Do You Really Need a Laser CNC for all Your Metal Parts?

Find the Method that Best Suites Your Part

   Parts produced from any CNC table will ultimately have the same end goal, create a part as fast & accurately as possible. All machines are built to do this, but it is the incredible number of variables that parts in the industrial manufacturing sector demand that can make things a little tricky, when sourcing.

   When your supply chain management professional, or purchaser sets out to source their part, there are usually three main areas of concern, price, turnaround, and quality. When souring if all three areas are not considered and adjusted, you are looking at time lost, scraped parts and money wasted. Many professionals turn to laser as traditionally it is the most popular and closely associated with CNC cutting. A great option in the right application, but it can also come with a major price tag and certain limitations. In more recent year’s waterjet and plasma technologies have narrowed the gap and in some cases are a superior option when sourcing.

   For this discussion, we are talking about the three major CNC methods when it comes to cutting metal parts in the industrial world. If heat is not an issue with material, plasma & laser have led the industry and continue to have incredible advancements in technology. If a cold cutting technology is needed the lesser used form of waterjet is also a popular option among industry experts.

  In terms of comparing these three forms of cutting as previously started the number of variables like thickness, edge quality, beveling, secondary process, all play a major role in the proper cutting tool selection. With that said in general terms comparisons can be broken down into three major categories

Thickness of Materials

Thick materials can be ideal for waterjet. Thin Gage Material – All three methods can cut thin materials, but of the three lasers can really take thin complicated parts to the next level. Newer HD plasma machines can have some comparable results but can not handle the more intricate designs. The opposite is true of the waterjet, high tolerances are possible, but it is often with the sacrifice of time (slowing down machine speed) and the proper consumables in a smaller nozzle, also added cost.

Medium Plate – New technology advancements in X def and HD Plasma has allowed it to become the go to option for manufacturers cutting medium plate. More complicated designs are now possible, and while some lasers can handle medium plate, machine quality and cost per part rise considerably. Waterjets can be a consideration on medium plate with complicated designs and or heat regulations.

Thick Plate – Waterjets really are the go-to option for cutting thick plates, most machines cut between 50,000 to 100,000 psi capable of over 4” on most machines without sacrificing a lot on edge quality or tolerance.

Medium plate with simple designs are ideal for plasma.

Complexity of Design

   Design complexity will most likely play a role in the selection method of cutting because higher complexity can often lead to higher cost. Lasers is usually the highest cost, and that is often because of the ability to execute detailed designs fast. Its more capable than plasma and much faster than waterjet when doing complex parts.

Quality and Finish of materials

  The last consideration is the material composition and surface finish, this is mostly a consideration when using laser. Materials that have an unknown origin with no MTR may have a component that doesn’t work well with lasers. This would give an advantage to waterjet or plasma where this is less of a concern. Shiny surface finish can also have a bad affect on cutting materials with lasers 

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