During the metal fabrication process, your options include how to cut the metal. Methods like laser, plasma and waterjet cutting offer unique benefits in specific applications. Read on to learn which cutting method is suitable for your requirements.
Laser cutting slices through an array of materials, such as aluminum and steel. Laser cutting works on metals, plastics, wood and glass. A laser beam typically offers a more precise cut than other options and uses less energy.
This method offers increased efficiency and speed. You can cut out complex shapes quickly without tooling. You can also opt for 3D laser cutting, which is even faster and more efficient than traditional laser cutting methods.
Laser cutting is often the preferred choice when cutting or engraving fine details or intricate shapes.
Plasma cutting dates back to the 1950s. An electrically conductive gas sends energy from the power source to the material. This method works for metal because the heat from the plasma torch must melt the material to create the cut.
Some metals, such as aluminum, stainless steel and copper, cannot be cut using traditional flame-cutting techniques, which is why plasma cutting was invented.
It usually costs less to operate a plasma cutter than a laser cutter. Plasma-cutting machines can also easily cut through thicker metal than laser cutters. Laser cutters don’t work on materials like copper, which are very reflective. A plasma cutting machine is ideal for cutting through shiny or reflective metals.
Plasma cutting relies on electricity, so the technique only works on conductive metals. You can’t use a plasma cutter to slice through plastic or wood.
Waterjet cutting slices through materials with a pressurized jet of water and abrasive material, such as granite. Usually, water alone works well to cut softer materials, such as wood, while water plus an abrasive material is better suited for cutting metals and more challenging materials.
Like laser cutting and plasma cutting, waterjet cutting has advantages and drawbacks, depending on the application. Waterjet cutting techniques can cut into almost any material, including wood, plastics and metals. Since water is the primary material used in the cutting process, there is no risk of overheating the material or melting the thing you are trying to cut.
Waterjet cutting works on thicker materials than plasma or laser cutting, providing a more precise edge on even the thickest metals.
A potential drawback of waterjet cutting is its speed. This method is much slower than laser or plasma cutting. If you need to use abrasive materials in the cutting process, there is a chance that the dust produced will interfere with mechanical movement. Granite and other abrasive materials also add to the cost of the process.