When selecting metal cutting services, one has several good options to choose from. But there are significant differences between these options, and the informed buyer can save a bundle with the right choice.
Laser cutting involves light moving in a straight line towards the work piece, removing metal by vaporization. Laser cutters usually have tolerances down to .0005 inches. They are potentially the most precise and can have the smallest kerf (or cutting width). They are also the fastest at cutting thin material (16 gauge or thinner). More powerful laser cutters can cut mild steel as thick as 1.25 inches. The supply of the laser involves laser gasses and electricity.
Waterjet cutting involves abrasives and high pressure water at 35-75,000 PSI aimed towards the workpiece resulting in precise abrasion cutting. Steel parts can be as thick as 6 inches and stay within tolerances of +/- .003 of an inch. Materials can range from metal to ceramic tiles and virtually anything between. It is by far the slowest method of the cutting services discussed in this article. The supply of the waterjet includes water and moderately expensive tiny rocks called garnet.
Plasma cutting involves high temperature plasma and an electric arc seeking ground. In this case, it seeks ground through the workpiece--and in the process removes metal by melting the material and blowing it away from the work area. Plasma cutting has by far the fastest speeds when cutting thick metal. Plasma cutting requires electricity and certain gasses to function.
Which Cutting Method Works Best?
The best cutting method largely depends on the capabilities required. If a job involves a piece of metal 1" thick or less and requiring moderate to strict tolerances, nothing beats a laser cutter. If a workpiece is made of an exotic material that has low tolerance to heat (called a "Heat Affected Zone"), then a waterjet is likely your best bet. If the material is metallic and extremely thick (say, 1.5 inches or more) and speed is crucical, then plasma cutting would be the best.