Blog Post

Waterjet vs Laser vs Plasma Cutting

Rather than being overwhelmed with information, if you are trying to compare high definition plasma cutting, laser cutting and waterjet, the following information might help you narrow down which process would be best for your shop.

Empire can help guide you through the process, just call if you have any questions or would like to discuss the options and your particular application.

Waterjet Cutting
Advantages Disadvantages
  • Cuts everything
  • Can produce part accuracies better than 0.002″
  • Doesn’t heat part or cause micro fracturing
  • Able to cut materials over 10″ thick
  • Can produce cut edge squareness < 1 degree
  • Minimal kerf widths (0.025″ to 0.050″)
  • Easily expandable to multi-head cutting
  • Fast learning curve for operators
  • Simple maintenance
  • No fumes generated from process
  • Can be less than half the purchase price of a similar sized laser system

 

  • Slow cutting speeds for most metals as compared to laser or plasma
  • Can be noisy (unless cut under water)
  • Area around machine can become coated in abrasive dust generated from cutting process
  • Process generated abrasive dust can damage unprotected motion components
  • High cost for cutting media (garnet), can be more than $12 per hour
  • Disposal of “mud” debris and overflow water from cutting tank can be an EPA issue
  • Focusing nozzle in cutting head deteriorates with use, affecting cut quality and accuracy
Laser Cutting
Advantages Disadvantages
  • Cuts a variety of metals and non metals
  • Can produce part accuracies better than 0.002″
  • Can cut thinner metals at over 1000 IPM 
    Can produce cut edge squareness < 1 degree
  • Narrow kerf widths (0.006″ to 0.015″) 
    Can cut hole diameters < 1/2 material thickness
  • Produces narrower heat affected zone than plasma
  • Can process thin and thick metals simultaneously
  • Shuttle tables can add efficiency
  • Material handling options can allow the laser to run unattended
  • Significantly higher capital cost than plasma or waterjet
  • Cutting metals reflective to the laser beam (such as aluminum) can be hazardous to the focusing lens
  • Can cause micro fracturing on some materials, a detriment for some aerospace applications
  • Variations in material quality for carbon steel plate as well as surface rust can affect cut results
  • High cost for cutting assist gas, can be more than $15 per hour
  • Safety requirements to protect operator from laser beam
High Definition Plasma Cutting
Advantages Disadvantages
  • Cuts a wide variety of metals
  • Can produce part accuracies better than 0.008″
  • Can process 16 gauge mild steel at over 200 IPM and 1″ thick mild steel at over 45 IPM
  • Fairly quick learning curve for process 
    Simple maintenance
  • Can be less than one third the purchase price of a similar sized laser system
  • Varying table sizes and lengths available
  • Recent advances in technology have greatly improved hole quality
  • Not as accurate as laser or waterjet
  • larger heat effected area in cut parts
  • Consumables in cutting head deteriorate with use, affecting cut quality and accuracy
  • Requires cutting head component change to process different metals and different metal thicknesses
  • Not as flexible as laser in simultaneous processing of thin and thick metals
  • Edge quality on plasma cut stainless steel not as acceptable in some markets as laser or waterjet processed parts
  • Can cause micro fracturing on some materials, a detriment for some aerospace applications
  • Produces fumes from the cutting process

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