Laser or Waterjet – Which is Better for my Project?

What cutting process would be best to use for your project – laser or waterjet?  When cutting metals, plastics, glass, and a multitude of other materials, you will need to consider the capability of the machine and company you choose to do business with.  When comparing plasma, laser and waterjet cutting processes you need to consider, other than initial costs, secondary operations that might be required after cutting.

Wondering Laser or Waterjet? Ask yourself:

·     Does the part need to have small through holes that need to be tapped?
·     What is the final finish that is going to be applied to the part?
·     Is the material flammable?
·     Is it going to be painted and the list goes on.

How Thick is the Material?

Our first question at JIT is always; what is the material and how thick is it.  This will quickly narrow your choices.  From there we ask if it is a functional or cosmetic part. After that, we get into details like tolerance, but for now, let’s just figure out what which would be the best machine candidate to use. For the most part, plasma and laser cutting will run circles around a waterjet for cutting speed.  CNC equipment, regardless of method, keeps improving with faster speeds and types of materials it can cut. But you will find Pros and Cons for each type of machine, so do your homework.

Pros & Cons of Laser or Plasma

Heat Affected Zone Blowout Laser CuttingOne of the downsides to cutting with laser or plasma is the “Heat Affected Zone” which is generated to the surface area the cutting beam or heat source comes in contact with. Depending on the secondary processes involved, you will need to deal with a material blowout on the bottom surface when piercing the metal or a sharp burr on the cut edge. (See Photo)  This requires additional time to remove via grinding which is now an additional cost on someone’s part for abrasive discs.  If this part is to be painted, it will need to have the edges prepared by sandblasting or grinding in order to remove the carbon buildup which prevents proper bonding of paints to the base metal. If this is a part that has a lot of different contours it only adds to the processing time. Companies that have laser cutting equipment have a considerable investment, sometimes into the millions of dollars and because of this, they want to cut a lot of parts, meaning high production.  If you have a prototype or low-run production part, chances are you might not be a good fit for their production schedule, or you might be charged a higher price to compensate for this.

Pros & Cons of Waterjet Cutting

Now, what can a waterjet do? Well, simply stated, just about anything.  It is one of the most versatile machine tools in the industry.  For that reason, JIT Companies specializes in waterjet cutting.  We are able to process a long list of materials that would be impossible to do with laser or plasma.  Although it is a slower process, its advantages come from the elimination of most secondary processing of the items previously discussed. The “HAZ” area doesn’t exist and in most cases, the cut edge is the preferred edge of choice, especially if painting is involved. (See the Video) JIT’s waterjets also compensate for edge tapper by tilting the head during cutting ensuring a square cut edge.  This is a feature conventional lasers do not have.  In most cases, waterjet cutting does not require special fixtures for cutting, and most parts can be programmed and ready to cut in only a few minutes.  Part tolerances can be dialed into whatever the specification may require.  When you are cutting a variety of materials and these parts need to come together in a final assembly, experience has taught us that it’s always better when your finished parts come from one vendor to ensure consistency and quality.

To find out if laser or waterjet would be the best for your project, give JIT a call and we will be happy to assist you. Our Core Team Players at JIT know waterjets inside and out, but we are made even stronger with our Bench Players “Alliance Members” JIT has created over the years. So whatever cutting process you might require, Contact JIT Companies Inc. today at 507-326-5240 to see how we can help you.  You’ll be glad you did!