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Regardless of whether a part is a prototype or a final product, Ponoko laser-cut parts are always made to the exact same standards of precision with a dimensional accuracy of ±0.13mm, complex features of 1x1mm, and a laser kerf of 0mm to 0.2mm. Ponoko laser cutting is always done to the highest standards,. Furthermore, all our capabilities apply whether a part is being made in steel, aluminum, wood, or felt, and these same capabilities apply to any order of any size.
Ponoko laser cuts hundreds of materials precisely, accurately, and with rapid turnaround. Use our online quote system to easily get pricing on your components, even if you just need one part shipped today. Ponoko's wide range of engineering materials are available with no minimum order quantity, yet can scale up to easily handle your full production requirements.
Ponoko offers laser cutting services for a wide range of engineering materials, all precision cut and quality assured. While many of our customers are leaders in their industries, our services are affordable to even small startups and individuals. Our customers range from industry giants like Apple to engineering students and hobbyists, all of whom seek the highest quality laser cut parts at the right price.
We protect your intellectual property automatically with our standard account terms of service, which include a non-disclosure agreement and confidentiality terms. Order risk free laser cut parts, and if they aren't perfectly suitable as per our quality guarantees, we'll re-make and re-ship for free.
Laser cutting is a subtractive manufacturing method that uses a focused laser beam to cut a workpiece.
The vast majority of laser cutting systems are two-axis machines that move in the X and Y direction, and as such are primarily designed for cutting 2D shapes. Each axis is driven with the use of stepper motors, and these are themselves controlled by a computer. As such, laser cutters fall under the category of CNCs (Computer Numeric Controlled).
Despite lasers having existed since 1963, it was only in the 1980s that laser cutting as manufacturing became a viable option. Prior to this, lasers were primarily used to cut holes in diamond dies for the aerospace industry, but once it became apparent that their speed of operation combined with numeric control could create parts with incredible degrees of precision, their use exponentially grew.
Ponoko is a laser cutting company based in the Oakland Bay Area with over 15 years of experience. Having served over 33,000 customers with over 2 million parts fabricated, we have been involved with numerous projects spanning all industries. As the biggest challenge faced by engineering teams is time, we have focused our attention on developing a laser cutting company that can quote, produce & deliver precision parts in under 24 hours.
Compared to other manufacturing techniques, laser cutting is one of the fastest options for engineers.
The speed of a laser cutter depends on numerous factors including the thickness of the part, the complexity of the shape, the total length of cut needed, and the material being cut, but basic shapes and outlines can be cut in seconds. But to truly appreciate the speed of laser cutters, other manufacturing processes need to be considered.
3D printing is a manufacturing method that is great for complex 3D structures (something that laser cutting cannot do), but the length of time taken by 3D printers only makes them suitable for individual prototypes. By the time a 3D printer has printed its first layer, a laser cutter would have easily cut out multiple parts from a sheet of material.
CNC milling is an excellent option for precision work, but the use of a rotating milling bit to remove material from a workpiece usually requires multiple passes over that piece at varying depths. Furthermore, CNCs require the workpiece to be clamped down due to the mechanical force of the cutting bit, and just like 3D printers, a laser cutter could easily produce multiple parts in the time taken for a single pass of a CNC.
Injection molding is one of the few manufacturing processes that can compete against laser cutting for time, but while injection molding is faster, it is also extremely expensive to set up due to the need for molds. As such, injection molding is often reserved for large-scale production where quantities exceed 10,000.
Our use of laser cutting technologies allows us to manufacture parts to a great degree of precision while offering turnaround times not available from other manufacturing processes. A rush order placed before 11 AM (and a quantity below approximately 100 custom parts) is not only fabricated that same day but also shipped that same day. Customers in the Bay Area can receive their parts the same day meaning that a design submitted in the morning will be delivered to your door before that very evening.
There are four primary advantages that, when compared to other manufacturing methods, laser cutting presents, which is why laser cutting is so popular.
First, laser cutting is extremely fast compared to other popular methods such as CNCs and 3D printers meaning that engineers spend less time waiting for parts to be fabricated (and thus can accelerate project development).
Second, the lack of tooling means that a laser cutter can be cheaper and easier to maintain compared to CNCs which have expendable parts (this also helps to accelerate manufacturing times by removing the need for tool changes).
Third, the lack of mechanical forces on the workpiece being cut means that parts do not require tabs or breakouts to hold them in place. As such, parts can be neatly cut out of a sheet of material and require no additional processing, again, saving time. Fourth, the dry nature of laser beams also allows for numerous materials to be cut including paper, cardboard, wood, and felt (something which cannot be done using a water jet).
