A comparison of cutting technologies

There are different cutting technologies for cutting (i.e. separating) a wide variety of materials: In addition to laser cutting, die cutting, milling, sawing, knife cutting, water jet and plasma cutting are common cutting processes. Each technology has advantages and disadvantages, different process steps and costs. In addition, the material to be cut is decisive when choosing an appropriate cutting technology.

Laser cutting retail displays

A comparison of cutting technologies

Overview of cutting technologies

This article looks at the seven most common cutting technologies and their advantages and disadvantages. A guide, depending on the material or industry, can be found at the end of the article

Laser cutting
Laser cutting
Laser cutting - Anchor
Water jet cutting
Water jet cutting
Water jet cutting - Anchor
Plasma cutting
Plasma cutting
Plasma cutting - Anchor
Knife cutting/knife plotter
Knife cutting/knife plotter
Knife cutting/knife plotter - Anchor

Which material is suitable for which cutting technology?

Which cutting technology is most suitable depends a lot on the materials to be cut. This overview provides a rough guide.

  Laser Cutting die Milling machine Water jet Plasma Saw Knife plotter
Plastic sheets
Textured cardboard sheets
Thick, brittle materials

✔ = works well in most cases.
◐ = can often only be used to a limited extent.
⎯ = not suitable

Detailed information on the individual materials can be found on the specific material pages.

Which cutting technology is right for my industry?

Laser cutting

Laser cutting is a thermal cutting technology that boasts precision, versatility and speed. With this cutting technology, a basic distinction is made between metal cutting and the cutting of non-metallic materials – these processes are different in many respects and require appropriately adapted machines.

There is a wide range of laser machines for processing non-metallic workpieces, from consumer lasers with a few watts of laser power to highly specialized systems with several kW. The machines differ in productivity, accuracy, process quality and maximum workable size of the workpieces.

A distinction is made between flatbed systems with a moving laser head (X/Y) and galvo systems in which the laser beam hits the workpiece via a moveable mirror. Both systems can be used for cutting applications and have their specific strengths and uses.

Advantages of the laser cutting technology

  • No tool wear – resulting in low running costs and stable process quality
  • Contactless process – no complicated fixing, no distortion, no stress on the workpiece
  • Maximum freedom of design, hardly any shape restrictions due to the minimal diameter of the laser beam
  • Clean process with minimal accumulation of dirt (no chips)

Disadvantages of the laser cutting technology

  • No special contour possible on the cut edge or blind holes/grooves
  • Discoloration of the cut edge (sometimes desired) with some materials
  • Post-treatment of process gases required – filtered exhaustion required

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Laser cutting vs. Die cutting

How die cutting works?

When die cutting flat, mostly non-metallic materials, the steel rule die is used in conjunction with the die cutting machine. The die cutting technology is mainly used in the production of folding boxes. Other applications include the cutting of foils or textiles. A “steel rule blade” in a wooden mold is used as a cutting tool, creases or perforations are also possible e.g. in cardboard by means of a corresponding bevel.

Laser cutting vs. Sawing

Sawing is probably the best-known method of material separation. In the case of electrically powered saws, a distinction is made between jigsaws, band saws, chainsaws and circular saws. Circular saws are mainly used when cutting plastics. Circular saws come in different designs: From handheld circular saw, to miter and miter-box saws or circular bench saws to high-end saws for production.

Laser cutting vs. Water jet cutting

Water jet cutting is used to cut metals, stone, ceramics, foam and plastic. Water jet cutting systems cut with a high pressure pump and a pressure of up to 6000 bar with 1.6 liters of water per minute. Depending on the material, an abrasive is added to the water jet in order to improve the cutting behavior in particularly solid material. 

Advantages of water jet cutting

  • Can be used on a wide range of materials
  • Flexible shapes can be cut e.g. filigree and complicated contours
  • Single part to series production
  • No or very little thermal influence on the material

Disadvantages of water jet cutting

  • Materials must be dried after processing
  • Water treatment by filtering is required
  • Rough edges
  • Particularly small parts may fall into the water bath, making removal more difficult
  • For cutting, the materials are partly stored in the water bath or on metal pins or grids, depending on the material, fixation may be required

Laser cutting vs. Milling

Milling is a long-established, very diverse manufacturing technology. So-called milling plotters are often used to process sheet goods (often as a combination machine for knife cutting). There is a wide range of suppliers from the semi-professional sector for a few 1,000 € to automated, large-format combination plotters for several 100,000 €. The most important distinguishing features are productivity, accuracy and table sizes.

Milling requires a good coordination of process parameters (spindle speed, feed rate, tool type) and workpiece parameters (material, geometry) in order to achieve good quality with appropriate productivity and process reliability.

Laser cutting vs. Plasma cutting

Plasma cutting is a cutting process that can only be used for metals. A process gas is ionized and heated up to 30,000°C by an electric current. A wide range of thicknesses (from thin sheet of 1 mm to ship plate of 150 mm) can be processed using this method.

Advantages of plasma cutting

  • Inexpensive process
  • Flexible shapes possible

Disadvantages of plasma cutting

  • Only suitable for metals
  • Increased cleaning effort
  • High thermal stress on the material

Laser cutting vs. Knife cutting/knife plotter

Knives are often used to cut foils, textiles and foams. In the processing systems, static knives and powered knives e.g. electrically or pneumatically oscillating knives or rotary knives are operated.

The following variants exist: Standard knife, roller knife, ultrasonic knife

Which cutting technology is right for my industry?

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