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Waterjet Cutting

7 Differences Between Laser And Waterjet Cutting

When it comes to the differences between laser and waterjet cutting, some nuances are important to know to determine the right custom manufacturing method. Both can each take the information from your 2D file to create your object. Both are also great for rapid prototyping or production. So let’s dig into those differences.

Elemet Manufacturing specializes in 5-axis waterjet cutting services. These 5-axis waterjets can handle large production runs but mostly serve our customers with quick turnaround services. Contact us today!

Laser Cutting

Laser cutting metal involves low risk, waste, and required clean-up. The use of laser cutting machines doesn’t generally call for safety goggles, even though it’s always good to wear some and be cautious.

However, for lasers to cut some materials, the dust and smoke produced can be slightly toxic, so it’s essential to have proper ventilation. Noise pollution is also very low with laser cutting.

After the laser cutting process, the machine doesn’t need heavy cleaning. The cutting waste is mostly dust that you can quickly vacuum. One of the main concerns linked to laser cutting is the thermal stress on the heat-affected zones.

To avoid thermal stress cracking, the technician can adapt the laser’s speed. Also, metals with higher reflectivity, such as brass and copper, are more efficiently processed.

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Waterjet Cutting

Waterjet cutting is a subtractive manufacturing technique. It uses pressurized water focused on a tiny point to cut the material. The pressure can be as high as 60,000 pounds per square inch (4137 bar). The operator can mix the water with an abrasive such as garnet, which increases its cutting possibilities (more materials, closer tolerances).

Waterjet cutting is widely recognized as a complementary tool to other cutting processes. Waterjet cutting systems can use “just water.” Depending on the material, use a combination of water and an abrasive, normally garnet.

With either method, waterjets cut materials using an erosion process. 5-axis waterjets are flexible tools that can cut virtually any material at any thickness. This flexibility expands the breadth of projects that a job shop or other business can perform. Waterjets can cut stainless steel one minute and plastic the next. Also, waterjet cutting works on laminated material.

Waterjet cutting can involve more risks, higher noise pollution, and higher clean-up. Indeed, the waterjet cutting process can be extremely noisy and requires ear protection.

Protection is necessary against the pressurized waterjet (specific gear, covers, safety glasses). Moreover, the waterjet cutting area gets quite messy, with large quantities of cutting waste caused by mixing water and abrasives.

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The Differences Between Laser & Waterjet Cutting

Determining whether to use lasers or waterjets for your next project will depend entirely on your specifications. For each project, you’ll need to ask yourself several questions, including:

  • What materials will you be cutting?
  • What is the thickness of your materials?
  • What sort of edge finish and tolerance does your task require?
  • Will heat impact the part?

Let’s look at some of the main differences between laser and waterjet cutting more closely:

Engraving / Cutting Capability

A laser can engrave as well as cut material. Waterjets only allow for cutting. Laser engraving is advantageous if you want to directly add serial numbers, assembly marks, or aesthetic designs.

2D Or 3D Designs

Waterjet cutting, particularly 5-axis waterjet cutting, can handle 3D cuts. Laser cutting can’t.

The Materials Each Can Cut

Laser and waterjet cutting can each cut difficult materials. Laser cutting can cut all plastics, glass, woods, and metals, excluding highly reflective metals. Indeed, metal laser cutting is doable, and you can laser cut stainless steel, aluminum, or mild steel, for example. 5-axis waterjet cutting machines can cut all materials.

The Thickness Each Can Cut

Laser cutters can cut thick materials. The optimal thickness range is 0.12″ to 0.4″ (or 3 to 10 mm). A waterjet cutting machine can cut denser objects, the optimal thickness being 0.4″ to 2.0″ (10 to 50 mm).

The Level Of Precision

Laser cutting can be more precise than waterjet cutting machines. The minimum width of the cutting slit is 0.006″ (0.15 mm) for laser cutting and 0.02″ (0.5 mm) for waterjet. As for their processing tolerance, it is approximately 0.002″ (0.05 mm) for laser cutting and 0.008″ (0.2 mm) for waterjet cutting.

The Potential Damage To The Material Being Cut

Each technique poses its problems when it comes to part integrity. Indeed, laser and waterjet machines can cause a little damage to the material during the cutting process.

Laser cutting can cause burn marks on the material and darken the cut’s sides. In many cases, a little cleaning can remove the burn marks. As for the darkening, it merely needs to be taken into account when thinking through your object’s design. You can potentially play on the contrast of colors between the colored faces and the black sides.

On the other side, as a cold cutting process, waterjet cutting doesn’t require heat. Still, it applies very high forces on the material, which can pose problems, especially for small parts. They might get deformed or even not cut.

The Work Environment

While waterjet cutting is a relatively clean process, laser cutting can cause smoke and sparks in the environment. Proper ventilation and safety equipment are always a good idea.

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When Your Project Calls For Waterjet Cutting

We’ve looked at the many differences between laser and waterjet cutting to help guide you to the best method for your project!

To sum up, laser cutting can offer higher precision, is more fitting for detailed objects, or is preferred when you require engraving. Alternatively, waterjet cutting can cut through thicker sheets and has virtually no material restrictions. It also doesn’t cause heat-affected zones on the materials cut.

Elemet Manufacturing specializes in 5-axis waterjet cutting services. These 5-axis waterjets can handle large production runs but mostly serve our customers with quick turnaround services. Contact us today!

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Waterjet Cutting

An Introduction To Precision Waterjet Cutting

Imagine one machine that can cut through materials from 1/16th of an inch thick to over ten inches thick. Oh, lots of tools can do that, right? What if you could find a machine that could do that without any machinery switch-out? 

One that you could change out the material while only resetting the program you’re using? Let us introduce you to precision waterjet cutting!