Finally, laser cutters can be controlled using numeric control systems meaning that any shape can be cut. Not only does this allow for prototypes to be quickly fabricated, but it also allows for parts to be manufactured at scale with no need to adjust machinery or design files. Once a design is ready for mass production, a laser cutter will treat that design in the exact same way whether one part or one thousand are being made.
Our use of laser cutting technologies helps to bring the advantages of laser cutting to our customers through high quality and high precision parts in extremely short timeframes. The use of our online software-powered manufacturing service enables engineers to upload, quote and order parts in minutes, and our ability to manufacture and ship products same day helps engineers to decrease the time between design iterations and thus accelerate the completion of projects.
When it comes to industrial laser technologies and laser cutters there are three main contenders: LED, CO2 and optical fiber.
LED lasers are by far the cheapest laser cutter technology on the market and are commonly found in DIY desktop laser cutters. However, their low energies (typically less than 10W) and price mean that they are also the weakest and are mostly used to cut and perform laser engraving on paper and wood (even then, wood is difficult to cut with an LED laser beam).
CO2 lasers utilize a tube of CO2 gas that is then excited with an energy source to produce a uniform beam of infrared light. CO2 lasers are significantly more powerful than LEDs and as such can be used for harder materials such as thick wood and metal (depending on the energy of the laser and thickness of the material). But due to the laws of economics, CO2 lasers are more expensive than LED lasers with industrial units starting at around $10,000. As such, they are only economical to own and operate if being utilized on a daily basis.
Optical fiber lasers are the most powerful industrial laser cutting technology that utilizes rare-earth elements in a fiber optic cable. The use of fiber allows for light energy to be trapped (as a result of total internal reflection), and this aids in generating a powerful focused laser beam. As such, fiber lasers are used in applications involving the toughest and thickest materials. But, just like CO2 lasers, the increased power and capabilities of fiber lasers make them some of the most expensive with prices typically exceeding $100,000 and are only economical for manufacturers using them on an hourly basis.
Here at Ponoko we house a wide range of laser cutting technologies including both CO2 and fiber laser systems all calibrated to ensure that all parts manufactured by us meet our strict standards. Our carefully selected range of materials has also been paired with different laser systems to ensure the most efficient cutting, and our years of experience as a laser cutting company ensure that all machines operate flawlessly. Considering that we have manufactured over 2 million parts, it goes without saying that when it comes to laser cutting, we are a cut above the rest.
Any design software that can output files compatible with our online software service can be used (we accept 3D STEP, 2D DXF, SVG, EPS and Ai files). Like with any manufacturing process, the software used to design a product never interacts with the machinery, and most manufacturers will convert submitted files into their own specific formats.
In the case of laser cutters, design files are converted into g-code that dictate where the laser head is positioned as well as the energy output of the beam. For example, areas being engraved instruct the laser head to reduce power while areas being cut increase this power.
For those looking for a suitable design software package, engineers have numerous options available to them with some being paid for and others being free. FreeCAD is one option that designers can use and is ideal for those looking for an open-source environment. It is able to export common file formats, and its ability to design both 2D and 3D parts makes it ideal for those looking to expand their use of CAD.
For those looking for a more engineer-oriented design software suite, Alibre makes a good choice as it is specifically designed with engineering projects in mind. Individual parts can be designed, combined, and then mechanically simulated. From there, parts can be outlined and exported for use with Ponoko laser cutting services. Other design software options available to engineers also include AutoDesk which is massively popular within the CAD community and SolidWorks which is able to create complex engineering projects just like Alibre. Then we have online CAD tools like Autodesk's Fusion 360 and PTC's OnShape.
G-code files are plaintext and usually have the extension .nc or .ngc, and while g-code is mostly standardized, some interpreters will have unique code instructions (for example, Mach3 and LinuxCNC have different codes for probing and storing variables). This use of non-standard g-code means that laser cutting companies (such as Ponoko) will never accept g-code from customers, and instead use internal software solutions to generate this code.
Ponoko supports a wide range of different file formats including STEP, DXF, EPS, Ai, and SVG, and these file formats are generally supported by CAD packages. While the software package used to create these files is not important, it is recommended that it is able to work with vector graphics as vector designs can be scaled without losing quality. Additionally, g-code used by laser cutters is also based on vectors, and this means that vector designs are far easier to produce compared to raster images.
As a laser-cut part can have both cuts and engravings on the same part, it is essential that designs submitted to us consist of two layers in different colors. For example, red lines can be used to represent cuts while blue lines represent engravings. When submitting parts to be cut our online software service automatically detects this and will ask you what each color represents.
