Sheet Metal Cutting Processes: Laser Cutting or Waterjet Cutting – What’s better for me?
When asking manufacturers what the most common cutting process they use in their shop, you’re more than likely to hear either one of two responses: laser cutting and waterjet cutting.
Depending on the type of material used (and importantly, the desired end result), these two sheet metal cutting methods are fundamentally different, but also revolutionary, given the appropriate application.
Laser manufacturing activities currently include cutting, welding, heat treating, cladding, vapour deposition, engraving, scribing, trimming, annealing, and shock hardening.
A laser cutter relies on a gas laser, such as a CO2 laser, for energy. The CO2 is then transmitted through a beam, which is guided by mirrors, and directed at the material. With CO2 lasers, the laser source is located inside the machine and the beam can output between 1500 and 2600 Watts. Materials and applications, as well as precision and safety, are important factors to think about when considering laser cutting.
Laser cutters work well with a variety of materials including, plastic, glass, wood, and all metals (except for reflective metals). If a material combination consists of materials with different melting points, however, it can be rather difficult to cut. Sandwich structures with cavities cannot be cut at all using a CO2 laser, and materials with limited access prove difficult as well. 3D material cutting is also hard to manage because of the rigid beam guidance.
Waterjet cutting is a process used to cut materials using a jet of pressurised water as high 60,000 pounds per square inch (psi).
To increase cutting ability, abrasives such as garnets and aluminum oxide are often added. The overall process mimics erosion in nature, just at a much higher speed and concentration. Water jets are capable of cutting many industrial materials including stainless steel, titanium, aluminium, tool steel, ceramics, granite, and armour plate.