When it comes to cutting steel or any other material manufacturers usually use two cutting processes. These are known as steel laser cutting or water jet cutting. Depending on the end result they want and what materials they use, the method they choose will vary. To really understand the differences between the end results and the materials we must first understand how each of these processes works.
A laser cutter relies on a gas laser, for example, a CO2 laser. This CO2 is transmitted through a beam which uses mirrors as a guide to direct the material in the direction needed. This beam can be found inside the machine which can output anywhere between 1500 to 2600 watts. There are certain things to take into consideration which include material, applications, precision, and safety.When it comes to steel laser cutting and the laser cutter itself it works well with a lot of materials. This can include glass, wood, plastic, and nearly every single metal. If you, however, have a mixed material that needs different temperatures to melt it can become quite difficult. Materials that have limited access like sandwich structures and 3D materials need to be cut with something else. This kind of steel laser cutting does well when the material is 0.12 mm thick to 0.4 mm thick which is why it is used to cut flat sheets of steel and other metals. The laser cutter is used for cutting, welding, drilling ablation, structuring, and engraving.
Precision proves easy with this machine with the cutting slit going very small depending on the speed it is used. If you are using thinner pieces of material you could compromise it if the right gas pressure and distance aren't maintained properly. Deformation of your material and some structural changes can occur if it goes under thermal stress. The cut material will not come out clean and will appear striated so proper training is required on how to use this machine. Safety goggles will be needed as it does produce some smoke and dust, ventilation is also necessary as some plastics and metals produce toxic fumes. The overall risk of this machinery is fairly low with the proper amount of training.
Water jet cutting, unlike lasers, use the technology that is pressurized water to cut through materials. The increase it's strength abrasives such as garnets and aluminium oxide are added into the mix. This who process was designed to mimic erosion just in a much faster time, speed, and concentration. A typical water jet can output between 4-7 kilowatts. The water jet is located outside of the machine unlike the laser which is inside the machine itself. The materials that you can use a water jet with are pretty much endless and this includes a mixed material item. Water jets, however, do pose the threat of delamination so keep that in mind. Once again trying to cut an item with limited access can prove to be difficult even with a water jet. They are used for cutting, ablation, and structuring. There seem to be some materials that manufacturers like to use more with a water jet which includes stone, ceramics, and thick metals.
The precision of the water jet is not quite as precise as the laser cutting technique because of the force that is used. Any smaller or delicate parts do not usually hold up well and must be handled with care. Thermal stress is of course not an issue and burring doesn't occur but the material will appear scratched or sandblasted because of the abrasives added. Goggles should be worn to protect the eyes and face as well as ear plugs as they are quite noisy.