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When it comes to creating precision parts, metal is often one of the best materials to use thanks to its ability to be machined, its tensile strength, and its excellent weight to strength ratio. Our laser cut metal parts have a dimensional tolerance of ±0.13mm and a laser kerf (the amount which the width of the laser cut varies) of 0 to 0.2mm which allows for the production of extremely precise parts. Furthermore, this level of precision applies to any order size whether it is just a single part, or 10,000 being deployed in the field.
Ponoko laser cuts everything, and metal is no exception. We cut a wide range of metals for you to choose from, including all of brass, copper, stainless steel and aluminum. Want to construct a lightweight frame for your engineering project, or need an extra-large heatsink for your high power motor driver? Ponoko can laser cut that for you.
Known for their high thermal conductivity and tensile strength, sheet metals have made their way into products across all industries. You can cut sheet metal in a variety of thicknesses into any shape using our laser cutting services, without having to pay a fortune for custom shearing dies.
Ponoko's range of metals and thicknesses, with no minimum order give you the optimal choice for use for both decorative and functional purposes. Whether you need a rigid metal encasing for your electronics project, a custom sized bed for your 3D printer, or very sturdy reusable stencils for your industrial process, you'll find what you're looking for at Ponoko.
Laser cutters vaporize metal (as opposed to melting, which would produce slag) using the laser beam, taking care to adjust wavelength and frequency to lessen damage from metal reflections.
Despite what many may think, laser cutters do not melt the material they are cutting but instead vaporize it (i.e. turn it into a gas). This vaporization ensures that the cut line produced by the laser is clean and mostly free of slag and/or deformations (i.e. caused by drooping hot metal). While laser come in numerous different technologies, laser cutter operators have to ensure that the right kind of laser is used which includes the technology used as well as the wavelength of the emitted laser. This is because some metals (such as copper and aluminum) have a habit of reflecting the incident laser light which can damage the laser cutter itself as well as those nearby.
Ponoko provides same-day metal laser cutting services to customers in the Oakland Bay Area and next-day delivery services to those in the Mainland US area. With over 33,000 customers served and having manufactured well over 2 million laser-cut parts, we provide a sheet metal laser cutting service that has been tried and tested in many different industries including aerospace, automotive, IoT, medical, and research.
Of the three main laser technologies (LED, CO2 and Fiber), only CO2 and Fiber can be used.
When cutting metal with a laser, choosing the right kind of laser technology is essential as to provide the highest quality cut. The three main laser technologies that exist include LED, CO2, and fiber, and of these technologies only CO2 and fiber can be used. This is because LED lasers rarely go above 10W in power, and cutting metal requires at least 300W.
If thin sheets of non-reflective metals are being cut, CO2 lasers make a good choice as they are significantly lower cost than fiber lasers. Considering that the difference in cutting speed is negligible, this lower operation cost is ideal for both prototyping and large-scale production of laser-cut metal parts. Additionally, the cost of CO2 lasers also significantly differs to their fiber counterparts with small industrial CO2 lasers starting from just $10K.
If thicker sheets of reflective metal are being cut, fiber lasers are the only practical option. The reason for this comes down to the fact that fiber lasers are designed to handle large amounts of power inside their optic fiber and thus can resist reflections from the target, and that fiber lasers are powerful enough to cut through thick materials (laser kerf causes the power of a laser beam to drop with cutting depth, so powerful lasers are needed to make up for this loss of power).
To ensure that we produce the highest quality metal laser-cut parts, we stock numerous laser cutting systems all using various technologies, laser powers, and wavelengths. Our range of stocked materials are also carefully matched to each machine so that all parts are manufactured to the same tolerances regardless of the material chosen. Furthermore, our years of experience as a laser cutting manufacturer guarantees perfect parts every time leaving more time for our customers to focus on design.
Most laser cutters under $1000 lack the power to do much besides engraving and cutting basic shapes out of foam, paper, and thin wood.
While laser cutters are available to purchase online, engineers should think very carefully before purchasing such a system. The vast majority of laser cutters online for under $1000 will rarely have the power to cut anything of any significant thickness nor will they be able to cut anything beyond thin sheets of balsa wood. Generally speaking, such laser systems are more designed to engrave and cut basic shapes out of foam and paper.
Another issue that owning a laser cutter presents is the difficulty in maintenance and proper operation. For example, laser cutters produce large amounts of smoke, and this needs to be correctly vented from the system otherwise the laser cutters performance can drop (as well as ruining sensitive optical components). When maintaining laser cutters, their optical systems often require alignment and configuration, and this is a science in its own right!
