Waterjet Cutting vs Laser Cutting: A Comprehensive Comparison





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Every job has the right tool to get the work done. When it comes to cutting and engraving, you probably have questions about which is better: waterjet cutting vs laser cutting. The answer isn’t simple since each high-precision cutter does the job differently. The results for both can be extremely detailed pieces that require very little or no finishing after cutting materials.

Let’s look at each type of cutter and how they work.

Waterjet Machine Cutting

A waterjet cutting system is a tool that employs high-pressure water pumped through a nozzle for cutting various materials. The system focuses the pressurized water through a jewel orifice, usually composed of a diamond or ruby. These materials are selected for their hardness and ability to withstand the high pressures and speeds generated by the water, which can often exceed the speed of sound. The system can efficiently and accurately cut a wide range of materials by directing the pressurized water through the orifice.    

The size of the cut is determined by the size of the aperture, which can be adjusted by changing to different-sized orifices. This cut size is called the kerf. The kerf is the same terminology used when using saws to cut wood, metal, or other materials. In a way, the water forced through the jet will act the same as a saw blade, especially when combined with abrasive materials in the mixing tube.

Much like how the sediment in water helps to wear down rock and soil in a river or ocean current, abrasives such as garnet are added to the pressurized water jet to essentially erode through the material to be cut, albeit in a much more precise way. Garnet is used due to its hardness and availability, as it will become part of the waste product throughout the cut.

Materials You Can Cut With a Waterjet Cutter

waterjet cutting vs laser cutting - pile of silver metal alphabet characters cutted by waterjet machine

Waterjet cutting is ideal for cutting a wide range of materials, each with various hardness. Cuts can be made from as little as a quarter inch to as thick as 3″ and above, depending on the hardness of the material.

Waterjet cutting is a non-reactive cutting method that produces burr-free edges and requires minimal post-cut finishing for a wide range of materials, including metals such as steel, aluminum, copper, titanium, and many others. However, cutting pipes using this technique is not recommended due to the loss of force caused by the space between surfaces, which can affect precision.

Laser Cutting

High precision CNC laser cutting metal sheet

Lasers are a type of amplified light that can excite materials with extremely high temperatures, often surpassing that of the sun. When focused on a material, the laser effectively burns through it, removing the kerf by evaporating the material. Several factors determine the kerf of a laser cut:

  • Focus: Much like how you would adjust a flashlight beam, the laser particles can be directed to have a broad or narrow focus. The focus determines the intensity of the beam.
  • Power: Some lasers are more powerful than others, depending on how much energy is put into the laser device. Lower power will be a “cooler” laser, but increased times with an underpowered laser can result in a loss of precision.
  • Optics diameter: Much like a nozzle, this aperture determines how broad or narrow the beam is, regardless of the focal point.
  • The angle of the beam: The polarization of light emitted through a laser is angled to determine how it reacts to materials. By changing the polarization, you can affect the intensity of the beam.
  • Speed: Laser cuts can be made over long periods or short periods. The material you are cutting, the depth, and the precision will require different speeds to do the job.
  • Gases: Much like welding and cutting, different gases can assist in cutting. As with sublimation and flame cutting, you can use oxygen to accelerate a cut. Inert gasses such as nitrogen and argon limit the chemical reaction of burning through materials, limiting the kerf to only the immediate area around the beam. 

Materials You Can Cut With a Laser

Lasers can be used to cut a wide range of metals, including steel, aluminum, copper, brass, and titanium, among others. However, the thickness and type of metal being cut will determine the laser’s power requirements and cutting speed. In addition, the use of lasers for cutting metals requires consideration of the material’s reflectivity and thermal conductivity to ensure optimal cutting performance.

Waterjet Cutting vs Laser Cutting

Laser cutting and waterjet cutting are both highly precise cutting methods used in industrial applications.

The addition of gases during fusion or sublimation cutting can significantly impact the chemical composition of certain metals, resulting in oxidation or discoloration of the material. In contrast, waterjet cutting utilizes a mechanical process of pressure and friction that produces minimal heat compared to laser cutting. 

This makes waterjet cutting an excellent option for materials that are highly sensitive to heat, ensuring that the structural integrity and other critical properties of the material remain intact during the cutting process. 

Although waterjet cutting is well-suited for thicker materials and those with varying thicknesses, it may require more extensive post-cutting finishing. In contrast, laser cutting is highly efficient, producing minimal waste and offering superior accuracy. 

While laser cutting may not be suitable for materials with highly reflective surfaces, it is a reliable and widely-used cutting method in various industrial applications. It is highly effective for cutting thin materials and intricate designs, offering superior accuracy and speed, and also produces a clean and smooth edge, eliminating the need for further finishing. 

It is crucial to consider these factors when selecting a cutting method for a specific application to ensure optimal cutting performance and prevent unwanted effects on the material being cut.

Contact Us and Learn More!

For those interested in precision cutting, Elemet Manufacturing offers a variety of machines tailored to different materials, sizes, and finishing requirements. Whether you require laser cutting, welding, fabrication, or other manufacturing needs, our team has the expertise to help you select the best tool for the job. 

We offer free estimates and a range of options to ensure you receive the most suitable and cost-effective solution for your project. Contact us to learn more about our precision-cutting services and how we can assist you in achieving your manufacturing goals.

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