Ian's Guide to Industrial Manufacturing

What to Look For in a Laser Cutting Shop

Many production facilities will send out pieces to be cut, as it's often cheaper and easier to have a machine shop or specialty shop cut metal, plastic, and other materials than it is to invest in the ownership of certain cutting machines. Along with the cost of ownership, there is the cost of maintaining those machines and keeping a qualified operator on staff that needs to be considered. A laser cutting shop can be a good choice for a number of products and processes, but note what to look for from such a shop before you decide to work with them to get your materials cut.

Note if they can accept your particular drawings or specs

Many shops work from CAD drawings and such specs, but your drawings may have been made in a program that is not typically used by cutting shops and facilities. Your drawings may also have text on them or symbols that your business uses in particular and which might not be recognized by the programs used by the laser cutting service. Always ask about this if you use a program that is proprietary to your company or that might not be compatible with a cutting company's programs for any reason.

Ask if they can offer 3D cutting

If you will need rounded materials cut, you want to note if the laser cutting company can offer 3D cutting. Some laser machines only cut on a flat surface and may not be able to turn your materials or rotate the laser to reach all sides with one cut. In turn, this may result in a longer cutting time and the need to change the program in order to provide beveled edges, grooves on one side of the piece, and so on. To ensure you get your rounded or double-sided materials cut quickly, ask about 3D cutting or other similar methods they may offer.

Note if they can engrave your product as well

If you need to send your pieces out to an engraver after it has been laser cut, this is an added step that takes more time to get the piece finished. Not all laser cutting machines will be able to actually engrave a piece, depending on their programming and the type of laser used. However, if you can use a shop that provides this where needed, your cutting will be done more quickly and possibly even more precisely, as a laser engraving is typically much more precise than a metal stamp or other such equipment.