How to Choose Between Punch Press or Laser Cutter?

Punch press or laser cutter? They both have a place in sheet metal fabrication, but what should you choose for your business? There are several questions to consider ahead of deciding.

Advantages of Punch Press

If you are perforating, specifically round hole perforations, then buy a punch press. It can punch 10x the speed of a laser. Since lasers can run a common line, it can cut square or rectangular perforated patters fairly quickly, almost as fast as a punch. For round holes, the laser doesn’t have a common line and since most perforations are round holes the punch press is a better solution.

There is no need to consider a laser if you are making forms such as louvers, extrusions, knockouts, etc. Mate has a metal sample sheet that shows some of the different forms possible with a turret. Many times, people who have just bought a laser wish they had known the possibilities of forming before buying the laser.
Another important consideration is the number of parts you are going to make. If you’re going to buy a laser, you will need to have enough parts business to run it at least eight hours a day or you may not get your return of investment.

As far as quality, the laser has come a long way. Still, there is a lot of secondary finishing that has to happen with a laser that people aren’t aware of. They will likely need to buy a second machine to finish the parts downstream to get rid of all of the slag, debris and burrs off the sheet. The fit and finish of holes and edges are better in a turret.
Budget is another question. A punch press has considerably lower upfront purchase cost compared to a laser, plus it can do some things a laser can’t. And you can operate a turret for 25-30 years and it’s going to keep running. I won’t say the technology has advanced as fast as laser has but it hasn’t needed to.

Where a Laser Cutter Shines

With lasers, the range of materials you can cut with is endless. Stainless steel is a good example because a laser because can cut it at great speeds. Since stainless is hard and abrasive, there is a lot of wear on turret tools. The laser doesn’t have a tooling issue so it’s a big advantage. You can just “plug and play.” By comparison, punching stainless generates a lot of heat, so you have to run it a little slower. You can only run a punch press as fast as a tool can go in and out of the sheet, so the heat of the tool really dictates how fast a punch press can run.

Another big advantage of laser is nesting. You don’t need to have a border like you do with a turret, so you can utilize every inch of that material. This means you get a greater part yield per sheet with a laser and sheets are expensive.

Another plus of the laser is not having to order tools. If you have a special shape or specialty radius you can just throw it on the laser and cut. You don’t have to wait to load specialized tools. A laser is also really good for rapid prototyping.

This blog post is adapted from an interview with Mate Regional Sales Manager Peter Visser that originally appeared in the April 2024 edition of Shop Talk, an e-newsletter published by Shop Metalworking Technology magazine. To read the entire interview, go to:

Blog Author

Peter Visser

Peter Visser is a Mate Regional Sales Manager