When it comes to cutting sheet metal, laser cutting and waterjet cutting are both highly technical and highly accurate. However, recent advances in technology have given laser cutting steel a clear cost-per-inch advantage due to:
- Increased speed
- Less waste
- Reduced tooling needs
- Tighter tolerances
- Fewer defects
So, How Much Does Laser Cutting Cost?
Given these advantages, laser cutting is clearly more cost-effective, but by how much depends on the amount of material being cut and how long it will take to complete the job. As with any type of fabricating process, steel laser cutting cost per inch can vary based on several factors:
1. Type of Material
Some materials are harder to work with than others, due to weight and forming capabilities. The question in figuring out how much laser cutting costs per inch is whether the material being cut is:
- Carbon steel
- Stainless steel
- Some other metal
The thicker the material, the longer cutting takes (duh). Generally, laser cutting is best for a thickness of up to:
- 75” for carbon or mild steel
- 5” for aluminum
- 625” for stainless steel
Waterjet cutting may be required for thicker materials.
How much product is being pushed through the machine? As the distance increases, more time is involved. The maximum workpiece weight for laser cutting is 1,565 pounds, with maximum positioning speeds of 120-170 meters/minute.
The final cost quote also takes into consideration the quantity of metal being cut. There may be economies of scale that can be realized with larger orders because the laser doesn’t need to be reset.
The completed product needs to be delivered to your factory for the next step. Working with an American company is faster and more efficient than waiting for goods to arrive from overseas.
Laser cutting steel generally costs in the range of $13-$20 per hour.
To put that into perspective, though, take an example where you have a project that requires 15,000” of cutting at 70” per minute. That translates into 214.29 minutes of active cutting, or 3.57 hours. At the lower range of $13/hour, that is a cost of only $46.41 for 15,000” of cutting.
Even considering higher costs for thicker materials, a higher inch count, or transportation, laser cutting is a clear cost winner.
Should You Consider Cutting Your Own Steel?
If you are considering cutting your own steel, realize that steep expenses are involved with owning the necessary equipment, including:
- Operating (electricity, maintenance, etc.)
If the machine is not fully operating all day, every day, it can be cost-prohibitive to take this process in-house rather than outsourcing it to an experienced fabrication and production company. Other factors to consider for in-house operations are:
- Can you score raw materials at a reasonable cost?
- Can you execute the design at the same quality level an experienced fabrication shop could?
- Do you have the finishing and assembly capabilities to handle the entire job?
In the end, it’s usually best to go with a laser cutting expert.
Editor's Note: This blog was originally published September 07, 2018 and was updated on October 6, 2019 to reflect additional insights and resources.