If thick materials are needed, purchasing a larger system can be extraordinarily expensive, and such a cutter would only be economically viable if parts are being made every single day. But the installation of such laser cutters presents additional challenges including health and safety risks to those operating the machine as well as those nearby (even the reflections from a laser beam can cause permanent eye damage).
Ponoko is a laser cutting service that specializes in sheet metal laser cutting with years of experience under its belt. By specializing in laser cutting, we have trained personnel whose sole purpose is to ensure that machines are correctly operating and are well maintained. As such, our customers do not have to worry about machine operation, maintenance, or securing the funding needed to acquire a laser cutter, and instead can focus on designing their part and succeeding in their projects.
Not only do we have years of experience in the laser cutting industry, we stock various laser cutting technologies that are all matched to a specific list of materials so that all machines cut parts to the same degree of precision. Finally, our software-powered service automatically checks customer designs for errors and potential issues that would otherwise go unnoticed by those operating their own equipment.
While laser cutting provides numerous advantages over other manufacturing methods, other methods include CNC milling, 3D metal printers, plasma cutters, powder injection molding, and stamps are all methods to cut and shape metal.
Even though laser cutters provide numerous advantages over other manufacturing methods, that isn't to say that laser cutters are the singular best method; it all depends on the application and the metal being cut.
CNC milling is one option that is excellent for milling 3D shapes out of blocks of metal. The use of precision milling bits and computer-controlled motors, they can be used to create shapes to incredible tolerances. However, their use of expendable bits means that they can be expensive to operate, and the long time taken to cut parts also sees higher operating costs.
3D metal printers are an emerging technology that are proving to be advantageous. While 3D metal powder printers can also be slow, they are cheaper to operate compared to CNC mills as they do not use expendable bits and can be used to create complex internal structures while using less material. However, they cannot offer the same degree of precision compared to CNC mills, and the parts the produce require heat treatment to fuse the metal granular which introduces contraction issues.
Plasma cutting is similar to laser cutting in that a stream of plasma is used to melt the target sheet metal. While plasma cutting is fast and powerful (i.e. ideal for use with thick sheets of metal), plasma cutting can only cut targets that are electrically conductive and are not ideal for precision work.
Powder injection molding is similar to plastic injection molding in that a metal granulated mixture is injected into a mold, and the partly fused part is then heat treated to create a solid object. However, this process is only ideal for mass-production due to the high price of molds and also suffers from contraction issues.
Stamped metal parts utilize a stamp that is pressed into a sheet of metal which can be used to create both 2D and 3D parts. Like powder injection molding, stamping is ideal for mass-production due to its high speed and low cost (when used to make thousands of parts), but the high cost of molds means that it cannot be used with prototypes. But the lack of heat treatment removes the challenges faced by contraction and as such parts can be designed without taking this into account.
There are numerous advantages to cutting metal parts with a laser cutter including high speed, low price, scalability, and simplicity.
Laser cutters do not require any expendable parts (such as saw blades, drill bits, and routers), and this means that laser cutters are extremely fast to set up and operate. Additionally, the lack of consumables also means that the price of laser cut parts is lower (compared to CNCs and stamps).
Secondly, the lower price of laser-cut parts combined with the use of computer numeric control means that any 2D part can be cut in any quantity. This makes laser cutters rather unique in that they can be used for prototypes as well as initial production runs with produced parts being market ready (i.e. they could be packaged and sold directly to consumers).
Thirdly, laser cutters are able to accept sudden design changes which means that should a mistake be found in a design, it is very easy to halt operation and restart with new designs. This is due to the lack of tools and generic design of laser cutters (i.e. laser cutter systems do not need to be customized for each part being produced).
Fourthly, the lack of grips used to hold workpieces presents a unique opportunity for engineers in that their parts do not require breakout tabs. This lack of grips and the use of a laser beam also means that parts being cut do not experience any mechanical forces during manufacture which is ideal for small sensitive parts.
Finally, laser beams are incredibly precise, and this beam precision combined with the use of computer-controlled motors allows for the rapid manufacture of precision parts. There is no manufacturing process on earth that can offer the same level of precision in the short time taken for a laser cutter to manufacture a part.
Laser cutters are great for cutting parts thinner than 5mm, but going thicker than this introduces laser kerf which can affect the precision of the part.
While laser cutters are excellent for use with metal parts, they are not so great at cutting thick parts due to an effect called laser kerf. Simply put, no laser beam is perfect, and as a laser beam leaves its source, it diverges. This divergence (i.e. widening of the beam width) results in a wider cut, and this sees the underside of a part have a wider cut width compared to the top side.
