Laser vs CNC Mill – Why Buy A Laser?

How To Laser Other Laser vs CNC Mill – Why Buy A Laser?
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Laser vs CNC Mill – Why Buy A Laser?

Posted By Adrian

There are a few main reasons why you would purchase a laser as opposed to a CNC Mill. The 4 main reasons are:

  • Little to no post processing (Flame Polished Edges)
  • Precision
  • Speed
  • Processing Costs

In this article we will compare and contrast Laser vs CNC Mill and help explain why to buy a laser.

One main advantage that a laser has over a CNC Mill is that there is little to no post processing needed after cutting out a product from its parent material. The laser is able to create a flame polished edge in acrylic for example which would be a cost intensive manual process if the same product was cut on a CNC Mill. The laser is also able to create a higher quality, uniform cut around the product, even in hard to reach places or on small intricate parts, which hand polishing could not achieve. The CNC Mill post processing is time intensive, which means a product will have a higher production cost, resulting in lower profit margins.

Edge Finish
Laser vs CNC Mill Edge Finish

The second advantage that a laser cutter has over a CNC Mill is the precision of the cut. A trotec laser has the ability to cut a radius of 0.1mm / 0.004 inches and up, where as typically a CNC Mill can only cut down to 2mm / 0.08 inches and up. This means curves and corners will be exactly as designed and have a higher degree of precision. A trotec laser also has a very small kerf value compared to a CNC Mill which means parts can be very closely nested together saving material and lowering overall costs.

Laser vs CNC Mill Precision
Laser vs CNC Mill Precision

One of the most contributing factors to a laser purchase is the speed compared to a CNC Mill. A trotec laser is at least twice as fast as a router for most applications. A laser is able to cut thick material in one pass, where as a CNC Mill will need to do multiple passes to cut the same thickness. A laser also does not require the work piece to be clamped down as there is no physical force being applied to the material, so this is a step the laser can eliminate from the manufacturing process. Providing the work piece is flat, the lasers repeatability and reliability to create exact copies each and every time, is much higher than that of a CNC Mill. This confidence in the machine is key to a successful, efficient work environment.

Laser Cut vs CNC Cut - Speed Test
Laser Cut vs CNC Cut – Speed Test

The last main advantage that the laser has over the CNC Mill is of course the process costs associated with the use of the machine. As we touched on before, the CNC Mill has many more steps involved in order to create a final product. A CNC Mill requires the user to clamp the work piece, clean and polish / post process the item before getting to the end product. A laser will bypass these steps. A laser has the ability to produce a final product without any post processing or clamping. This may seem a small issue, but it adds up to a significant time and cost saving.

Below I have created a table of processing cost breakdowns with typical values, to allow you to quickly see the costs involved in both Laser and CNC Mill cutting.

Types of Costs CNC Milling Lasering
Fixing material and vacuum preparation $7,000

($20/h * 350h / p.a)

$0
Edge Post Processing (Flame Polishing) $40,000

($20/h * 2000h / p.a)

$0
Remaining machine set-up time and machine cleaning $1,500

($20/h * 75h / p.a)

$1,500

($20/h * 75h / p.a)

Filter Costs $0 $4,800

(120lbs active carbon)

Tool Head / Consumable cost $9,600
($48 * 200 heads p.a)
$1,000
 TOTAL P.A. $58,100 p.a $7,300 p.a

Save 87.5%

So as you can see there is a pretty large discrepancy in the cost between using a laser and a CNC Mill. Your application might give better or worse results, this table is based around typical acrylic cutting applications. One thing you must keep in mind is labour costs; hiring a part time employee at $20 an hour quickly racks up unnecessary costs to flame polish the edges of a material, where a laser will be able to create a finished product, which saves on overheads, increases profit margins and dramatically decreases setup time.

If you are considering to buy a laser, I would strongly suggest you have a look at our friends Trotec laser. They sell the highest quality, most precise consumer and industrial solutions available on the market.

That’s it for now

Catch ya next time!

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Written by Adrian

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