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Face Off: Laser Cutting Vs. Waterjet Cutting

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If you had to choose between an intense beam of infrared light and a high-pressure stream of water, which would you pick? Laser cutting and waterjet cutting are two forms of material cutting technologies that are highly effective in a widely diverse range of manufacturing applications.

History of Laser Cutting

The first laser cutting machine was used in 1965 to cut holes in diamond dies (tools used to customize the shape of various materials). Less than ten years later, the technology’s application had spread to the aerospace industry where it was used to cut titanium metal. Hot on the heels of this innovation, the CO2 laser technology was developed and was put to use cutting both metals and non-metals.

History of Waterjet Cutting

Dating back to the early 1800’s, the early renditions of this tool were used in the mining industry. It wasn’t until the 1930’s that these narrow, high-powered jets of water began to be used as a cutting tool. Early on, this technology was used to cut soft materials, like paper, and employed lower pressure streams of water than the developed, powerful waterjet cutting technology we see today.

Waterjet Cutting: Pros and Cons
Pro: Abrasive Waterjet Cutting Yields Great Results

Also referred to as “abrasivejet” cutting, abrasive waterjet cutting adds an abrasive material, such as garnet, to the stream of water. This added component gives the cutter increased capacity to cut harder materials. For instance, an abrasive material added to the stream of water can produce better results when cutting metal or granite.

Pro: Waterjets Can Cut Heat Sensitive Materials

Because waterjets don’t generate heat, they can cut heat sensitive materials or delicate materials. The cutting process does not result in a “heat affected zone” (HAZ), an area that can be harmed by the heat’s contact with the material.

Con: It’s Risky to Use Waterjet Cutters On Composite Materials

When cutting composite materials (materials made of various elements, such as a graphite and epoxy composite), waterjet cutting runs the risk of causing delamination. Delamination is the failure of a composite to remain a composite, and it begins to separate into layers of its composited elements.

Laser Cutting: Pros and Cons
Pro: A Laser Cut Edge Perfectly Finished

An uneducated opinion might say that, because laser cutting involves heat to cut the metal, that the edge surfaces would be inadequately finished and, thus, would require extra steps to produce a perfect product. This is simply not the case. Laser technology is well developed and produces excellently finished edges that doesn’t require refinishing or touchups.

Pro: A Laser Cutter’s Functionality Includes a Wide Range of Applications

Laser cutting can be used for cutting, drilling, engraving, ablating, structuring, and welding. Because of it’s wide range of uses within numerous industries and applications, lasers are often prefered over waterjet cutters because of their versatility.

Pro: A Laser Cutter’s Precision is Paramount

Laser cutters are typically more precise than waterjet cutters, especially when cutting thin materials or small items. Because of the waterjet cutter’s use of high pressured water flow, thin materials can be bent or warped due to the force of the stream. Also, waterjets are typically less effective when cutting small items because they have a higher minimum cut size slit (of approximately .02”). It’s more difficult to get small cuts out of a waterjet cutter.

Con: Laser Beams Cannot Cut Reflective Materials

Because laser beams are simply very intense beams of light, lasers are unable to cut reflective materials because the beam would simply reflect off of it’s surface as opposed to cutting into the material.

At the end of the day, Cutting Edge Laser is a proud proponent of laser cutters, specifically from the highly effective Trumpf laser cutter lineup. The well finished edges, versatility, and precision that laser cutters provide causes them to take first place on the podium of cutting machinery options.

Cutting Edge Laser would be more than willing to help you with any of your laser cutting needs. From tube cutting and machining work to expert welding services and finish and assembly projects, Cutting Edge Laser can provide top notch work. For more information, feel free contact us or request a free quote, and we will get back with you in just 24 hours.

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