Laser Cutter vs CNC Router vs 3D Printer vs Injection Molding

We compare different techniques to manufacture our gears. We compare laser cutting, CNC routing, 3D printing, and also other mainstream methods. 

First the laser cutter - its a flexible machine that can easily cut materials up to a quarter inch thick or more depending on the laser power. But it is not suitable for some types of materials like vinyl based plastics. It can even etch into plastic and wood to create very interesting patterns.

The second method to look at is a CNC router. It's a computer-controlled router that that is fed the pattern we want. It can also do 3D shapes. There are many affordable ones on the market, and it can cut thick materials - thicker than what the laser cutter can do. Though it's more affordable, many of our patterns fed to the router turned out to be much slower to produce than expected.

Then there is 3D printing. In spite of all the great things that we hear about 3D printing, its a really slow process to print. We are hoping that newer technology - for example, what HP is introducing - can give us true low volume production capability.

We haven't even touched more mainstream methods like injection molding. Once we need more than a few thousand pieces, we intend to make a mold. The mold can cost between a few thousand to few ten thousand of dollars depending on the complexity. Then we will use that mold to injection mold our gears. 

For now we decided to go with the laser cutter. Its the fastest and most flexible method among the choices we discussed. We wanted to give you a glimpse into our thought process on why we chose laser cutting as our manufacturing process.