If laser kerf is not carefully considered when designing thick parts, it can cause issues for parts requiring both sides to have the same dimensions. For example, a faceplate used on an enclosure will have a slightly tapered edge, and this can result in a slight gap around the edge of the faceplate when installed (this is why the tapered side should face inside an enclosure).
To help reduce the amount of laser kerf in our parts, we provide a strict set of quality parameters that must be followed by customers. These quality parameters will ensure that the laser kerf is never more than 0.2mm no matter the thickness of the part being cut.
Generally speaking, laser-cut metal parts are just as fast to cut as non-metal laser-cut parts. This is due to the fact that different laser cutting technologies are chosen depending on the material being cut, and that metal parts need to be cut quickly otherwise they can warp under the extreme heat from the laser beam.
The biggest challenge when cutting metal with a laser cutter relates to the crystalline structure of the metal and how reflective it is. While it is difficult to cut reflective metals, it is not impossible. The more reflective a material is, the less laser energy that is absorbed, and thus more difficult to cut. This is why opaque non-reflective materials are really easy to cut while reflective metals such as aluminum present difficulties. As such, the choice of laser wavelength greatly affects the cutting ability of the laser as each material has an optimum wavelength of absorption.
For those looking to get prototypes cut from metal, it can often be a good idea to get parts made in a cheaper material such as plastic or wood before placing an order for a metal version. This can be a cost-effective solution for those looking to see if there are errors in their design that may otherwise not show until a physical part is produced.
Not only is Ponoko's metal laser cutting service available for all our customers, but those in the Oakland Bay Area can receive their orders on the very same day of ordering their part, and those in the rest of the mainland US can receive them by the next working day.
No one reason exists why some materials can be laser cut while others cannot, but it generally comes down to one of two things; material properties and material composition.
Most metals can be cut using a laser cutter, and we at Ponoko can accept custom materials provided by customers. However, not all materials can be laser cut, and it is important that customers check our list of accepted materials here when submitting custom materials.
With regards to material properties, some metals such as aluminum and copper are highly reflective which makes cutting them difficult. For example, if these metals were cut using a standard CO2 laser then there is a chance that their reflectivity will bounce the laser beam back into the laser emitter and damage sensitive optical components.
With regards to material composition, some materials (such as PVC) can release smoke and/or toxic compounds when laser cut. Smoke presents challenges for laser cutters as it can absorb some of the laser energy which reduces the cutting ability of the beam. Additionally, smoke can also leave behind residues that build up on sensitive optical components which further reduces the ability for the laser cutter to function. Toxic compounds such as chlorine are extremely dangerous for the environment, those nearby and for the laser cutter itself. As such, any material that releases toxic gasses when burned must never be used with a laser cutter.
To ensure that all parts manufactured by our metal laser cutting service meet our precision capabilities, we offer a wide range of over 200+ curated engineered materials. The engineered nature of all our materials means that they exhibit excellent consistency including tensile strength, electrical conductivity, and thermal conductivity. Furthermore, all of our materials are available to all customers in any order quantity, and our stock is frequently tested to ensure that parts ordered today will be identical to those ordered in a years' time.
Laser-cut metal parts can be used for numerous applications including 2D shapes, brackets, fittings, faceplates, mechanical fixtures, and decorative parts.
By far the best application for laser-cut metal parts is anything that requires a 2D flat shape as this is something that laser cutters are designed to manufacture. Of course, that isn’t to say that complex 3D structures can’t be built, but using laser cutters for such applications introduces numerous design challenges that may be better solved with a different construction.
One common application for laser-cut metal parts is faceplates and enclosures. The ability to create professional looking faceplates can massively improve the appearance of any project, and the ability to both engrave and cut in the same machining cycle trivializes the manufacturing process. Additionally, the market-ready quality of Ponoko laser cutting services means that faceplates can be delivered and installed straight into products without additional manufacturing steps.
Another potential application for laser-cut metal parts includes intricate metal parts such as mechanical levers, gears, and actuators, and this is possible thanks to the ability for Ponoko to fabricate metal parts with a dimensional accuracy of ±0.13mm and a complex feature size of 1x1mm. Such parts would be found in slimline devices, enclosures, clocks, and drones.
Brackets are another application for laser cut parts manufactured that can take advantage of our metal bending services. This allows for 3D metal parts to be constructed from 2D flat shapes that can be folded into the desired angles.
Laser cutting metal parts can succumb to numerous challenges including warping, hardness, and burrs if not done correctly.