Designs submitted to Ponoko can either be in vector or raster format, and it is important for engineers to recognise the difference between the two in order to achieve the best result possible.
Vector designs are those that describe the shape of a pattern with the use of geometric lines and curves often indicating a start co-ordinate, an end co-ordinate, and additional details to the line such as rate of curvature. As such, vector designs are more akin to a set of mathematic equations that are executed to generate a shape.
Raster designs, however, split up a design into an array of pixels that indicate the presence of material. The quality of a raster design highly depends on the size of each pixel, and designs that use large pixel sizes will suffer from blurred edges and low-resolution images. However, using a large resolution and small pixel size can see extremely large design file sizes as well as taking longer to cut using a laser cutter.
As such, vector files are excellent for describing the outline of a shape as they naturally translate to machine motion, while raster designs are ideal for engraving complex patterns such as images, logos, and text.
Laser cutting offers engineers one of the most economic solutions by far, due to the low operating costs of laser cutters, the speed at which they can cut, the ability to scale with ease, and the ability to cut any 2D shape without the need for machine-specific settings.
First, laser cutters use a beam of light to remove material meaning that there are no expendable tools involved (such as drills and blades). While there are optical components to a laser cutter, these rarely require replacement especially if the laser cutter is well maintained. As such, the only major cost in operating a laser cutter is the electricity needed to generate the laser beam.
The lack of molds commonly found in other manufacturing methods also removes the need for custom tooling or part-specific equipment. A laser cutter can accept any design file and start cutting without any changes made to the laser cutter itself. While plastic injection molding is cheaper than laser cutting, this is only the case for large order quantities in excess of ten thousand. Even then, plastic injection molding doesn’t support sudden design changes as new molds are required.
As a laser cutting company, we are committed to offering our customers an excellent balance between cost, quality, and speed. Our online software-powered service allows for designs to be uploaded and quoted without any input from us which allows engineering teams to spend more time focusing on material selection and part design.
While laser cutters are only capable of cutting 2D shapes, 3D parts can be fabricated from multiple 2D parts using numerous techniques.
For example, stacking slices a 3D shape into multiple layers that are stacked together with each layer being a planar shape. Stacking is ideal for non-complex 3D shapes such as enclosures that have little variation on the sides of their faces. Furthermore, stacking allows for material variation between each layer, and this can be used to create unique patterns and designs, but the use of stacking can be expensive if layers are thin and waste large portions of material.
Another technique for creating 3D structures is the use of bends whereby a 3D shape is exploded into a 2D shape that is bent into shape (similar to origami). However, while this method is useful for boxed designs and keeping costs low, it is not suitable for intricate designs with complex features.
Joints can also be laser cut into most materials and have been a popular method for connecting parts together for centuries (if done correctly, joints can hold a structure together without needing any screws or glue as is in many Japanese houses and wooden castles). But while joints are an excellent method for holding parts together, they require extreme care as joints that are not designed perfectly can be loose.
Recognising the numerous challenges faced by engineers, we offer a range of additional finishing services to our laser-cut parts including metal bending. Designs that specify bend lines can transform a flat 2D shape into a 3D structure, and is ideal for parts such as brackets, fixtures, and enclosures. This is especially advantageous for engineers looking to minimize the number of manufacturing steps on their part as well as removing the need for customers to have access to cut metal bending services.
The consistency of laser beams and the use of stepper motors allows for laser cutters to be used to make precise cuts. At Ponoko, our precision is within 0.13mm tolerances.
Lasers are so accurate, they are frequently used to actively trim precision capacitors and resistors whereby material is removed until the desired electrical characteristic is achieved. When compared to other manufacturing technologies, laser cutting provides the best trade-off between precision and speed.
For example, 3D printing is notorious for poor dimensional accuracy when printing with plastic materials such as PLA and ABS, while printing metal powders causes challenges with accuracy as heating the part causes shrinkage. CNC milling is a manufacturing process that can achieve better precision than laser cutting, but the long length of time taken for each pass means that it’s only applicable in applications where precision is essential (i.e. fitting pistons into an engine block).
High-powered laser beams can struggle to form small cutting diameters, while low-powered beams will struggle to cut outright. This means that while laser cutters can offer excellent dimensional accuracies, they are not ideal for creating tiny features with narrow cutting widths and complex parts close together.
