Metal stamping and laser cutting are relatively varied processes yet yield similar results. The procedures are popular with most metal forming companies, with the cost, quality, and other factors being the thin line dividing the two. These techniques usually shape metals into desired custom pieces suited for various industrial uses, including automotive and aerospace. For any manufacturer starting, confusing the two can be confusing. Even for some clients, it’s pretty defining the two in terms of how they shape metals into custom designs. If so, this Metal Stamping Vs. Laser Cutting comparison will offer helpful information to acquaint you better.
What are Metal Stamping and Laser Cutting Processes?
Metal stamping is the conventionally used metal forming process that uses mechanical force to shape metals in their natural state. The metal that undergoes shaping – the blank – is shaped by a die which is the tooling with custom dents and ridges. A lot of considerations ought to be put in the preparation stages, including the metal type used, the force applied, the metal flow, and numerous others.
On the other hand, laser cutting doesn’t require any die tooling or mechanical forces but a laser beam. The laser has the propensity to cut through any metal and is digitally programmed to create shapes of varied sizes and depths. These two processes create products with similar streaks, and it can sometimes be challenging to differentiate them.
We’ll delve deeper into two processes to understand them better and quickly tell them apart.
An In-Depth into Metal Stamping
Metals stamping combines dies and mechanical forces to shape metal sheets into desired forms. The process needs careful planning, including the tooling, the magnitude of the forces, and the types of materials used. Also, it’s a more hands-on process that requires designing the dies into customized shapes to produce the desired metal parts.
Metal Stamping Tools and Materials Used
Metal stamping uses tools and materials carefully chosen to create desired parts used in various industries. The materials used include highly malleable metals such as aluminum and those that tolerate high tensile forces like steel and its alloys. Besides, the die is mostly custom and used to produce high-volume runs for some industries.
A die must be precise in its measurements and nail it in the dimensional accuracies. That makes computer-aided machining (CAM) and Computerized Numerical Control (CNC) integral in creating specific customized dies that yield parts with high dimensional integrity. Also, the hydraulic forces used need to be metered to prevent possible mishaps.
Metal Stamping Procedure
Metal stamping is a synchronized process that can occur in a single thrust or severally in various stations. The real action uses force to shape blanks into the desired form and patterns. Either hydraulic or mechanically generated. Once the die is customized and the system set up, the metal blank gets fed and undergoes transformation before it’s ejected on the other end.
Metal stamping occurs through various processes and types, resulting in similar products but with varied qualities and nuances. Here’s a rundown of the different metal stamping types and techniques.
Types of Metal Stamping
Here are the various types of metal stamping processes.
Four Slide Stamping
four-slide stamping uses vertical alignments to shape metal blanks using four slides having four different tools for simultaneous multiple bends. It uses cam rotations to control each of the four slides’ movements, performing various operations simultaneously. It’s the quickest and most efficient stamping operation and is ideal for high-volume runs.
Progressive Die Stamping
Progressive die stamping uses separate stations that perform various stamping operations, including bending, coining, and cutting. The blank gets fed into the progressive die and moves to the next station after each ram, ejecting on the other end. Each station in a progressive die is different from the previous one, and the results are usually more accurate than other types of stamping operations.
Transfer Die Stamping
Transfer die stamping is similar to progressive stamping but differs in how the metal gets from one station to the other. While a destacker is used to feed the blank coil into a progressive die for stamping, transfer die stamping uses a conveyor belt to move stamped parts from one station to the other. The blank undergoes several metal stamping processes along the conveyor belt before it’s finally ejected as a finished metal part.
An In-Depth into Laser Cutting
Laser cutting yields similar results as metal stamping, but the metal forming process is entirely different from conventional stamping operations. Laser cutting uses a laser beam to shape and cut metals and is usually quick and precise for high-volume runs. This process combines a CNC machine and lasers and is usually preprogrammed to follow a trial set on computer software.
Laser Cutting Tools and Materials Used
Unlike metal stamping, laser stamping doesn’t require any tooling since it uses a computer numerical control machine combined with a laser cutter. That makes it incredibly precise, with smoother edges for cuts and highly close cutting. This operation doesn’t result in tool wear since it hardly uses any, and no sheer forces like hydraulic pressure are used to shape the metal.
Laser cutting is quick and doesn’t require secondary operations that refine and finish metal parts. Instead, everything happens simultaneously, and the metal parts are always ready for use once the laser switches to another part. Different types of lasers are used in laser cutting, with fiber lasers being the most sought-after in metal operations. Here are the various types of lasers used in this metal forming process.
CO2 lasers produce powerful light beams by running electricity through a tube having mirrors at each end and filled with a gas mixture. One of the two mirrors is usually entirely reflective compared to the other, which is only partial, letting out the beam that shapes the metal part. Usually, the mixture contains nitrogen, hydrogen, and helium, with CO2 being the most essential in producing invisible light.
CO2 lasers aren’t incredibly potent compared to the other types since they don’t have the complete propensity to cut thicker metal parts. However, they cut through thin aluminum sheets and other soft metals by boosting their oxygen supply. CNC CO2 lasers having multiple kilowatts are used in metal cutting operations. However, they aren’t generally practical in metal-cutting operations.
Fiber lasers are familiar in metal cutting, but they still are helpful in other materials like thermoplastics, glass, and wood. They’re a solid-state laser group and use the seed laser that gets their energy from pump diodes. They produce more powerful beams that are also more stable and have a longer life cycle than most other lasers. Their typical wavelength is usually 1.065 micrometers, giving a tinier focal diameter.
