Cutting technologies can vary dramatically by industry and application, with options ranging from manual operators to automated processes and cutting implements as varied as blades and laser beams. This array of cutting techniques helps manufacturers accommodate projects with different material and tolerance requirements. Since each process carries its own distinct advantages and disadvantages, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the options so that you can make the best choice for your specific application.
At TBSI, we leverage advanced steel fabrication technologies to yield optimum results at competitive prices. This includes a diverse range of cutting processes, and we take great care to choose the ideal option for each component.
Flat Laser Cutting
Flat laser cutting uses a high-powered laser beam to slice through flat pieces of sheet metal and plate. As a non-contact cutting method, laser cutting avoids the need for a physical blade and the associated imperfections. Instead, the laser burns through metal on contact, creating clean and precise edges.
Advantages of Flat Laser Cutting
Flat laser cutting is extremely versatile, known for distinct quality and process advantages:
- Speed and accuracy. Laser cutting offers an ideal combination of speed and accuracy, quickly crafting high volumes of components with the utmost precision.
- Edge quality. Mechanical cutting blades typically leave burrs and imperfections on the cutting edges. Laser cutting, by contrast, creates clean, high-quality edges at every pass.
- Complexity. Computer-guided laser cutters can handle highly complex designs within tight tolerances.
- Cost. Flat laser cutting minimizes waste and the need for secondary manufacturing processes. These advantages make laser cutting extremely cost-effective.
Tube Laser Cutting
Tube laser cutting uses laser cutting technology to achieve various tubes and channels. This process can cut these elements to length or bore holes and other structural elements. Operating in two dimensions only, 2-axis tube laser cutters are primarily used to cut tubes to the appropriate size, while 3-axis cutters can achieve chamfering, tilt cutting, and more complex functions.
Advantages of Tube Laser Cutting
Some of the advantages of tube laser cutting include:
- Flexibility. Tube laser cutters can accommodate tubes of all shapes, sizes, and thicknesses. Materials compatible with laser cutting include steel alloys, titanium, aluminum, some non-metals, and more.
- Efficiency and precision. Tube laser cutting is extremely precise, often yielding finished results without any need for secondary finishing processes.
- Cost. The speed and efficiency of tube laser cutting lead to cost savings compared to other cutting methods. Cost savings come in the form of reduced material costs and reductions in labor costs.
Waterjet cutting is a non-contact cutting method known for achieving high-precision, low-cost results. Waterjet cutters target the material with high-speed jets of pressurized water that slice cleanly through most materials. For harder materials and thicker metals, the water stream may incorporate abrasive media to improve cutting power.
Advantages of Waterjet Cutting
Waterjet cutting comes with many of the same benefits as laser cutting, including speed, efficiency, precision, and edge quality. However, the different cutting medium results in several key differences.
- No heat-affected zone. Waterjet cutting is a cold cutting process, so it eliminates the heat-affected zone that occurs with laser cutting. Cold cutting yields clean edges at less risk to the operator, since they are not exposed to dangerous levels of heat.
- No material limitations. Waterjet cutting is compatible with nearly any material, including nearly all metals, plastics, composites, glass, stone, and more. The addition of an abrasive to the waterjet stream improves versatility further, allowing the waterjet to slice through thicker substrates.
- Environmentally friendly. Since it uses only water to cut, waterjet cutting produces no toxic fumes or gases. This property makes it safer for operators and better for the environment.
CNC Plasma Cutting
CNC plasma cutting closely resembles laser cutting, but instead uses a superheated beam of plasma that instantly disintegrates a metal substrate. The nozzle directs a stream of gas at the material, which an electric arc superheats to create a powerful beam of plasma.
Advantages of CNC Plasma Cutting
CNC plasma cutting can only be used with electrically conductive metals, which limits its versatility to some extent. Still, the power of the plasma beam allows these cutters to cut through even very thick metal pieces, including various types of steel, aluminum, copper, and brass.
- Efficiency. Like other CNC processes, automated plasma cutting can achieve complex results faster than other methods. Very little secondary finishing is necessary, increasing efficiency further.
- Safety. As an automated technique, CNC plasma cutting requires no operator intervention while completing cuts. With no need for an operator to use a torch or touch potentially hot metal, the CNC plasma cutting process offers improved safety over manual cutting methods.
- Precision. Automated CNC plasma cutters can handle complex geometries, making it an ideal choice for high-precision projects. Plasma cutting creates a narrow heat-affected zone and can handle curved shapes without warping.
CNC sawing uses a physical saw blade to cut the workpiece material. An operator programs the required cut into the equipment, after which the computer guides the saw blade to make the assigned cut.
Advantages of CNC Sawing
CNC sawing offers advantages such as:
- Precision and speed. CNC sawing can achieve precision cuts at high speeds, making it well-suited to high-volume cutting projects.
- Safe. CNC saw machines are safer than manual cutting. Using a computer to guide the cutting implement mitigates any risk of operator injury.
- Thick materials. Sawing is often an ideal method for cutting thicker materials that other cutting methods can’t handle.
Shear cutting is a simple mechanical technique used to trim sheets of raw metal to size. Though there are numerous types of shearing equipment, the bench shear is the most common shearing machine. The bench shear is also known as a lever shear because of the lever mechanism it uses.
Advantages of Shearing
Shearing is one of the most efficient methods of preparing sheet metal for further processing.
- Edge quality. Shearing creates relatively clean cuts with smooth edges on sheet metal.
- Cost. Owing to its speed and simplicity, shearing is extremely cost-effective, even for high-volume production runs.
- Energy efficiency. Shearing does not require the application of heat and is usually performed at room temperature. The simple nature of the shearing process makes it easy to perform manually with minimal risk of human error. These advantages make shearing especially cost and energy-efficient.
Torching / Flame Cutting
Torching, as its name suggests, involves the controlled application of flames to cut or shape metal. This is often achieved with oxy-fuel torches, which use pure oxygen to fuel combustion. Torching is often used to cut thick metal plates or heat-treat metals to improve strength.
Advantages of Flame cutting
Key advantages of torching/flame cutting when used as a cutting method include:
- Portability. Torches can be moved more freely since they are not tied to a bulky stationary power source.
- Versatility. Cutting torches can braze, cut, gouge, heat, solder, and weld.
- Cost. Torching is highly economical, especially for small to medium-volume production runs.
CNC Router Cutting
CNC router cutting provides another option for intricate or complex component shapes. Routers use a computer-guided spindle to cut precise patterns through wood, polymers, glass, and other materials.
Advantages of CNC Router Cutting
CNC router cutting offers an excellent choice for products that require precise cuts, especially for materials that are challenging to cut with plasma or laser cutting.
- Precision. CNC cutting methods offer higher precision cutting than manual methods.
- Repeatability. CNC routers rapidly execute their routing instructions with no human intervention, yielding consistently high-quality products. These machines can run overnight unsupervised, which helps increase efficiency and reduce cost.
- Ease-of-use. Routers are easy to operate and have fewer safety considerations than hot-cutting or manual cutting techniques. This benefit helps manufacturers reduce labor costs and risks compared to techniques that are more labor and training-intensive.
Partner With TBSI to Simplify Steel Fabrication
At TBSI, we emphasize agile sourcing solutions for steel fabrication. We draw on our extensive supplier network to produce high-quality metal fabrication components and weldments while leveraging TBSI’s volume steel purchasing program. This approach enables TBSI to offer competitive pricing, quick lead times, unlimited capacity, and high-quality parts. To learn more about our capabilities and problem-solving approach, contact our team today.