Two Types of Metal Cutting and Their Benefits

a plasma cutter processing a metal plate

Custom metal fabricators use many tools to fine-tune their craft. Two examples are CNC laser cutters and waterjet cutters. Both of these machines produce perfectly fabricated products, but they do so in much different ways. Let’s take a closer look at these two methods of metal cutting and the benefits of each.

Laser Cutting Tables

When extreme precision is required, custom metal fabricators will often use a CNC laser cutting machine. This technology uses a focused and powerful laser beam to burn through common metals, such as aluminum, stainless steel, mild steel, and titanium. The cutting beam is so thin that it can cut materials as small as 0.12 inch to 0.4 inch, making it ideal for cutting intricate shapes and engravings.

As may be surmised, the laser beam is extremely hot—hot enough to rapidly heat, melt, and vaporize the metal material. While this high temperature is effective for precision cutting, it can also damage the workpiece that will be used for the end product. To prevent warping, discoloration, corrosion, and other types of damage, custom metal fabricators will typically use a coolant during the laser cutting process.

Waterjet Cutting Tables

When damage from a heat source like a laser cutting head poses a risk to the material, a professional fabricator may choose to use a CNC waterjet cutting system instead. Rather than generating intense heat to cut through metal, waterjet cutters use pressurized water that is forced through a miniscule nozzle opening. The water pressure is so powerful (it can range from 50,000 to 60,000 psi) that the water can slice through metal. The cutting power is often enhanced by the addition of garnet or another abrasive into the water stream.

Waterjet cutting machines can process common metals such as aluminum, brass, copper, steel, and titanium, and they can cut through sheets and plates of various sizes. In fact, thin sheets can be stacked and fabricated at the same time, improving efficiency. Waterjet cutting tables are also adept at cutting thicker materials. Other cutting methods begin to lose accuracy when cutting materials thicker than ½ inch, but a waterjet cutter can process materials up to 15 inches thick.

Pros and Cons of Laser Cutting and Waterjet Cutting

When it comes to speed and precision, laser cutting tables are clearly the better choice. This fabrication method can produce beautiful, intricate, and precise cuts, which makes it a popular option for custom fabricators who have an artistic side. Waterjet cutters, though efficient, are only capable of producing basic cuts and are more often utilized for fabricating plates and other mass-produced products. Custom fabricators will utilize waterjet cutters when the introduction of heat can become problematic, when they need to process thick metal plates, and when the end product requires less precision.

A Leading Manufacturer of Heavy-Duty Fabrication Technology

Machitech is a revered name in the custom fabrication industry, known for manufacturing heavy-duty CNC fabrication technology. Our solutions are fully customizable to suit production needs and include free and unlimited support for life. To learn more, contact Machitech today.