Unlike CO2 lasers, these types are potent enough for use in meta engraving, annealing, and marking metals and alloys. They’re also low maintenance but expensive, although they cut through thick metals ranging from 18 to 20 millimeters. They emit the beam in quasi or continuous beams and provide pulsed beams.
Nd: YAG/Nd: YVO Lasers
These lasers are used in crystal layer cutting processes and have a high cutting prowess compared to other laser cutting machines. They’re, however, not so popular in metal forming industries due to their low life spans and high-cost maintenance and retail prices. They utilize various crystals that give them their name, including neodymium-doped yttrium aluminum garnet (Nd: YAG) or neodymium-doped yttrium ortho-vanadate (Nd: YVO) crystals.
Like fiber lasers, these types are also potent, with an available wavelength of 1.064 micrometers. That makes them ideal for cutting through thick metals and shaping them according to preprogrammed CNC machining. While they allow for pulse energies, Nd: YVO doesn’t allow for high pulse energy compared to Nd: YAG crystals.
Main Differences Between Metal Stamping and Laser Cutting
The difference between laser cutting and metal stamping is crystal-clear, although both processes yield similar – or almost similar – results. Mainly, it’s easy to draw the line between the metal forming procedure, the time used, costs and capabilities. Here’s how to differentiate between metal stamping and laser cutting.
The results can be similar, but the processes are usually different. Metal stamping uses dies to press against metals and shape them into the desired form. That means using mechanical or hydraulic force, usually metered and measured. Besides, material consideration is paramount since not every metal can withstand the sheer press forces.
Before stamping, die tooling is mandatory to create custom designs for various industries. The die material must be robust enough to shape metals without fault and facilitate a seamless flow precisely. This metal forming process requires proper planning before subjecting metals to pressure for high-quality metal parts. Besides, parts may need to undergo secondary procedures to improve their aesthetic touch and precision.
On the other hand, laser cutting only requires CNC machine preprogramming, and the rest falls in seamlessly. Laser machines utilize CNC machining technology throughout the entire metal shaping process, contrary to stamping, which only uses it during die tooling. The laser beams do all the work, cutting metals into required shapes and guaranteeing better finishing, all in a single operation.
Metal stamping takes more time to produce similar volume runs than laser cutting. The tooling used in metal stamping eats away the production time since dies need to be custom-made and tested for stress. That starts with computer-aided designing using software, which can be pretty time-consuming. Afterward, CNC milling creates these dies, which can take longer for progressive or transfer dies that combine various metal stamping processes.
Laser cutting, on the other hand, is quick and incredibly efficient and does the cutting, cleaning, and finishing in a single operation. That saves time while guaranteeing efficiency simultaneously. With laser cutting, the planning process is usually done digitally by programming computers that feed the algorithms into the CNC machines. These machines are fitted with a vast array of lasers controlled by the machine, making the process as quick as possible.
The cost issue depends on various factors in both metals forming processes. The argument is usually based on how much it costs to procure the machines and keep them operational. Of course, the metals resulting in the finished part can be similar. But does the cost of labor or replacement make any difference?
Metal stamping operations require proper maintenance and servicing. Besides, they wear out as much as they shape metals on end due to friction. While that’s expected, it significantly reduces the quality of finished metal parts, calling for frequent replacements. That makes the process costly even if the machine procurement – including tooling and acquisition – is cheaper.
Conversely, Laser cutting doesn’t require tooling or replacing the machines since it uses lasers having lengthy lifespans. That means the maintenance costs can be lower than metal stamping. However, it’s fair to say that acquiring these machines is expensive, but that’s quite a better investment. Moreover, these laser-cutting CNC machines use digital computer programming and don’t require human labor to operate as they should.
The Advantages and Disadvantages of Metal Stamping and Laser Cutting
Metal stamping and laser cutting have pros and cons, driving preferences across numerous industries.
Metal Stamping Advantages
Metal stamping can shape thicker plates – No thickness disputes the shaping process of metal plates since they use powerful hydraulic forces. Laser cutting can’t handle thicker metals that are only a walkover for stamping dies.
It can work with a vast array of metal alloys – Some lasers (particularly CO2 lasers) aren’t capable of operating on some metals. That limits the options compared to the high propensity of metal stamping to deal with all metal sorts.
It offers more than cutting operations – metal stamping can perform numerous processes, including flattening, shaping, cutting, and coining. That’s quite a far cry from laser cutting which only cuts metals and shapes them.
Metal Stamping Disadvantages
Dies wear out – Dies undergo immense friction and wear out in the process.
Die tooling takes time – CNC milling machines must create custom dies to shape metals. Moreover, that doesn’t offer so much versatility since a single design only works for specific shapes which can’t be altered.
Laser Cutting Advantages
Quick and efficient – Laser cutting is fast and efficient and ideal for high-volume runs of metal parts.
No tooling wear – Unlike metal stamping, laser cutting doesn’t require tooling. That eliminates instances of tooling wear and subsequent replacements.
No need for secondary operations – Laser cutting creates smoothed edges with no burrs and sharps. That eliminates the need for secondary operations.
Laser Cutting Disadvantages
Depth limitations – Unlike metal stamping, lasers aren’t potent enough to penetrate thicker metals.
Ability to alter steel properties – Extreme laser temperatures change metals’ chemical and physical properties. Steel is usually more susceptible than other metals.
The choice between metal stamping and laser cutting depends on many factors. But overall, the two processes yield almost similar results despite the time and costs involved. These two operations create functional parts in numerous manufacturing industries, making them integral in every aspect.