Skip to main content

Nowadays, some smaller mechanical workshops, or people who produce various components as a hobby, are trying to supplement their manual equipment with a computerized machine. The most popular machining tools are CNC machines and laser cutters. Both products are used for precision cutting of complex-shaped products in a short amount of time. In addition, these machines are reliable and provide near-perfect repeatability. However, there are some differences between a CNC cut and a laser cut. We present these differences below, so any DIY enthusiast can choose the perfect method for himself.

What is CNC cutting?

CNC is also known as computer numerical control. This machine uses specialized tooling to produce parts of different sizes and shapes. The entire project begins when the designer creates a drawing of the part for a specific customer. Currently, this drawing is created using specific computer software. Then, thanks to the digital version of the drawing, the CNC programmer translates it into the workpiece using a program (CAM). The above software assists the programmer in creating a path for the tool and generating the “G-code” that controls the CNC machine. CNC milling machines and CNC routers cut material laterally across the “X” axis in, out along the “Y” axis and up and down along the “Z” axis. Both the CNC milling machine and the CNC router can move and cut along all three axes simultaneously. Both CNC machines cut and remove material. CNC cutting tools are different and are adapted to cutting materials, depth of cut and type of cut.

The advantages of cutting using a CNC machine

CNC equipment has many advantages that may convince some people to purchase this product. Below are the most practical advantages of cutting with a CNC machine:

  • CNC machines are equipped with great software that enables the best solution for the workpiece – while minimizing unnecessary material loss,
  • the processing and cutting of the material is carried out without human intervention, which significantly reduces the risk of errors or accidents at work,
  • CNC machines can be set to the highest speed, which increases productivity and performance when cutting material.
  • CNC machines reduce production costs by saving energy.

Who is CNC cutting for?

CNC machines perform the cutting process in a comprehensive and cost-effective manner. For this reason, many industries have such solutions in their production halls. CNC machines are „perfect workers” because they operate at high speeds, do not make mistakes, and their production capacity is practically unlimited. Today the market also offers stationery CNC milling machines for smaller businesses or private hobbyists. The industries that can successfully implement CNC machines into their sector are:

  • Defense industry
  • Oil and gas industry
  • Aviation industry
  • Healthcare
  • Manufacturing companies and many more!

What is laser cutting?

The laser cutter is similar to CNC milling machines. This is because laser cutting is also carried out by programming the laser path beforehand. However, there are many differences between laser cutting and CNC cutting. The main difference is that a laser cutter uses high energy light to burn and cut material. The CNC machine uses either a cutting tool or a cutter.

Currently, the most common types of laser cutters are:

  • CO2 laser – this equipment allows electric current to pass through a tube containing a mixture of carbon dioxide, hydrogen, helium and nitrogen. This laser can cut thin metal sheets, wood, or serve as an engraver.
  • Fiber laser – it is a semiconductor machine that amplifies its beam with special glass fibers. This laser cuts metals, non-metals, wood, plastic and glass.
  • Nd: Yag laser – high-power cutting equipment. Unfortunately, these lasers are expensive and have a short life span.

The advantages of laser cutters

Without a doubt, the greatest advantage of this product is the high precision and detail of the cut. This can be justified as follows: the CNC cutting tool can set the inside radius to 0,062 in and the laser cutting tool can set the radius to approximately 0,005 inches, making the cut more accurate. In addition, compared to the CNC cut, the laser cut leaves clean and sealed edges, which improves the quality of the parts made. This maximizes the usability of the workpieces and minimizes waste. It is also interesting to note that laser equipment does not have many moving parts, which means that repair and maintenance costs can be lower than those associated with CNC.

Who is laser cutting for?

Laser cutting machine is mainly used in shipbuilding, medical and aviation sectors. This is because each of these industries requires the precision that laser cutting can provide.

  • Other industries that use laser cutting machines include:
  • Automotive (automotive parts manufacturing)
  • Tool manufacturers (engravings for marking products)
  • Musical instruments
  • Jewelry

We should remember, that a laser cutter is complicated – just like its maintenance, which can generate significant costs for using this technology. However, the laser cutter is suitable for larger companies with significant capital and operate in powerful sectors. Although laser cutting is more accurate and produces less waste than CNC, the CNC milling machine is certainly better suited to thick materials and wood. CNC machining or laser cutting technology? There is no single answer to this question. A CNC cutting machine will certainly be less accurate than a laser beam, but a CNC cutter is better for cutting thicker surfaces.