Whether you have a large-volume or small-volume need, contact the pros at Elemet Manufacturing, Inc. (EMI), to tackle your project.

Precision waterjet cutting uses a highly-concentrated stream of water to form basic or complex shapes. Tap water is forced through a small hole to concentrate an extreme amount of energy in a small area. The restriction of the tiny orifice creates high pressure and a high-velocity beam.

A waterjet cutting system is a computer-driven tool that can precisely and smoothly cut a wide variety of materials. This process produces highly durable parts well-suited for both functional prototypes and end-use production.

The customer can select from a vast range of materials, based on the strength, conductivity, weight, and corrosion-resistance required for your project.

At EMI, our five-axis waterjet cutting machines are well-suited for working with:

  • Alloys
  • Ferrous metals
  • Non-ferrous metals, such as aluminum, stainless steel, carbon fiber, and titanium
  • Security glass

What other materials can be cut with precision waterjet cutting? The list is almost endless!

Acrylic Copper Lexan Reflective materials
Brass Fiber-reinforced materials Magnetic materials Rubber
Bronze Fiberglass Marble Steel
Bulletproof glass Foam Pipe Stone
Carbon steel Glass Plastics Tile
Cast iron Granite Plating Tool steels
Ceramics Hardened steel Plexiglass Urethane
Composite Hastelloy Polycarbonate Vinyl composite tiles
Concrete Inconel Raw metal Wood
  Laminated materials Rubber  

Waterjet cutting systems have even been used to precisely cut paper products, textiles, and food!

Are there any materials that can’t get cut with a precision waterjet? 

Very few! 

Diamonds are too hard to cut. Tempered glass will shatter when it’s cut with a waterjet. (This is, of course, what tempered glass is designed to do, and why it’s frequently used in windshields!)

Benefits of Precision Waterjet Cutting

What makes precision waterjet cutting a better choice over other cutting methods, like EDM, laser, or traditional water stream?

Cold Water Process

Since the jets are using cold water, there are no heat-affected areas on the finished product. Customers can expect no thermal stress, no burning, no melting, no heat-induced cracking, or hardening.

Precision waterjet cutting is especially helpful when working with softer or heat-sensitive materials, such as rubber or plastic. There won’t be any melting or chance of two pieces getting “stuck” together.

Versatility & Flexibility

One of the most significant advantages when choosing precision waterjet cutting is the versatility. As mentioned above, the precision waterjet is capable of cutting through many different materials and thicknesses. Waterjet cutting is also omnidirectional, meaning the stream can cut in any direction.

Complex shapes that can be cut with precision waterjet cutting have virtually no limitations. Intricate designs that include tight radii, narrow corners, small holes, irregular shapes, and other precise cuts are easily achieved.

Excellent Edge Quality

This precision adds up to savings, as they cut down on the need for post-production finishing.

Speed

Waterjets can perforate most materials without any starting hole, so beginning a project is much faster.

Since the primary “tool” used is a jet of water, there is no tool-changing necessary when switching between projects or cuts. This lack of different tools can get your project completed faster!

Cost-Effectiveness

Because of the reduced need for post-production finishing and no tool-changing needed, the savings pass onto the customer. Overall, precision waterjet cutting is much more cost-effective than other cutting methods.

The “Green” Factor

As a cold cutting process, waterjet cutting eliminates slag deformation and dross waste, both unfortunate effects found in plasma and laser cutting.

Holes and lines can be closer to each material’s edge. Because of this accuracy of precision waterjet cutting, less waste gets produced. This lack of waste is, obviously, much more eco-friendly. 

Even the “scrap metal” can be recycled and used in new products, practically eliminating waste.

Waterjet cutting is also much more eco-friendly as it reduces the dust and hazardous gases expelled into the air.

Precision Waterjet Cutting Products

Waterjet cutting can take on almost any project that you can imagine. Chances are, you have some precision-cut pieces next to you right now.

Some fascinating products that produced with waterjet cutting include:

  • Circuit boards for electronics
  • Cut food (this also cuts down on any pollutants or disease-spread in food)
  • Engine parts for cars and airplanes
  • Floor liners for cars
  • Floor or tile medallions
  • Gaskets
  • Narrow slits in cardboard, paper materials, or fiberglass
  • Stepping stones and bench seats

Finishes for Waterjet-Cut Products

With the need for post-finishing work lowered, you can still get different finishes on your jet-cut pieces.

  • Standard. This standard finish is just your fundamental, non-finished part. Suitable to use “as-is.”
  • Bead Blast. This bead blast finish leaves the part finished with a smooth, matte appearance.
  • Anodized. Your part will be corrosion-resistant. The finish can be in different colors. The most common choices are black, red, clear, or gold. 
  • Powder Coat. The powder coat option is a little more intensive of a finish. A powder coating is sprayed on and then baked in an oven to adhere to the part’s surface. The powder coat is available in a wide variety of colors. 
  • Custom Finishes. Depending on what you’re looking for, custom finishes can be made available.

Industries That Benefit From Waterjet Cutting Services

Waterjet-cut parts are used in virtually every industry on the planet, in one way or another. 

But some industries that regularly use these parts include:

  • Aerospace manufacturers
  • Agriculture
  • Artistic
  • Automotive and automotive aftermarket suppliers
  • Commercial packaging and display manufacturers
  • Construction
  • Energy
  • Flooring
  • General contractors and architects
  • Machine shop OEMs
  • Marine
  • Medical device makers
  • Military organizations
  • Mining
  • Oil and gas
  • Race car component builders
  • Sign manufacturers
  • Transportation

For more information about waterjet technology, visit:

Do you have a project, and you are interested in learning more about precision water jet cutting? 

Contact Elemet Manufacturing to submit an RFQ.