Manufacturers have many options available when it comes to creating holes in sheet metal. The conventional turret punch press and laser machines both get the job done. Both provide different benefits.
Lasers first entered the manufacturing scene in the 1960s and over time their use has become more popular. Laser users say that the new technology provides smoother cuts, higher processing speeds resulting in minimal heat-affected zones, and contouring without tool change.
While the laser certainly has benefits, conventional punching still offers some advantages over laser cutting, which have made punching machines irreplaceable for many sheet metal fabricators.
Define Metal Fabrication Inc. is a precision custom metal fabricator located in Toronto. The company has provided fully customized precision metal fabrication services to customers throughout Canada and the U.S. using the conventional turret punch press since 2011.
The company provides a smooth process from CAD to final surface finish for steel, stainless steel, and aluminum from 24 ga. to ¼-in. plate. Its engineers are always ready to suggest design changes to improve a product or allow for fabrication at a lower cost.
“There is a need for both lasers and conventional turret punch presses in our industry,” said Michael Grieger, company owner and president. “Our operation relies on the punch press for many reasons, including its flexibility and low operating costs.”
Unlike a laser, a turret punch press isn’t restricted to cutting. A turret or rail press can complete formed features and profiles such as extrusions, beads, and louvres with high accuracy and speed.
“Along with its production flexibility, the turret allows for much more creativity,” said Grieger. “It forces us to think outside the box. And the turret’s added features give us the opportunity to do more in different ways.”
A smooth cut edge is an advantage typically associated with laser cutting; however, there are now punch press tools that eliminate marks between punches and provide an edge quality like that achieved with laser cutting.
“New technology is allowing our turret punch press to produce pieces with the look of a high-quality laser finish,” continued Grieger. “With these new tools the turret punch press delivers smoother edges. There are significantly fewer burrs.”
The cost of producing thin, thick, and simple shaped parts with a turret punch press can be less than using a laser. Laser setup time, which can include changes in tooling such as the torch tip as well as programming, can lead to downtime. A turret punch press equipped with an appropriate-sized turret, however, can house a large number of ready-to-use tools and eliminate the need for many tool changeovers, making the machine very efficient.
Generally, the initial investment in a turret punch press is lower than that for a laser cutting machine.
“When we started many years ago, we opted for a small turret because that was what we could afford at the time,” said Grieger. “As we have grown, we have purchased another press to accommodate expanding customer needs. We still rely on the punching process.
“In addition to the initial investment, costs for the laser gases, ventilation, and maintenance can be steep with some types of lasers. Those are costs that we don’t want to pass along to our customers. With our turret punch presses we can produce high-end products for our customers at a reduced price,” said Grieger.
Select the Right Machine
While conventional turret punch presses remain a mainstay for many fabricators, lasers continue to advance in areas where turret punch presses were previously lacking, for example, speed.
New hybrid press/laser machines provide manufacturers with the ability to use either laser or turret punch press functionality depending on the project and its requirements.
Combining the benefits from each process can be a huge advantage; however, the initial cost of a hybrid machine is usually steep. Through these hybrid machines, the strengths of each process may be leveraged while the weaknesses of each process are surpassed.
“There are jobs that are better suited for the laser, and there are jobs that are best completed by the conventional turret punch press,” said Grieger.
“It is important to assess each project individually to ensure customers are getting the highest-quality product at the right price. While it is older technology, the turret punch press continues to provide numerous benefits, proving that it is here to stay.”
John “J.J.” Johnson is the punching product manager at Wilson Tool International®, 651-286-6000, www.wilsontool.com.
Define Metal Fabrication Inc., 416-412-3497, www.definemetal.ca
This article originally appeared on canadianmetalworking.com
December 08, 2017