Laser cutting and water cutting machines have populated engineering workshops for decades, with both variants conceived in the 20th century. We’re devoting February’s blog to determining the differences and showing you why laser cutting dominates.
Standing the test of time When water cutters were introduced into manufacturing lines in the 1970’s, laser cutters and their advantages had already been well established for over a decade. Although water cutting had been used in clay mining it was snubbed as a factory process due to its unforeseen ability to work with difficult materials. While water was lagging behind, laser beams had already begun advancing and were considered the more sophisticated option, even in their early days they could be found cutting into the aerospace, automobile and even medical markets. This remains the case today. Although water cutters have matured and can cut through rubber, wood and some metals, they are only able to do so with surfaces less than 150mm thick, as the pressure that directs the cut begins to dissipate. But the gas fired beam typical in laser cutters burns continuously allowing them to shape a far more diverse range of materials; glass, metal and even diamonds, regardless of thickness and density.
Smoothing out the kinks Laser cutters have; quite literally, the edge over their water counterparts due to (you guessed it) the smooth edges they create. The beams are only in contact with a small area of material at any given time, which dramatically reduces the likelihood of imperfections. With water jets remaining in contact with the surface throughout, bumps and burs are created and with manufacturers frequently adding corrosives to speed up the process, it results in rougher edges that also wear more easily.
Head to head Laser cutters also have far superior precision and it’s all in the cutting heads. Typically a 0.2mm cutting head is used on a water cutter and a 0.15mm on a laser one. This smaller cutting surface of the laser beam improves its ability to closely carve desired sizes, and although minute this half millimetre could be the difference between a cog that turns and a cog that burns out!