacks, such as;

  • Limited thickness capacity: Laser cutting is not effective for cutting metal thicker than about 1 inch.
  • Heat-affected zone: Laser cutting generates heat which can affect the properties of the metal, such as changing the hardness or temper.
  • Warping or deformation: Laser cutting can cause warping or deformation of the metal, especially in thicker or more heat-sensitive materials. 

Waterjet Cutting for Your Metal Cutting Project

Waterjet Cutting Machine for metal cutting project

Waterjet cutting technology is a bit easier to explain than laser-cutting technology. In waterjet cutting, water is directed at a very high velocity through specialized jets to produce an effective and clean cut of your metal sheet stock. Sometimes, an abrasive substance is added to the water for use on types of harder alloys to enhance its cutting ability.

Similar to how water eroded and created the Grand Canyon over centuries, waterjet cutting employs the same technique but on a smaller and much more accelerated scale. Utilizing a high-pressure pump, waterjet cutting creates a fluid stream of up to 94,000 PSI. In perspective, a waterjet cutter is 80 times more powerful than a fire hose!

Ideal Metals to Cut With Waterjet Cutting

Without any added abrasive, waterjet cutting alone is ideal for softer materials like plastics, cement boards, and foam. To get the desired results from waterjet cutting for your metal cutting project, a special jeweled orifice is used in conjunction with garnet abrasives that exit the nozzle up to four times faster than the speed of sound. This allows metal materials up to one foot in thickness to be cut.

Pros of Waterjet Cutting

  • This is a cold-cutting method that produces ZERO heat-affected zones.
  • Omni-directional flexibility. You can cut in any direction, not just straight down.
  • Cutting so precisely with water is possible that no secondary finishing is required.
  • This process is safe and environmentally friendly.

Waterjet cutting is ideal for cutting, shaping, and reaming metal parts for aerospace and mining applications.

Cons of Waterjet Cutting

  • It may not be suitable for cutting materials thicker than about 6 inches.
  • Although extremely precise, waterjet cutting does not match the tight tolerances that some other cutting methods, such as laser cutting, can achieve.
  • Some materials, such as tempered or heat-treated steels, can be difficult or impossible to cut with a waterjet due to their hardness or the heat-affected zone created by previously employed cutting processes on the same piece.

Plasma Cutting for Your Metal Cutting Project

Plasmacutting at Work

So far, we have used amplified light sources and high-pressure water to cut the pieces of your metal cutting project. Now it’s going to get a bit more scientifically advanced. We all know the three states of matter, solid, liquid, and gas. Basic middle school science, right?

Plasma is sometimes referred to as the fourth state of matter. When certain gasses are superheated, they become ionized. This makes the gas electrically conductive by turning the gas into plasma. 

Plasma cutters can use oxygen, nitrogen, argon, or even compressed air as their gas to heat via an arc produced by the cutting machine. As the gas and arc combine at the orifice point, all is converted to plasma. 

Ideal Metals to Cut With Plasma Cutting

Any metal that is a good conductor of electricity is ideal for a plasma cutter.

Those metals are;

  • Aluminum
  • Brass
  • Carbon steel
  • Copper
  • Mild Steel
  • Stainless Steel
  • Expanded Steel

Sheet metal 1-2 mm and up to 1-2 inches thick are also ideal.

Now the Pros and Cons of plasma cutting.

Pros of Plasma Cutting

  • Plasma cutting is a fast cutting method that can be used to quickly and efficiently cut a wide range of materials.
  • It can provide high cutting accuracy from metal to non-metals.
  • It is a versatile cutting method and can be applied to a wide range of industries.

Cons of Plasma Cutting

  • Plasma cutting is less precise than other cutting methods, such as laser cutting or waterjet cutting, and may not be suitable for projects that require tight tolerances.
  • The intense heat generated by plasma cutting can cause warping or distortion in some materials, particularly thin or delicate materials.
  • Plasma cutting is typically limited to cutting materials no thicker than 1-2 inches, depending on the specific equipment and settings used.

The Next Level in Your Metal Cutting Project

Now that you have seen the differences between laser, waterjet, and plasma cutting and the pros and cons of each, let’s take your metal cutting project to the next level!

That being said, contact your one-stop shop for all your metal cutting project needs – Glenn Metalcraft.

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