How are metals cut? Guide to available systems

Are you thinking of buying a metal cutting system for your company? Before investing in a metal cutting machine, it is important to know all the options available as well as their advantages or disadvantages. In addition to more traditional techniques, such as shearing, wire EDM and plasma cutting, the introduction of new technologies such as fiber laser cutting make the choice more difficult. Here is a guide to orient yourself among the cutting systems and understand the ideal one for your production.

What to consider before buying a metal cutting system

One of the most common mistakes in buying a new machine for the company is to rely on the immediate convenience of the purchase instead of the cost in the long run. It is assumed that a good cutting system guarantees a long service life, so it is essential to evaluate its efficiency and economic impact on the company. Traditional metal cutting systems generally have a lower price but very high consumption and expenses related to labour costs and long production times. So let’s look at the characteristics of each system in detail:

Metal cutting with shearing

Shearing is the most traditional metal cutting system, based on shear machines that use a cold cutting technique.  Shearing systems are divided into:

  1. Circular blade shears, which cut the sheet longitudinally
  2. Guillotine shears, with a fixed blade under the sheet metal and a mobile one, moved by pistons powered by a hydraulic system. 

The maximum cutting thickness of the shearing is 20-30mm. Despite being a relatively cheap cutting system to buy, it does have some disadvantages:

  • It requires tools subject to mechanical wear 
  • It can only perform very simple processes
  • It requires skilled labour
  • It has high maintenance costs

Sheet metal cutting with wire EDM

Wire EDM (Electrical Discharge Machining) is a metal shaping system that erodes metal through electrical discharges. A wire conductor is used as an electrode while the metal component to be cut is immersed in a tank of dielectric fluid. Among the advantages of EDM are the high precision and flexibility of processing, the absence of waste and the possibility of working on small metal parts. However, wire EDM has some disadvantages:

  • Long processing times that increase costs
  • The workpiece is likely to rust if it stays too long in the water
  • It requires highly skilled labour
  • It leads to heavy electrode wear
  • It only cuts conductive materials

Plasma metal cutting

Plasma metal cutting is a thermal cutting technique that has been used since the 50s.  In this system, a gas expelled at high speed through a nozzle establishes an electric arc between an electrode and the metal to be cut. The gas turns into plasma and allows the metal to be cut at very high speed. Plasma cutting is still a very common cutting technique in an updated version, but it still has some limitations:

  • High power consumption
  • Dust pollution requiring the use of a filter
  • It leaves a chamfer of about 4-6 degrees, so it is not suitable for high precision machining
  • It only cuts conductive materials

WaterJet metal cutting

Waterjet metal cutting is a newer cold cutting technique that uses ultra-high-pressure water to cut metals up to 40mm thick. It has the advantage of not damaging the material and not subjecting it to mechanical stress. Among the disadvantages:

  • High noise level
  • Nozzle that clogs easily
  • Not suitable for complex 3D machining
  • Pumps and cutting heads subject to wear
  • It requires sludge disposal

Laser metal cutting

The use of laser metal cutting is increasingly widespread thanks to the many advantages of this technology. Laser cutting systems use the energy of the laser beam to achieve clean edges and prevent material damage due to tool contact. Unlike plasma cutting, the laser is ideal for high-precision machining thanks to its impeccable cutting quality. It also allows processing in a short time, with low energy consumption and absence of waste.

Laser cutting systems can use fiber laser or CO2 laser technologies. In the past, the CO2 laser was mainly used to process sheet metal with thicknesses greater than 4-5mm. In fact, the fiber optic laser initially posed some limits including:

  • Cutting only on low thicknesses
  • Low cutting power

Today, however, the fiber laser has evolved allowing a much greater efficiency when compared to the CO2 laser and allows cutting even on greater thicknesses. In addition, the fiber optic laser has an extremely short wavelength that offers:

  • High concentration and cutting power
  • Very high precision
  • Machining on multiple types of metal such as brass, copper and titanium; therefore on both conductive and non-conductive metals.
  • Reduced processing times and lower operating costs

Advantages of Cutlite Penta metal cutting systems

Cutlite Penta designs, manufactures and distributes high-precision fiber laser metal cutting systems. Each Cutlite Penta machine is the result of proprietary projects and technology and offers countless production advantages including:

  • Cutting power up to 30kW, with cuts on thicknesses up to 50mm
  • EVO3 cutting head to support high power
  • Higher cutting quality
  • Best performance on the market
  • Possibility of customised configurations
  • Linear motor systems

Discover our laser systems on the website or contact us for further information.


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