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Comparing Waterjet and Laser Robotic Cutting

Two Common robotic cutting applications are waterjet cutting and laser cutting. Below is a comparison of the methodology behind each as well as their advantages and disadvantages.

Waterjet Cutting

Materials are separated with robotic waterjet cutting when an industrial robot applies an ultra-high-pressure jet of water to a workpiece. This high-pressure waterjet is released from the robot’s EOAT, wearing away material and creating a cut. The FANUC M20ia is an example of a six-axis robot that can automate a waterjet cutting process.

Waterjet cutting robots can cut through just about any material. A Motoman HP20 can cut through stone, metal, glass, textiles, plastics, and composites. There are only a few materials waterjet robots cannot handle, these include diamonds and tempered glass. Waterjet robots are ideal for cutting through thicker materials of up to 2 inches.


The main advantage of robotic waterjet cutting is that it can be used on a majority of material types. This provides manufacturers with greater workpiece flexibility. Another advantage of this application is that no heat is used to cut through workpieces, only water. Not applying heat to workpieces prevents them from becoming overheated during the cutting process which can cause defects or damage. Waterjet cutting maintains the purity of workpieces. Since only water is used, waterjet robots are actually good for the environment. There are no hazardous fumes or waste produced with waterjet robots, making them ideal for those concerned about their environmental footprint.


Waterjet cutting can have longer cycle times even with robotic automation. Cutting through materials with water is a slower process than with using a laser. Robotic waterjet cutting is also less accurate than laser cutting. Cuts may not turn out smooth or straight, especially with thicker materials.

Laser Cutting

Robotic laser cutting involves the integration of an industrial robot with a laser cutting EOAT. To separate materials the robot applies its laser cutter to the workpiece that will emit a laser beam to melt and ultimately sperate it. The same articulated robots and tooling used for automated laser welding can be deployed for laser cutting. The ABB 2400 is ideal for automating laser cutting applications.

Robotic laser cutting can be used to separate a variety of materials, but not as wide ranging as robotic waterjet cutting. Plastic, glass, wood, and metals can be cut with a laser cutting robot. However, reflective metals are not candidates for this process. In addition, laser cutting robots are more limited when it comes to material thickness with only being able to handle materials up to 0.4 inches thick.


The biggest advantage of robotic laser cutting is its precision. A FANUC Arc Mate 120ic can make cuts as precise as 0.006 inches, making it ideal for any thin or detailed cuts. In comparison, waterjet robots can only make cuts within 0.02 inches. Another advantage of robotic laser cutting is that it is a no contact automated cutting method. Factory robots are able to make cuts without having their end effector touch the workpieces. This can prevent part damage for delicate parts and allow access to hard to reach parts.


The main disadvantage of robotic laser cutting is that it is more limited with materials. Laser cutting robots are not ideal for cutting through workpieces that consist of a mixture of metal types, due to their different melting points. They also cannot not cut through reflective metals since these metals may refocus the laser away from their surface. Both of these scenarios can result in poor quality cuts or complete cutting failures.

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