Reducing The Cost of Laser Cutting

MDF laser cut parts

How to Reduce Costs

This article explains how to reduce costs and cut times using a few simple tricks. We use these techniques to bring our projects to Kickstarter in an affordable way. The idea behind design optimization is fairly simple.

  • Reduce the amount of wasted material
  • Reduce the number of edges or cuts
  • Use cost-effective materials 

Prototyping? Use Cardboard.

Early on, we learned that cardboard is a fantastic material for prototyping. It’s inexpensive, easy to work with and even durable enough for mechanical devices like the Bandito rubber band gun. If you are starting a new design, consider making your first few cuts on cardboard to save some money. Once the design becomes more refined, start experimenting to find the right material.

Getting Ready For Production?

When it is time to produce a large number of units, it's time to start thinking about two important things: 

Design Density: How many designs can fit on a single sheet of material. The higher the density, the less material is wasted.

Shared Edges: When two parts can share a cut, we reduce the overall cutting time. Fewer cuts will result in faster production.

Fitting More Designs On A Single Sheet

On our second Kickstarter, we altered the design to fit more units onto a single sheet of material. A few cosmetic changes allowed us to squeeze an additional two units per sheet. This lowered material costs significantly. A few minutes fiddling with the design layout to nest the parts can have a major impact on price. 

Example of efficient design packing

In the example above, by simply rotating some of the stars, we yield 7 per sheet instead of 5. 

Sharing Edges To Reduce Total Length Of Cuts

Take a look at the illustration below where four individual 1” x 1” squares are being cut. The laser is going to have to travel a minimum of 16” to cut these squares. Looking at the right, you can see that a large 2” x 2” square with a horizontal and vertical cut also produces four 1” x 1” squares.

Example of sharing cut edges

While the result (cutting four squares) is the same in both examples, the difference is that the design on the right only requires the laser to travel 12” to make the cuts. That is a savings of approximately 33%! While this is an over-simplified example, we were able to find shared edges with our projects to reduce the total cut time.

Closing Thoughts

If you plan to sell your design or produce it at scale, it's never too early to start thinking about the per-unit cost. Keep the ideas presented in this article in mind. Often, some very small design changes can have a large impact on your costs.

Happy making!