When to choose high tech laser cutting, punching, or both?

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Flexibility and adaptability in a modern metal fabrications business

Flexibility and adaptability are recurring important themes in any most up to date and modern metals fabrications business. Implicit to such is making use of varying combinations of new tech, old machines, a mix of fabricator skills, with a focus on speed, efficiency, precision and other tests of quality. Given the vast choice of machines old, updated, new and newest and processes to match, fabricators continue to have their hands full in working out how best to meet a customer’s needs and wants.

Laser cutting and punching machines both do the job and have significant appeal

Laser cutting and punching are both used for cutting through sheet metal. Both technologies have undergone significant improvements over years and decades helping fabricators refine decisions, on which process works best in particular contexts. The novelty of laser cutting and clear ability to manufacture on an automated basis and at high-speed has meant a much greater focus by fabricators on that technology. However, punching machines have strength and versatility when undertaking secondary operations, e.g. tapping, forming, extruding, deburring (though using laser cutting by definition excludes the latter). Punching machines are also significantly lower capital cost than any laser cutting machine.

What about a combined approach?

Machine technology has evolved to produce a combination “laser punch” or “laser shear” and enable operators to work almost seamlessly on a turnkey basis. Fabricators may not have the right part mix, production mechanisms or breadth of customers to make most use of such combination machines. In any case for now each machine (as well as the combination version) is in itself evolving technologically on its own path, giving fabricators maximum flexibility.

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Stand-alone punching machines are cost-effective, versatile and improved productivity

Punching machines are cost-effective (aka cheaper than laser cutting) and highly versatile, able to achieve also many additional secondary operations while metal is on the same table. Productivity of punching machines has improved greatly including in hits/minute, sheet positioning speed, and index speed. Servo electric power is also a better alternative to hydraulics, enabling more precision in process with power variations.

Latest punching machines also have some tooling automation…

Flexible up-to-date punching machines have various tooling mixes and capabilities including auto-indexation, which introduces mechanical automation. Maintenance and sharpening of tooling are also key to a precise and accurate output.

…as well as other forms of programming

Modern punching machines can be automated in several ways for unattended operation and increased capacity. This includes automation for clamping and sheet loading, parts unloading, and parts stacking.

Punching machines are suitable for all sorts of materials

Punching machines work with a variety of materials, including aluminum, stainless steel and other forms of steel. Thicknesses may be up to 8mm.

Stand-alone laser cutting

Laser cutting achieves highest quality output even when shapes are particularly curved and with small features. Laser attains consistent results with any thickness including those not workable with other machinery.

Laser cutting is highly automated and very fast

Laser cutting software has meant that highest quality production is achievable regardless of operator’s skill level. Fiber laser technology has increased speed of process with multiple axes of movement. The question that remains is if this technology is also suitable for simple parts with punch holes.

Laser cutting can disrupt workflow

Fabricators have to plan carefully when working with laser cutting machines, as other secondary post-cutting processes may still have to be undertaken with less sophisticated machines. In addition, some preparatory work may be appropriate before using the laser, e.g. pre-piercing a hole with a punch to eliminate splatter and sparking from laser piercing.

What about combo laser punch machines?

These most up-to-date machines combine punching and laser cutting in one piece of equipment. The punching is used for punching, forming, and pre-piercing holes for cutting. The laser is used for for cutting complex contours on parts that require minimal marking or distortion or for parts for which punching tooling is not available.

Biggest advantage of combo machines is in material handling…

This piece of equipment is especially useful for fabricators that wish to reduce production process time without additional material handling.

…and disadvantage is the slowness of punching machine mechanics

In a combination machine the speed of a fiber laser is limited by the mechanics of moving sheets around in a punching machine. A punching machine is simply not designed to move sheets at the speed achieved by fiber laser.

What next?

Fabricators are in the midst of rapid technological changes and maintaining flexibility is an important strength. There are many “roads that lead to the same destination” including using the combination machines or even perhaps a process combination of two stand-alone machines customised by the fabricator. As we head towards Industry 4.0 and significant tech changes across the board, more tech solutions and be produced, adding to the choice for fabricators.

At Nijen Stainless Fabrications

We used both stand alone and hybrid solutions. Our customers’ needs and wants include: laser cutting, laser cutting Northern Ireland, laser cutting UK, metal laser cutting, stainless steel laser cutting, stainless steel laser cutting Northern Ireland, stainless steel laser cutting UK, sheet metal cutting, tube bending, milling, CNC milling, CNC machining, stainless steel fabrication, stainless steel fabrication Northern Ireland, welding, TIG welding, MIG welding, welding Northern Ireland.