ASK THE EXPERT: Amada’s Jean-Philippe Nadeau on what to consider in choosing between punch press and laser

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Choosing between a turret punch press and a laser cutting machine is a critical decision that will significantly impact the efficiency, precision, and overall success of your metal fabrication operation. Both technologies have their pros and cons, but which is the best fit for your operation? To help you reach a more informed decision, we reached out to Jean-Philippe Nadeau, blanking product manager with Amada. Included below is his expert advice.

SHOP: In making the decision between laser cutting and punch pressing what are the most important factors to take into consideration?

NADEAU: The factors to take into consideration include:

  • The material thickness the customer needs to process is a crucial consideration. Punch presses have material thickness limitations due to constraints in clamping mechanisms and sheet dragging motions. Thick materials are heavy to move on the brush table, and the required punching force would pose a significant challenge.
  • The part geometry is an important factor. Punching is straightforward for simple geometries but when dealing with corner radius, large holes, or special shapes, laser cutting often proves more suitable.
  • Edge quality. There are a lot of customers who require laser edge quality. With punching, as the material gets thicker, you may notice more nibble marks on the edges, potentially requiring an additional deburring step.
  • The part requires forming. If you choose laser cutting for a product, do you require a secondary operation? This significantly affects your production, lead time, and overall part costs, especially when the part has to go through multiple pieces of equipment.

SHOP: What are the most important advantages of using punch press technology?

NADEAU: The punch press stands out for its forming capabilities, allowing the easy production of parts with extrusions, countersinks, louvers, and threads. This versatility minimizes the need for secondary operations, streamlining the workflow. Speed is another key advantage, with punch presses operating at an impressive hit rate, making them often faster than many lasers, particularly beneficial for extensive hole patterns in time-sensitive projects.

Financially, the capital investment and running costs for punch presses are notably lower than those for lasers. Modern fully electric punch presses consume less than half the electricity of lasers, resulting in cost savings and aligning with eco-friendly practices. Additionally, punch presses don’t require an assist gas, further contributing to their cost-effectiveness.

SHOP: What are the most important disadvantages of using punch press technology?

NADEAU: The main issue we face with punch presses is setting up the tools. Even with a high tooling capacity machine and efforts to minimize tool changes, some jobs may still require adjustments or special tools, adding setup time. Fortunately certain machines can now be equipped with automatic tool changers, which removes this step and further increases tooling capacity.

SHOP: What are the most important advantages of using laser cutting technology?

NADEAU: One standout feature of laser cutting is its incredible flexibility. It can effortlessly cut any part shape you design. Unlike in the past, where setting up the machine involved choosing lenses, adjusting focal points and aligning nozzles, newer machines handle all these tasks automatically. This simplifies the operator’s role to primarily loading and unloading, a process that can also be automated for efficiency.

Another notable advantage is its versatility with material thickness. Even an entry level laser can handle one-inch mild steel with ease. As you move up in laser power, the capability for nitrogen cutting increases, resulting in faster processing speeds and clean edges without oxidation. So, not only is laser cutting adaptable and user-friendly in setup, but it also accommodates various material thicknesses efficiently.

SHOP: What are the most important disadvantages of using laser cutting technology?

NADEAU: The assist gas is a necessary consumable, and its cost can add up. Nitrogen stands out as the most common choice for several reasons, including better edge quality, faster cutting speed, no oxidation, and reduced cleanup. However, the price of gas is beyond our control. In the event of a global crisis leading to a shortage or rise in gas prices, the necessity to purchase nitrogen remains for uninterrupted production. Today tailor-made nitrogen generating solutions are available which allow manufacturers to manage their costs effectively. This solution offers a proactive approach, allowing businesses to maintain control over their expenses even in fluctuating market conditions.

SHOP: How does Amada help its customers make a more informed decision?

NADEAU: At Amada, our team is composed of several specialists with years of expertise in sheet metal manufacturing. We visit customer facilities, thoroughly analyze their parts, production processes, floor layouts, and take into account their budgets. We provide tailored recommendations for machine selection. Each customer is unique, and we approach their needs on a case-by-case basis to ensure the best solution for their specific requirements.

SHOP: When is a combination machine the best option?

NADEAU: Amada foresaw the changing needs of customers and introduced combination machines years ago. Many companies need forming capability and are dealing with intricate shapes. The combination machine provides a solution for this. Unlike regular punching, where specific shapes require special tools, the combination machine simplifies the process. It allows you to handle standard geometries and form with the punch and effortlessly switch to laser cutting for the remaining profiles. This not only streamlines operations but also reduces setup time. With standard tools always available in the turret, the laser efficiently manages unique shapes, ensuring a smooth and effective production workflow.

SHOP: Are combination machines then the way most shops will go in the future?

NADEAU:  We will continue offering all three types of machines, each suitable for a specific application. In the case of a combination machine, there are limitations on thickness and sheet movement speed. This machine will continue to use a lower-power laser, as a high-power engine is unnecessary due to the axis unable to match the processing speed efficiently.

Punch presses machines retain their relevance and are expected to remain so for a long time. Recently, we’ve seen an increased interest. Many older punch presses have been in operation for over 25 years and are due for replacement. Companies are opting to replace them with new electric turret punch presses.

When it comes to laser technology, we’re dedicated to offering advanced laser cutting solutions. Laser machines offer a wide range of cutting capabilities, making them ideal for various applications. Their versatility enables intricate designs and efficient processing, further expanding the scope of manufacturing possibilities. As technology evolves, we strive to integrate the latest laser innovations into our lineup, ensuring we continue to meet the evolving needs of our customers.

Jean-Philippe Nadeau is the blanking product manager with Amada.

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