Laser and waterjet technology both emerged in the late 1960s as processing tools. The approaches and techniques used by each, however, are vastly different. Many sheet metal factories face the question of which one to choose – laser or waterjet.
Laser cutting machine
Initially, the laser cutting machine was developed to create holes in diamond molds. It uses laser radiation to heat the material being cut, resulting in unparalleled speed and precision. This technology is often compared to a “Swiss Army Knife” for its versatility.
Laser cutting has the following characteristics:
- High cutting accuracy and capability to process workpieces with intricate shapes while minimizing waste
- Ideal for cutting thin materials such as plastic, ceramic, or metal with a thickness of less than 25mm
- Ability to perform cutting quickly from any direction.
Currently, there are two types of laser cutting machines: CO2 cutting (carbon dioxide cutting) and fiber laser cutting.
Related reading: Fiber Laser vs. CO2 Laser
Difference between CO2 cutting and fiber laser cutting:
The fiber laser cutting machine utilizes the diode Aurora system, allowing for the effective transmission of high power without any loss.
In contrast, increasing the power of a CO2 laser cutting machine can be challenging, and the mirrors used may become damaged when the power output is high.
As a result, the fiber laser cutting machine has a significantly larger available power compared to the CO2 laser cutting machine.
2. Cutting thickness
Currently, the thickness that can be cut by a fiber laser is comparable to that of a CO2 laser in many cases. However, the fiber laser is more efficient, consuming 70% less power and incurring less wear and tear.
Related reading: Laser Cutting Thickness & Speed Chart
Many fiber laser cutting machine manufacturers advertise their product as “plug and play,” making it easy for users to install and utilize.
For those in need of this technology, the fiber laser offers high efficiency and a rapid return on investment.
Laser cutting has become a cost-effective production method due to its fast cutting speed, short processing time, and high precision.
Water jet cutter
Water jet cutting is a more economical option compared to laser cutting.
The concept was first introduced by Norman Franz, a professor at the University of British Columbia in Canada.
He discovered that high-pressure water flow possesses a significant cutting force.
Water jet cutting has the advantage of being a wider cutting method than laser cutting as it is a cold cutting process that can be applied to various materials.
It is a sustainable and eco-friendly cutting method, making it ideal for materials that are sensitive to heat.
Water jet cutting does not cause thermal damage to the workpiece, making it suitable for industries with high standards, such as aviation, navigation, automobile manufacturing, textiles and shoemaking, ceramics, machining, and others.
However, it is not suitable for cutting absorbent materials such as wood or materials that may corrode when exposed to moisture.
Another advantage of water jet cutting is its ability to use 3D nesting software, as it can cut from any direction.
When water is expelled from the nozzle with high force and pressure, it can cut the surface of the material at the specified position.
For cutting softer materials, only pure water is used, while for harder materials, garnet sand is usually added to the water to facilitate sheet metal cutting.
The nozzle size varies depending on the thickness of the workpiece, with smaller nozzles used for thinner materials and larger nozzles for thicker materials.
However, cutting very thick and hard materials takes more time, which increases the cost.
While water jet cutting is more economical, its maintenance cost is high as parts such as high-pressure pumps and cutting heads are prone to wear and tear.
Related reading: Waterjet Cutting: The Ultimate Guide
Laser cutting and water jet cutting share a common advantage in that they have a narrow cutting width compared to other methods, such as plasma and oxyfuel cutting, making them suitable for small workpieces that cannot be cut by other machines.
In conclusion, while the cutting methods of laser and water jet are distinct, they complement each other rather than being mutually exclusive. Sheet metal factories can choose between the two based on their specific needs.
Having both cutting machines in your factory will significantly enhance its competitive advantage, as it offers more flexibility in terms of the type of material being cut, the thickness of the workpieces, and the factory’s order management system.