Choosing the right cutting system for your business can be overwhelming. It can be hard to understand what differentiates plasma, waterjet, and laser cutters. That’s why we designed this guide that breaks down the pros and cons of each cutting system.
Cutting machines are a serious investment, and you want to be sure you’re making the right choice. Fortunately, there are a few key differences between systems, so deciding is simpler than you think. Read this guide to learn which cutting system is right for you.
Plasma cutters use electricity and compressed gases like argon, nitrogen, and oxygen to cut metals. Plasma cutters force these gases through a plasma torch that shoots them out at ultra-high pressure. This pressure then heats the gas into a fourth state of matter known as plasma.
Plasma is extremely hot and melts all metal it comes in contact with. The gas that isn’t converted into plasma blows away excess metal, which keeps your cut clean. Plasma arc cutting is a unique process with distinct pros and cons that we’ll review below:
While it may sound futuristic, plasma cutting is the most affordable cutting system. Plasma cutters are significantly cheaper than waterjet cutters and half the cost of most laser cutters.
Plasma cutters work at incredible speeds of 60 to 200 inches per minute. Comparatively, laser cutters average 20 to 70 inches per minute, and waterjet cutters average a lethargic 1 to 15 inches per minute. A plasma cutter is the right choice when you need your cutting applications done fast.
Plasma cutters are easy to operate, which means you’ll spend less time learning and more time cutting.
When compared to its alternatives, plasma cutters have lower cut quality. Their high-pressure pumps give them immense power, leading to less precise cuts. Plasma cutters also produce a large heat-affected zone that could distort your metal. You should choose plasma cutting if you’re looking for a cost-effective cutting system that’s easy to learn and fast to use.
Plasma cutters can only cut metal. Using plasma on heat-sensitive materials like wood, rubber, or glass will damage the materials and your cutter. Never cut anything that isn’t metal with a plasma cutter.
Waterjet cutters use a cold cutting process that mixes a high-pressure water jet with an abrasive material like garnet. This mixture is sprayed at materials through a nozzle at immense pressures of over 50,000 psi. The jet follows a predetermined cutting path set by associated CNC software.
Waterjet cutters produce extremely precise and high-quality cuts. Not only do water jets produce consistent cuts, but they’re also programmed to guarantee they don’t stray from an intended path. Finally, waterjet systems are cold cutters, which means they don’t warp your materials with heat distortion.
Waterjets can handle any material. Whether you’re working with soft materials like rubber and wood or hardened steel and titanium, waterjet cutters can take care of it.
Waterjet cutters produce an extremely low amount of waste, making post-cut cleanup easy.
Waterjet cutters are expensive, especially when compared to a traditional plasma cutter. While a waterjet system is more affordable than a laser cutter, it’s still a substantial investment.
The main drawback of waterjet cutters is that they’re extremely slow. Waterjet systems are ten times slower than plasma cutters and three times slower than laser cutters. Some companies set up multiple waterjet systems to run concurrently, but this gets expensive fast.
You should choose waterjet cutting if you don’t mind a slow cutting process and need extremely accurate cuts on materials like wood or rubber.
Laser systems are an advanced technique that uses focused beams to cut through materials. This is accomplished with curved lenses in a laser cutter’s nozzle that concentrate light into a point of focus on the material. This intense light melts or evaporates the material, leaving a pristine cut and nearly flawless finish.
Laser systems are extremely precise and leave an excellent finish on all of the materials they work with. Laser cutters are the ultimate standard of precision in cutting systems.
Laser cutters are very energy efficient. These systems have low requirements to function and produce no waste except for dust particles. Keep in mind that these dust particles are dangerous to breathe, so make sure to use a mask when operating a laser cutter.
Laser cutters are the most expensive cutting system by far. They commonly double the cost of a traditional plasma cutter.
Laser systems have very poor penetration. Where waterjets can penetrate 12 inches of material and plasma can handle 6, lasers struggle with anything thicker than ¾ of an inch. This makes it extremely unsuitable for cutting thick materials.
You should choose laser cutting if you have speciality needs, such as cutting complex patterns on thin materials like sheets, boxes, or tube sections.
We hope our guide made choosing your next cutting system cut and dry. To refresh our key points:
- Plasma cutters are the most traditional, cost-effective, and efficient choice.
- Waterjet cutters are the most versatile choice and can handle thick materials of any composition.
- Laser cutters are the best choice for speciality needs like engraving.
If you need a plasma cutting system, look no further than Oxygen Service Company. All of our CNC plasma cutting machine models are produced by Hornet, the industry-leading plasma manufacturer. Contact us today for more information.