Laser or Water Jet Cutting Sheet Metal – What’s Right For You?

What is Water Jet Cutting?

Water Jet Cutting is the process of using a high pressure, abrasive jets of water to cut through material. The process has come a long way in recent years and just like laser cutting is a high precision, highly advanced and well established method of cutting materials. Unlike laser cutting, one of the advantages Water Jet Cutting is it's ability to cut a wider range of materials, and in thicker sizes. For example, mild steel can be cut up to a maximum of 170mm. Well above the maximum cut depth of 25mm for laser cutting! One of the reasons for this advantage is the fact that water jet cutting produces very little heat whilst cutting. This means that a material cut with a water jet will have no heat effected zones on the finished parts, unlike laser cutting.

With that in mind, what's the advantage of laser cutting?


Advantages of Laser Cutting?

Whilst water cutting can handle a wider range of materials, which can be cut in a higher thickness, it's also significantly slower and more labour demanding than laser cutting. This increases the overall run time as well. On top of this in order to cut material the high pressure water stream needs precious gems in order to give the stream the abrasive properties needed for cutting. Most modern machines use Garnets in their jets, but some machines can use a range of gems ranging from Sapphire and Rubies all the way up to Diamonds. This understandably pushes the operating costs up.

The advantages laser cutting has over the water jet is the speed at which it can produce parts in thinner material without sacrificing precision. On top of that the reliability of laser cutting means that it can be left largely unattended, making the laser the ideal choice for lights out production runs. These two facts mean that laser cutting can produce massive savings in most instances due to it's higher productivity on thinner materials.

Sheet Metal Laser Cutting
Our Trumpf laser cutter in action! Picture courtesy of our own Gary Holmes

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Both cutting methods produce high quality goods with precision cuts, but for cost and productivity on thinner parts laser cutting cannot be beaten on a cost per part basis. That said, laser cutting falls down on thicker materials due to the heat generated by cutting. This is largely one a lot of businesses tend to view Water Jet Cutting as a complimentary service to work in tandem with laser cutting.

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