Laser cutting, waterjet cutting and plasma cutting: key differences in the main CNC cutting services

When selecting metal cutting services, one has several good options to choose from. But there are significant differences between these options, and the informed buyer can save big with the right choice.

laser cutting:

Laser cutting involves light moving in a straight line towards the work piece, vaporizing away metal. Laser cutters often have tolerances as small as 0.0005 inches. They are potentially the most accurate and may have the smallest cut (or width of cut). They are also the fastest for cutting thin stock (16 gauge or thinner). The most powerful laser cutters can cut mild steel up to 1.25 inches thick. The supply of the laser involves laser gases and electricity.

Waterjet cutting:

Waterjet cutting involves high pressure water and abrasives at 35-75,000 PSI directed at the workpiece, resulting in a precise abrasion cut. Steel parts can be up to 6 inches thick and stay within tolerances of +/- 0.003 inch. Materials can range from metal to ceramic tile and pretty much anything in between. It is by far the slowest method of the hack services discussed in this article. The supply of the water jet includes water and small, moderately expensive rocks called garnets.

plasma cutting:

Plasma cutting involves high-temperature plasma and an electrical arc that seeks ground. In this case, it searches for dirt through the work piece and in the process removes the metal by melting the material and ejecting it from the work area. Plasma cutting has by far the fastest speeds when cutting thick metal. Plasma cutting requires electricity and certain gases to function.


Which cutting method works best?

The best method of cutting depends to a large extent on the capacities required. If a job involves a piece of metal that is 1″ thick or less and requires moderate to tight tolerances, nothing beats a laser cutter. If a work piece is made from an exotic material that has a poor tolerance for heat (called ” Heat Affected Zone”), then a waterjet is probably your best option. If the material is metallic and extremely thick (say, 1.5 inches or more) and speed is crucial, then plasma cutting would be best.