Water Jet Cutting versus Laser Jet Cutting and Plasma Cutting

Although water jet cutting, plasma cutting, and laserjet cutting are all high-tech and highly accurate methods of metal sheet fabrication, it would benefit us most to know which among these three is the most indispensable and can provide the most required industry applications. The looming question here is, is it laser, plasma, or waterjet cutting machine that you need for your project? 

Almost everyone who is involved in the metal fabrication industry, at one point in time, has come across this question. But then again, we can’t say that there is a definitive answer to this. Simply because it will take into account what you value most. We intend to find a solution to this dilemma by breaking down the technical and economic aspects of these 3 metal cutting solutions.  

High Definition Plasma Cutting

A plasma jet cutter will make use of an electrically-conductive gas to transfer energy from an electrical power source to its plasma cutting torch, then going into the material that is being cut. Highly celebrated for its ability to cut through a variety of metals, plasma cutting method is best described as among the most cost-effective among the three options as indicated below: 

Advantages

  • Ability to cut through a wide array of metals
  • Rapid cutting speeds
  • Delivers cutting accuracies to 0.008” scale
  • Economical
  • Impressive hole quality

Disadvantages 

  • Less accuracy compared to laser and water jet cutting
  • Requires changing of the cutting edge every time you need to deal with different materials.
  • Creates foul-smelling fumes during the cutting process
  • Poor edge quality on a few select materials
  • Laser Cutting

As the name itself suggests, in the laser cutting method, the medium for cutting through a material is a laser beam. Compared to plasma cutting, laser method offers greater cutting precision and at the same time, it is more cost-effective because it requires fewer amounts of energy, most especially when cutting through steel and aluminum. 

Advantages of laser cutting

  • Fast cutting  speed
  • Reliable
  • Efficient job processing
  • Cuts out intricate shapes at faster speeds, at the same time it eliminates the need for tooling.
  • Capable of cutting through a wide variety of materials with different levels of thicknesses
  • Capable of cutting through narrow widths
  • Can cut both nonmetals and metals

Disadvantages 

  • May come as an expensive cutting method. 
  • Power hog
  • Requires high levels of accuracy to place a target for lasers
  • Not applicable to reflexive metals

Water Jet Cutting

When it comes to waterjet cutting, it is your call if you want to use high-pressure water mixed with an abrasive material. Typically used for this purpose is granite powder. Or if you want, depending on the material you are utilizing for your project, you can just have plain but high-pressured water. 

Plain water jet cutting is used to cut through “soft” materials like wood, but when your project involves cutting through a tougher object such as steel you need to abrasive materials to the water. Here are some of the valid reasons why the use of waterjet cutting machine is more advantageous than other alternative material cutting methods.  

Advantages of Waterjet cutting

  • Capable of  cutting through virtually all kinds of material
  • The complete absence of heat-affected zone (HAZ) on the material adjacent to the cut  (this helps maintain its form)
  • Does not create hazardous waste
  • Minimal disposal costs
  • High level of accuracy and precision cutting
  • Capable of cutting through thick materials

Disadvantages of Waterjet cutting

  • The process is likely to generate abrasive dust which can get in the way in the movement of machine parts.
  • Takes a while to cut most metals
  • With a tendency to create noise, unless cutting work is carried out underwater
  • Abrasive materials are pretty expensive to purchase.

After delving deep into the advantages and disadvantages of each of these metal cutting methods, let us now carefully examine how they compare against each other.  

Cost

Concerning the purchasing cost, we qualify plasma cutting as the easiest on the budget while laserjet is certainly on the exorbitant  side. When it comes to the operating cost, taking into account the required materials that will be used for each machine, plasma cutting system would again fare the lowest price, which makes the use of waterjet cutting technology as the most expensive. 

Speed of Operation

The cutting speeds by which these metal cutting methods come in is vital in determining their production rate. It is completely normal for waterjet cutting machines to take some time to finish and get done with a particular cutting job, especially if the material itself is thick. So yes, waterjet cutting method is the slowest and followed by laserjet. When it comes to speed, the fastest metal cutting method is plasma.  

Cutting edge quality

You can easily determine a cutting machine’s level of precision by making a comparative analysis of the actual measurements of the resulting part to the programmed part size. On the premise that there is less heat distortion, we qualify waterjet cutting as most accurate and trailing behind this is laser cutting followed finally by plasma cutting. But it would be worth mentioning here also is that laserjet can have distortion on thick materials.