To ensure consistency across all parts and materials, we have created a list of capabilities that are always guaranteed regardless of what material you choose or the size of the part. For example, the dimensional accuracy on all parts is ±0.13mm meaning that no matter the size of your part, its size will always be within ±0.13mm of the stated dimension. The smallest parts that we can cut are 6x6mm in size due to the use of grated beds (this means that parts smaller than this would fall through holes in the laser bed). Complex features on parts have a minimum size of 1x1mm otherwise the extreme heat of the laser may cause warping and disfigurement.
A laser kerf is when the laser burns away a portion of material when it cuts through. When getting a part laser cut, it is very easy to forget the importance of laser kerf and how it is affected by material thickness.
In an ideal world, a laser beam would never diverge meaning that the width of the beam always remains the same. In reality, laser beams diverge due to imperfections and the unpredictable nature of materials meaning that the width of a laser beam widens as it leaves the laser source.
As laser cutters also experience this divergence, they experience a phenomenon called laser kerf which is the widening of the cutting width that increases with cutting depth. For example, the very top surface of a material being cut with a laser will experience negligible laser kerf, but the backside of the material will have a wider cut line due to beam divergence. If viewed on the side, the cut would have a trapezoid shape with the top side being the narrowest and the underside the widest.
For thin parts (less than 1mm), kerf can often be ignored as laser kerf is proportional to the depth of the cut (meaning that thin parts exhibit little kerf). Thicker parts, however, may have a more notable kerf that can affect the performance of the part if not considered. For example, a face plate for an enclosure will have shorter edges on the backside meaning that the plate will not sit flush with the edges of the enclosure.
There are typically four challenges associated with laser cutting, namely, the requirement of "laser safe" materials, inability to cut 3D shapes, beam divergence (or laser kerf), and setup / maintenance of the machines themselves.
With its ability to cut parts extremely fast, require no specialised tooling, and do so at scale, it would seem that laser cutting is the ultimate solution in manufacturing. But for all its advantages, there are several challenges faced with laser cutting that engineers should consider when designing parts.
The first consideration is that laser cutters can only cut materials that are deemed “laser safe”. A laser safe material is one that produces consistent results when cutting the same part, doesn’t damage the laser cutter, and doesn’t harm the environment. For example, engineered woods such as MDF are excellent for cutting with a laser cutter, but PVC is problematic as it releases chlorine when vaporized. As such, a project requiring materials that are not laser-safe cannot use laser cutting.
The second challenge associated with laser cutters is that they are only able to cut 2D shapes. While this is perfectly acceptable for 2D parts, trying to manufacture 3D parts on a laser cutter is no small feat. Of course, numerous techniques can be deployed such as bends, living hinges, and joints, but none of these produces a native 3D part (whereas CNC milling and plastic injection molding can).
The third challenge with laser cutters is that they experience beam divergence called laser kerf. Simply put, the further away a target is from a laser, the wider the cutting beam becomes, and this cause the cutting width to increase with distance. As such, thick materials being cut on a laser cutter can have a tapered underside which can cause issues if flat edges are required.
The fourth challenge is that laser cutters themselves are extremely difficult to set up and maintain. This difficulty arises from the nature of lasers requiring careful beam alignment, the need to match materials to specific cutters, and the general challenges involved with CNC machines (motor turning etc.).
Fortunately, Ponoko being a laser cutting company has years of experience in this field meaning that engineers can take full advantage of laser cutting without having to worry about machine operation or maintenance. With no need for investment in machinery or training, customers can submit parts onto our online quote system, receive a price, and place an order for immediate manufacturing (and same day delivery).
Many materials can be cut with a laser including metal, plastic, wood, organics, and more, but contrary to popular belief, lasers don't melt the part they are cutting but instead vaporize the material. It is this vaporization that allows laser cutters to work with combustible materials such as wood and paper without setting them alight.
Types of metal that are popular with laser cutters include aluminum, brass, and steel as they work well with fiber lasers, but metal such as copper can be challenging as their reflective nature can damage optical components in the laser cutter. Common plastics used with laser cutters include acrylic and Delrin thanks to the clean edge left by the laser cutter, the ease of cutting, and their durability. Popular organics used with laser cutters include paper, cardboard, wood, and felt. Thicker and thin materials can introduce unique challenges.
Even though various materials can be used with laser cutters, not all can as some can be toxic while others can damage the laser cutter itself. As such, engineers are often tasked with finding suitable material stock that is laser safe, and this can use up valuable time.
To help engineering teams, Ponoko has a curated range of laser-safe materials all available through our online part ordering app. Our range of materials include engineered metal, wood, plastic, and more, our materials have carefully controlled characteristics such as tensile strength, density, and electrical conductivity. This is especially useful for engineers designing parts for applications with tight controls such as medical, automotive, and aerospace.
