In the world of precision sheet metal fabrication, the newest and most exciting technology isn’t always the optimal solution. For instance, did you know that punching is a better alternative to laser cutting for certain types of custom fabrications?
Due to the considerable versatility of laser cutting, punching has become much less common in recent years—to the point where many new engineers don’t even know that punching is an option!
There’s no denying that laser cutting has made life easier for fabrication shops. Punching, by comparison, seems a bit old school. The technology requires a certain level of expertise and finesse that many modern-day fabricators no longer possess. Punch press operators must be highly skilled in tool selection, tool sharpening, and machine setup.
At Ameritex, we’re fortunate to have talented fabricators who know what it takes to operate a punch press. Unlike many fabrication shops that have done away with punching entirely, we’re pleased to offer this trusty capability to our customers.
Today, we’re weighing the pros and cons of sheet metal punching and laser cutting services to help you determine which capability is right for your custom fabrication.
Pros and Cons of Laser Cutting
Laser cutting consists of using a thin laser beam to quickly cut through various materials with a high degree of precision.
Pros of laser cutting include:
- Quick and easy programming
- Cuts a wide array of material thicknesses up to 1.5” thick
- Cuts part features of any size or shape provided the features are half the material thickness or larger
- Great for cutting artwork and signage
- Minimal machine maintenance resulting in lower costs for customers
Cons of laser cutting include:
- Relatively expensive process with a high cost of consumables
- Risk of heat distortion in the form of bowing or warping
- Forming features require secondary operations
Pros and Cons of Punching
Punching consists of exerting a high amount of pressure to remove material from a piece of sheet metal.
Pros of punching include:
- Inexpensive cutting operation provided no custom tooling is needed
- Comparable to the fastest lasers for 10 gauge sheet metal and thinner
- Forms features like louvers, dimples, and bridge lances
- Eliminates the need for secondary forming operations
Cons of punching include:
- Time-consuming setup
- Cost-prohibitive for one-off parts
- Limited to standard sizes and shapes in the absence of custom tooling
- Custom tooling is expensive and can delay lead times
That’s a lot of information, so we’ll sum it up for you. . .
For medium to large quantities of sheet metal parts with relatively simple geometries or parts with formed features, punching may very well be a better alternative to laser cutting.