Metal cutting techniques fall into three broad categories:
- Manual tools
- Machine cutting
- Burning/welding tech (such as laser cutting)
All have their uses in sheet metal fabrication, though there is arguably one technique that stands out above the rest.
Laser Cutting & Other Sheet Metal Fabrication Techniques
Manual Cutting Tools
Manual tools are the most basic. The most common tools, all manipulated by hand to pierce and cut the metal, are:
Obviously, hand-cutting is not the most efficient or cost-effective method.
A few steps up from manual tools is machine cutting. Machine cutting involves turning, drilling, and grinding with different tooling to achieve a smooth edge in each component. Tooling is the most expensive part of machine cutting -- the cutting edges will wear down quickly and need to be replaced often, though they are otherwise quite efficient.
Burning or Welding
Modern technology has allowed for another category of metal cutting: burning or welding technologies. These types of cutting are highly efficient and precise. Included in this category is:
- Water jet
Lasers in particular are a versatile cutting technique - they can cut almost any material (the only exception being super reflective metals), slice through thicker components, and are super speedy for large and complex orders. These specific attributes will vary depending on the laser.
What else makes laser cutting great?
-Lasers mean clean edges and a smooth finish. As the laser travels, anything in its path is vaporized, burned, or melted. It leaves no odd tooling marks or debris, though the heat can warp certain materials. Its warping tendencies should be considered when designing a component for laser cutting.
-Laser cutting is quick and precise. Complex details, small projects, and tight tolerances are made easy by the laser's precision.
-Lasers don't dull, so there's no pause during manufacturing to switch out tooling, or additional tooling replacement costs (though equipment costs can be high overall).
-Lasers are programmed via computer, which adds to the consistency of the cuts and design versatility.
No other modern cutting technique is as useful in high-detail sheet metal fabrication. Laser cutting is the most flexible metal cutting style. Though it might be more expensive than some other styles on this list, its precision and versatility are unmatched.
If you have a project that requires very tight tolerances and clean cuts, laser cutting should be at the top of your list.
One of McHone’s signature services, laser cutting is precise and cost-effective with our Trumpf 3530 laser cutter and our brand-new, state-of-the-art Trumpf 3030 cutter. These machines are best for cutting mild steel, aluminum, and stainless steel.
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published in February 2016 and was recently updated.)