how do you make the best decision on which process to use? – Elena

1. Start with Thickness:

  • Thinner than 0.080” use laser, than 0.125 use plasma or laser, than 0.250 use waterjet, plasma, or laser.
  • Over 8” use oxy-fuel,  2” use oxy-fuel or waterjet, 1.25” use plasma, oxy-fuel, or waterjet.

2. Consider the Accuracy and Edge Quality requirement:

  • Can you accept the edge quality of plasma? With plasma cutting, we can weld well most workpieces made of steel.
  • Can you accept the Heat Affect Zone of oxy-fuel, plasma, or laser? If not, use waterjet.

3. Consider which is more important: Productivity or Cost?

  • If production rate is most important, steer clear of waterjet.
  • If low initial investment and low operating cost are most important, look to oxy-fuel.


Tolerance for Secondary Operations
  • Can you tolerate occasional dross on the bottom of the plate? If not, use waterjet or laser.
  • Do secondary operations require perfectly round holes? If so, use waterjet or laser.

Multiple Tools

Do the parts lend themselves to being cut with 2 torches, 4 torches, or more? Then oxy-fuel is going to out-pace plasma or laser. Cutting with multiple plasma torches is possible, but gets expensive when you consider the initial investment for all that equipment. If you buy a pump with a flow rate high enough to support multiple heads, you can run multiple waterjet cutting nozzles with one booster pump when using a waterjet. Traditionally,a single cutting head limits lase cutting, although fiber lasers have provided opportunities for multiple heads to cut simultaneously.

The Monkey Wrench

Another consideration that throws a monkey-wrench into any calculation is the idea of multi-process cutting – using two of these cutting processes on the same part. The processes that are most logically combined are waterjet and plasma, or waterjet and oxy-fuel. With the new fiber laser technology, it is now possible to combine laser and plasma or laser and oxy-fuel. The advantage of multi-process cutting is the ability to use the slower, more accurate process for some contours, but then switch to the faster and cheaper process for other contours. The result is producing parts with the accuracy they need, but for far lower cost than if you used the high accuracy process to cut the entire part.


The overlap of thickness range and capabilities of these four processes makes it hard to choose which one to use on any particular mild-steel part. So fabricators or steel service centers who need the ability to cut a wide range of materials will often wind up with machines equipped with two or more cutting processes. Some times the only way to figure out which process is optimal for a specific part is to try it several different ways, and see which one works best.
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