But if there is a very particular material you need cut, then we can do that too! Just send us an inquiry stating the need for a custom material and our engineers will help arrange the project, or select “Custom Material” when choosing a material from our online materials catalog.
Yes, it's true that not all materials can be used with a laser cutter, and the reason for this varies between different materials. Some materials like plastics can emit toxic fumes when heated, some materials are highly reflective and can reflect the laser. If in doubt, a Ponoko engineer is here to help you.
For example, some plastics such as PVC have no trouble being cut with a laser beam, but the resulting gasses formed from the intense heat can be highly toxic and thus dangerous for the environment. Other materials can release particulates and residue that can be harmful to optical components of a laser cutter (and thus reduce the amount of laser light hitting the workpiece). This is also dangerous for the laser cutter itself as reflective optical components that are covered with residue can become damaged through sudden thermal changes.
Some materials can be highly reflective meaning that laser incident laser light bounces off the workpiece. This is particularly hazardous for a laser cutter as laser light can bounce back into the laser cutter itself and damage key components. CO2 lasers are susceptible to this damage whereas fiber lasers are more resilient.
To ensure that customer parts are made to the highest quality, we have a specially curated range of laser-safe materials whose characteristics have been carefully documented. Additionally, we also pair materials to specific laser cutters to ensure consistent results between cuts. While we can cut custom materials for customers with specific requests, the part being cut must still be a laser-safe material. This is why we highly recommend the use of our stocked materials that have been thoroughly tested and proven.
When it comes to mass production, laser cutting is rather unique in that it can be used for both prototyping individual parts and mid-scale production in quantities exceeding 10,000 units. Laser cutting’s ability to provide such capabilities stems from the speed at which lasers can cut, the lack of tooling or molds, and the low operating costs associated with laser cutters.
Another major advantage of using laser cutters is that, unlike other manufacturing processes, a design file that has moved out of the prototyping phase requires no additional changes for mass production. This means that once a design has been locked in, it can be immediately produced in volume, and the flexibility of laser cutters allows for orders to be scaled with ease.
Furthermore, laser cutting has the advantage that any design change needed can be submitted and implemented immediately. For comparison, any design changes to a plastic injected part typically requires thousands of dollars for a new mold, weeks to design the mold, and then an initial production run to test that the new part is correct.
Our laser cutting service has been designed with speed and scalability in mind. Engineers looking to reduce the time of their development cycle can submit designs and have them manufactured the same day, and once a part is ready for mass production, we can take the same design file and immediately start work. Customers can choose the quantity they require and receive discounts of up to 93% (depending on the quantity), while also having the ability to contact our engineers should a design mistake be spotted - we’re standing by for you.
Ponoko laser cutting also offers unique options that allow for parts to be market-ready including engraved designs, unique surface finishes, and bending that help to reduce the number of additional manufacturing steps needed.
Living hinges are another popular method for creating 3D shapes using a 2D cutting process. Simply put, a living hinge is where the material has many thin lines cut from two parallel edges into the center of the material with a predefined space between each cut.
The result of all of the cuts is that the length of the material across the living hinge is massively increased and thus exhibits great flexibility (and therefore can be folded). But while living hinges are aesthetically appealing and useful for creating a naturally flexible bend, it also reduces the strength of the part as less material is being used to hold it together. Living hinges are popular with cut metal, and cut wood.
Yes. If there is one thing that can be said about engineering projects, it's that there is always some unusual problem that needs to be solved whether it is the need for a non-standard material or the development of a unique fitting. To make matters worse, it can be challenging to find manufacturers willing to tackle these issues without facing serious compromises to the project.
As a laser cutting business, we pride ourselves on tackling any project that comes our way. Whether our customers are startups, small businesses, or enterprise corporations, our team of experienced engineers and machine operators can provide professional consultation on design and manufacturing processes. With over 15 years of experience in the laser cutting industry, we have tackled numerous unique projects ranging from rapid testing kits for COVID to aerospace components experiencing extreme environments.
Yes, provided the material complies with our laser cutting requirements here. For example, the material thickness cannot exceed 12mm, must have a uniform core (i.e., must be a solid material with a consistent internal structure), and must be laser safe. Examples of materials that we cannot cut include PVC, rubber, glass, stone, and heat-resistant materials.
Choosing materials for laser cutting is no small feat as not all materials are laser safe or cut well using lasers. To help simplify material selection, we have curated a list of over 200+ engineered materials that are guaranteed to meet the strict set of precision standards we offer. However, some projects may call for very specific materials whether it is because of their material properties, appearance, or availability.
From $50 for just 1. 93% off for 10,000.