What Is The Difference Between CNC Machining And Laser Cutting?

image of a cnc laser cutter

CNC machining and laser cutting are two popular and reliable processes for creating precision components in manufacturing. Both offer superior performance, capability, efficiency, and waste reduction and are an asset to manufacturers who require dependable parts for high-intensity applications.

However, due to the similarities in their approach and results, the two methods are often confused. Whether you are interested in CNC machining or laser cutting services, this article will explain the differences so you can make an informed decision.

What Is The Difference Between CNC And Laser Cutting?

Both CNC and laser cutting machines follow pre-programmed instructions to carry out subtractive processes on raw materials. Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software is used to create a design for a part, which is then cut on any number of axes as required. Workpieces can be cut and shaped in numerous ways, so highly complex or intricate parts are possible.

However, there are significant differences between CNC and laser cutting which are outlined below:

Computer Numeric Control (CNC) Machining

The most important aspect of the CNC machining process is that the workpiece is cut through direct contact with the cutting tool. CNC machines are highly adaptable and able to produce three dimensional components, being able to cut or engrave materials quickly and precisely. A range of raw materials can be cut to extremely tight tolerances and specifications with this method, including wood, foam, plastic, acrylic, and composites, as well as many metals.

During the CNC machining process, the position and speed of the cutting head is tightly controlled by computer. Volumes of waste are low, which reduces the cost of materials, while highly accurate movements result in exceptional precision and repeatability so that no one component in a batch differs from another.

Laser Cutting

Similarly, CNC software controls the position and movement of the laser cutter in this process, but the method of cutting is different. Unlike CNC machining, which involves physical contact between the tool and the workpiece, laser cutting, as the name implies, uses a powerful laser beam to cut custom shapes. No customised tooling is required, as the laser burns through the raw material without making contact.

Laser cutting is suitable for a variety of materials but generally two-dimensional sheet or plate components, including metal, foam, wood, paper, and glass. It achieves high tolerances and smooth finishes that often do not require further cleaning, treatment, or finishing. Often, laser cutting is used to create rapid prototypes of parts before moving to full-scale production.

CNC cutting and laser cutting are extremely reliable and accurate cutting processes that use the latest computer technology to achieve outstanding results. Whereas CNC cutting uses friction, laser cutting uses heat. It is this difference that sets the machines apart and makes them suitable for use in different areas of manufacturing.

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