While laser cutting is an excellent method for creating metal parts that isn’t to say that it’s a hassle-free process. Even though laser cutters aim to vaporize the target material, this isn’t always possible and can sometimes lead to melting and/or burning on the cut edges. In the case of metal, the high temperature of the laser can cause the edges to increase in hardness, and this changes the structural properties of the part (this is the same phenomenon used by blacksmiths to create the edge of a sword blade).
Using a laser cutter with thick sheets of metal can also introduce laser kerf which causes the underside of the part to have a wider cut width compared to the top side. For thin sheets of metal (less than 5mm), this effect is barely noticeable, but thicker sheets can quickly run int substantial laser kerf.
Burrs can also be problematic for laser cut metal parts. The intense heat of the laser and the time taken to cut through the sheet can result in tiny shards of metal melting down. These tiny shards give the edge of a part a small amount of burring, and this can sometimes require parts to undergo a secondary manufacturing stage of deburring and polishing (something that Ponoko also provides as a laser cutting service).
Warping of large laser-cut metal parts can also become notable if large temperature gradients are experienced (as temperature gradients cause different expansion rates that buckle the crystalline structure). As such, it is essential that high-powered laser beams are used that can quickly cut the metal without heating the rest of the sheet too much.
Finally, creating small holes such as tiny holes can quickly become charred due to overheating. These tiny features can also suffer from structural issues such as increased hardness from the intense heat, and this makes them problematic to fabricate on thick sheets of metal.
Compared to other manufacturing techniques, Ponoko metal laser cutting services offer a fantastic balance between price and precision with a dimensional accuracy of ±0.13mm and a complex feature size of 1x1mm.
The level of precision offered by a laser cutter depends on several different factors which are the width of the laser beam, the consistency of the laser beam, the precision of the axis motors, and the repeatability of the machine being used.
To start, the width of the laser beam typically dictates the smallest feature size that can be made. Small beam widths will allow for the creation of thinner and smaller features, but this reduces its cutting capability and makes it harder to work with. As such, Ponoko keeps beam sizes large enough so that all parts produced can guarantee parts as small as 6x6mm.
The precision of each axis in a laser cutter determines how small the beam can be moved. But having a machine whose precision is incredibly small (typically through micro-stepping of motors), introduces positioning errors that are not entirely reliable (for example, individual steps of a stepper motor are guaranteed, but micro-stepping in-between has non-linear characteristics). To ensure that small features come out perfect, Ponoko has a minimum feature size of 1x1mm that we can guarantee across all materials.
Finally, the repeatability of each axis determines how accurately the laser beam can be moved to a different place on the machine bed and then return to the previous position. Repeatability stems from the machine's ability to not lose steps on each axis as well as minimizing backlash on each axis. To ensure dimensional accuracy across all our parts, we have set a figure of ±0.13mm that is also independent of the material used.
One great benefit to using Ponoko metal laser cutting services is that not only can we cut your custom metal parts, but we can also provide additional manufacturing steps including deburring, polishing, printing, and bending.
Metal is a rather unique material in that it can be easily bent into different shapes while retaining a lot of its strength. Most angled brackets used in construction are not cast into their shape, but are instead made from a single flat sheet of material that is then bent into shape using a press.
Bending metal parts is advantageous in that it allows for complex 3D shapes to be constructed from flat 2D parts, and this allows engineers to create complex parts using a low-cost laser cutting service (as opposed to an expensive CNC miller or a structurally weak 3D print). Considering that Ponoko laser cutting services also include metal bending, your metal parts can be fabricated, shaped, and polished with a market-ready finish all under one roof.
While laser cutting is specifically designed to create 2D shapes, it can be used for basic 3D shapes using multiple techniques including bending, stacking, and joints.
Ponoko's metal bending services can be used to turn flat 2D shapes into 3D objects by applying bends at specific lengths of the part (you can define these in your CAD file as a separate color to laser cutting and engraving lines). However, designers should consider the maximum bending angles that we offer, and the minimum width of material that can be bent.
Stacking involves slicing a 3D object into individual layers, fabricating each layer, and then stacking those layers on top of each other. The thinner each layer is, the better the resolution on the side of the shape (i.e. allows for smoother sides), but this increases the cost of such a part. Thicker layers use less material and thus cost less to produce, but it is hard to get smooth edges which is why stacking is best used on flat sided shapes such as cubes.
Joints are another option available to engineers whereby individual 2D shapes are held together using joints (such as bolts and screws). Again, this doesn't allow for smooth sides, but it can be a cheap way to get complex 3D shapes made out of flat 2D parts.
From $50 for just 1. 93% off for 10,000.