Is a punch/laser machine right for your operation?

Whether you work at a custom fabricator or OEM, your business grows and shrinks within the market it represents. Limited floor space is a common reason not to purchase new equipment. When floor space is available, you must decide the best piece of equipment to occupy it. To justify a new machine purchase, aside from determining the desired return on investment and profit margin, you must evaluate at a high level the machine requirements for processing, staging, and finishing.

When processes cross over multiple machines, punch/laser machines can in many cases maximize floor space, minimize work-in-process (WIP), eliminate the need for secondary processes, and increase overall production flexibility to fabricate a wide variety of parts. They can be a welcome addition to many fabricators with the right product mix.

First, however, let’s address some terminology. When machinery manufacturers talk about punch/laser combination machines, what exactly are they talking about? The word combination is defined as a joining or merging of different parts or qualities in which the elements are individually distinct and robust. In comparison, the word multifunction is defined as having or fulfilling several functions. So, considering what punch/lasers do and how they operate, are they combination machines or multifunction machines? Which name truly describes what the machine can do?

These machines have all the functionality of a turret punch press with the added value of a fiber laser. However, they comprise a turret base and a fiber laser addition, so are they combination machines? Remember the definition of combination—a joining or merging of different, individually distinct parts or qualities. If punch/lasers were true combination machines, they should have no limitations of either the turret or the laser—and this is not true.

The laser can cut only what the system can work-hold. In almost all cases, 0.25 in. is as thick as these machines can punch and laser-cut, which is why they come with 3- to 4-kW lasers. There is no need to put a high-powered laser on these machines because the laser is limited by the turret and the workholding of the sheet metal (see Figure 1).

In reality, punch/lasers are best described as a multifunction machine. Regardless of what you call them, though, these machines can help set many operations apart from the competition. That said, as with any technology investment, multifunction machines have their advantages and disadvantages. Considering all the pros and cons can help you make your available floor space as productive as it can be.

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