Laser Versus Waterjet for 2D Metalcutting

When should you choose laser cutting over waterjet, and vice versa? A metal fabricator offers some guidelines.


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Metal fabrication company Wiley Metal says that laser cutting is its “go-to” process for small quantity work. It’s fast and accurate, and the cut edge is square and generally smooth. But laser cutting can’t handle every job. Reflective metals and textured surfaces can bounce the laser light back at the machine, causing damage. There are limits to the thickness of material that can be cut because of how the laser focuses to a point. Lasers also generate a heat affected zone that can pose problems for plastics, rubber and certain other materials.

In these cases, Wiley Metal turns to its waterjet. Waterjet cutting is slower than laser cutting, only about half the speed, but offers comparable accuracy. Like laser cutting, the cut edge is square and smooth. But unlike laser cutting, there is no heat-affected zone and nearly any material can be cut.

Wiley Metal offers some guidelines, summarized below, for how to choose the best technology for the application.

Laser cutting is best for:

  • Thinner materials.
  • Ferrous metals such as stainless and carbon steel.
  • Applications where speed is important.

Waterjet is better for:

  • Materials ranging to 12 inches thick.
  • Nonmetallic materials and reflective metals such as copper, brass and aluminum.
  • Applications where heat is a concern.