If you need to cut out sheet metal to manufacture your product, then you might have a few options for processing. Some of the factors you should consider include the material thickness and type and the part geometry. There are a few differences between fiber laser cutting and traditional methods that you should know.
Popular types of traditional techniques are shearing-types of cutting. These include EDM, waterjet, plasma, lasers, as well as punching. Waterjet cutting came out in the 1930s, while plasma and EDM cutting came out in the 1960s. But steel laser cutting came out in the 1970s. Today, laser cutting is one of the most popular methods of cutting metal. With shearing-type cutting, a company can cut out the entire piece from the sheet of metal at once by using mechanical force. With profile cutting techniques, the cutting source will draw the geometry with a tool similar to using a pen. EDM, lasers, waterjet, and plasma are all examples of profile cutting techniques.
Punching Cutting Methods
It can be quick and easy to use punch cutting since you can carve out the whole geometry of the piece with only one hit. But it also requires a lot of money for the tooling upfront. This means you need to be making a batch large enough to justify the cost.
Plus, the mechanical forces for punching might get limited by geometrical features, like thin webs. Some shops with an agile environment might not want to use punch cutting because of the geometrical limitations. They might need to remove burrs after the process.
On the other hand, with profile cutting, you can use soft tooling to change the design without much more cost. This leads to more flexibility for manufacturers for small or medium production. They can keep their low-volume customers, especially if they might need mass-production in the future.
Sheet metal laser cutting has led the way to industrial lasers being more affordable. It is cost-effective for many companies, and there have been advances in automation recently. These have changed the way that companies mass produce sheet metal compared to metal punching.
A lot of companies have used laser cutting to complement the process during mass production. Others have replaced their old punching machines with laser cutting ones.
Key Advantages of Laser Metal CuttingFor precision fabricated parts and components, laser metal cutting is ideal. Thanks to advances in technology, the best laser metal cutting machine manufacturers can create just about anything to exact specifications. Because of that, they serve customers from all industries, including automotive, aerospace, food processing, mining, aviation, and medical. Although aluminum laser cutting is in most demand, a top fabricator has state-of-the-art machinery capable of cutting heavy plate, galvanized steel, stainless steel, and other metals. By directing a high-powered laser in conjunction with CNC machining, you end up with a perfect finished product or one prepared for a further manufacturing process. Compared to more traditional cutting options, laser cutting is more advantageous. Some of the advantages include the following:
- Accuracy – Especially for stainless steel, mild steel, and aluminum laser cutting, the process is extremely accurate. The focused laser can cut precisely detailed shapes, as well as small lines and holes. Remember, even one small defect could be enough to cause serious problems. Not only could it damage the customer’s reputation as a viable business, but when using components as part of a manufacturing process, it could seriously damage machinery.
- Clean Edges – The edge quality with laser cutting is unbeatable. Because the laser beam experiences no wear throughout the cutting process, has intense focus, and requires less heat than other cutting methods, the edges of the metal workpiece always come out clean. Following a narrow path known as the “heat affect zone,” the beam cuts parts with incredible precision, with clean edges, and to a higher tolerance.
- No Cutting Tool Costs – Laser cutting does not require hand tools. That eliminates the need for changeovers, storage, and sharpening. Ultimately, there are no tooling costs, saving the customer money.
- Repeatable Performance – Perhaps one of the biggest advantages of laser cutting is that this process offers repeatable performance. In other words, high-tech equipment can produce perfectly replicated finished products.
- Enhanced Speed – For customers with tight deadlines, the laser cutting method is an excellent solution. Again, compared to traditional cutting, a reputable fabricator can complete projects faster.
- No Warping – Due to the high speed of laser cutting, which results in a small heat affect zone, and the fact that the beam never touches the metal, there is little, if any, distortion to the workpiece.
- Fewer Scraps – Today, an increasing number of industries look for eco-friendly solutions. Because there are fewer material scraps with laser cutting, it appeals to a broad range of customers. With this method, tabbing, lead-ins, lead-outs are additional ways to reduce scrap.
- Quick Setup – Without hard tooling, the setup process for laser metal cutting machine manufacturers decreases significantly. That further reduces the cost of laser cutting, which the fabricator can then pass on to the customer.
- Endless Possibilities – For customization, laser cutting provides endless possibilities.
Emerging Trends for Laser Cutting in 2023
Laser cutting technology has really advanced over the years, speeding up production time. Now there are high-power lasers of 6kW offering better precision compared to the 4kW variants. With new-age laser cutting, metal fabricators can also improve edge efficiency. For instance, laser cutting technology in the construction industry engineers modular builds in steel metal fabrication, which reduces needing welding.
High Power Laser Cutting Trends & Technologies
For many metal fabricators, laser cutting is the best choice for shaping sheet metal. It offers unique capabilities, like better precision and repeatability. Here are the latest trends in laser cutting technology.
To reduce operational and design errors, laser automation is an excellent choice. In metal fabrication, an automated system will reduce the need for manpower. With laser cutting technology, you can automate three different material handling systems. For instance, a standalone etching machine featuring a shuttle table.
Edge precision is vital to laser cutting metal fabricators across various industries. To ensure cleaner and finer cuts, fabricators will rely on higher power levels. For instance, 6kW fiber lasers feature new ergonomics for nozzles, reducing production time. Such laser cutting technology also helps decrease natural gas consumption.
Variable beams allow you to push different spots sizes using a single fiber. As a result, the laser produces a beam shape with an outer and inner core with adjustable intensities. This method is very useful for laser cutting as it demands high precision. It can also pierce through thick materials, allowing optimal kerf widths. Some metal laser cutting services also work with awkward materials like mild steel.
Manufacturing industries are always searching for ways to increase productivity. As the skill gap widens across every industry, the need for automated machinery is huge. In a flexible manufacturing system, automation includes other technologies besides laser cutting. From punching and bending to automated storage, the list is long. The end result of a flexible laser cutting system is that it allows you to design complex figures. They ensure tight tolerances and add consistency to your cuts.
Another upcoming trend is the use of high-pressure air cutting tooling. Ranging 400 to 500 psi, such systems can draw in air from the surroundings and compress it to build pressure. This makes high-pressure air compression ideal for aluminum cutting. Air cutting not only reduces machine operating costs but also ensures cost-per-part savings.
Hire an Expert Sheet Metal Manufacturer
If your metal fabrication project requires tight tolerances and precise cuts, laser cutting is the way to go. At Weldflow Metal Products, we can optimise your metal fabrication design by providing support through different stages of product development. Contact us now for more information.