The debate about whether to buy a CNC machine or a laser cutter plagues many small shops looking to perfect their projects or batch process multiple projects. Digital machines are very handy when you want to get accurate cuts every time. These machines are controlled by a Computer Numerical Code (CNC) which uses digital designs and converts these lines into plotted points in space. We use the acronym “CNC” for CNC-controlled routers, although laser cutters are technically CNC controlled as well.
So, first question, what are you cutting? It seems simple enough, but each machine can handle certain jobs better than others. Let’s take some popular examples of people using digital machines to produce projects.
Logo work. Engraving letters, customising the shape of thicker materials, 3D engraving images, embedding keyhole pendants on the back – these are all CNC jobs.
Signage work. Labels and engraved images or text, smaller flat packaging items, bespoke bottles, intricate paper crafts best left to laser cutter.
CNC machines and laser cutter are often compared because they can engrave and cut similar materials, but they are very different.
A CNC router is a tool that is programmed to receive and interpret designs from a computer to guide a cutter – usually a router bit or laser.
CNC woodworking machines use computerised digital control to automatically engrave, cut, mill, drill and slot different materials such as wood, foam, stone, plastic, acrylic, glass, ACM, PVC, MDF etc. And our laser cutter are used to cut various metal sheets, stainless steel put, aluminium plate, steel plate, titanium steel plate and other metal sheets of different thicknesses.
The design signals programmed into the CNC machine allow the router to cut or engrave material precisely – computer controlled for precise speed and positioning – back and forth or sideways on the axis to cut to specification. The combination of speed, efficiency and ease of use increases productivity and enhances product quality in the manufacturing process. CNC routers are a contact-based cutting process with the distinct advantage of the versatility and flexibility found in automated CNC cutting. The CNC router is adept at cutting or engraving material with speed and precision. Like a laser cutter, it can cut plastic, foam, wood, composites, acrylic and other materials, and is ideal for cutting steel, aluminium and other sheet metal to specification.
Subtractive precision cutting on CNC milling machines generates much less material waste than other conventional cutting methods. Less waste means lower material costs. Combined with increased productivity, this results in time and money savings.
As with CNC milling machines, CNC machines guide the laser cutter. The main difference is how the cutting is achieved. It is a non-contact, heat-based process that uses a focused, high-powered laser beam to cut bespoke shapes and designs from stock material. Nor does it require custom-designed tooling. Cutting relies on heat to make precise cuts. Rather than engraving, the high-energy beam burns through the material. The laser cutting process is suitable for many materials, including stainless steel plates, aluminium plates, titanium plates, and steel plates, and a single laser cutter can perform a variety of processes.
As the laser cutter can also utilise CNC machining, it can repeatedly and consistently produce more complex designs and shapes, as well as more intricate parts to high tolerances and exceptionally smooth finishes than a normal drill. In fact, the high quality of the cut produces such a smooth edge finish that it does not require further cleaning, handling or finishing. The laser cutter can efficiently cut the hardest metals, but they are best suited for rapid prototyping with an exceptional level of detail.
CNC cutting and laser cutters are two efficient and versatile methods for the manufacture of precision parts and components. Although there are clear differences between the two services, their processes complement each other.
High-speed laser cutting machines are generally used in a wide variety of manufacturing and processing industries such as sheet metal processing, electronics, electrical appliances, underground parts, automotive, food machinery, textile machinery, engineering machinery, precision parts, ships, metallurgical equipment, lifts, household appliances, tool processing, decoration, advertising, external processing of metals, kitchenware processing and many others. Laser cutting machines are very efficient, have a small heat affected zone, good edge perpendicularity and smooth cut edges, which makes them very popular in the advertising manufacturing industry where a large number of customisations are required. Laser cutting machines are more accurate and faster than traditional metal cutting machines, and they support batch processing. This makes it ideal for the automotive industry, and its cutting flexibility, which allows many complex shapes to be shaped quickly, is also favoured by many home decoration companies.
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