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Limitations Of Laser Cutting – Which Jobs Is It Suitable For?

Every type of cutting technology has its pros and cons, for every potential job there is a cutting option that would be the best choice.

Often, there are several cutting technologies that could create a part as specified but there will still be differences in the accuracy of the cut, the time it takes to process the job and also the cost.

We admit, even as the UK’s leading water jet cutters, that for some jobs laser cutting will be more suitable. Lasers are superb at simple cuts of thin material, a cut of this nature might be one where you would want to consider laser cutting (though it’s also worth getting quotes to compare and contrast).

For other jobs, you would not want to chose laser cutting. There are cuts that a laser simply could not make, others that it could struggle to make but it would be time consuming, costly and the likelihood of error relatively high.

In this post, we look at some of the limitations of laser cutting.


Laser Cutting cannot cut to any great depth

As mentioned, laser cutting is very good at cutting thin material. However, the other way of looking at this is that lasers are very poor at cutting through thicker material.

A laser will typically be unable to cut through anything thicker than around 2.5 centimetres. By way of contrast, a water jet can cut through 10 times this depth, 25 cm of virtually any material.

If you need to cut through thick metal, plastic or other dense material then laser is going to be an unsuitable option.


Lasers struggle with complex shapes

A modern laser cutter could cut complex shapes, even three dimensional parts with a degree of intricacy but it is not what they are best at.

To make such a cut, it will be necessary to cut in one dimension, turn the part and cut anew. The process will be time consuming, tie up a machine for a lengthy period and so be costly.

The end result might be acceptable but the quote is unlikely to be competitive compared to a modern water jet cutting expert.

Water jets are able to utilise XD technology, this a cutting head that can cut complex 3D parts in one motion. Controlled by state of the art software, the head cuts quickly and so time, and money is saved compared to laser cutting.

Because the heads are controlled by software with no need for re-cutting, the risk of errors creeping in is also removed.


Is a perfect finish required?

Lasers produce heat and heat will create minor damage to the cut edge. This might be micro abrasions, it could even be some damage to the structural damage. The abrasions can be polished and so often they will be barely visible, though this extra finishing naturally comes at a cost.

Much will depend on the degree of finish required. For practical parts where the aesthetic is not key, laser cutting might be a good choice, but if the devil is in the detail than those marks and abrasions might make lasers an unappealing choice.

Water jets do not create marks or abrasions, this is because it is a process in which no heat is created. Water jet cutting is essentially accelerated erosion, the cut being created by making an edge erode away, rather than by forcing a cut through heat or blunt force.

Perfect finish can also refer to the need for complete integrity of a part, critical elements cannot afford to have minor structural defects introduced through the heat created in the cutting process.


Perfect for some jobs, less so for others

As with all cutting technologies, laser cutting is perfect for some jobs, less suited for others and a complete non-starter for some.

With any cutting job it is worth doing the research to find out which technology is best and then also getting a range of quotes.

At TMC Waterjet, we have decades of experience working on a huge range of projects and for clients of all sizes. We are also more than happy to offer advice – if you would like to discuss whether water jet cutting is suitable for your requirements, please do get in touch.

Call us on 01625 610 441 or get in touch via our Contact Page.