I have recently sent off parts to a local laser cutter. This post will be my thoughts and a small guide to make it easier for any other maker to also get some metal cut professionally. First and foremost having the parts already designed in CAD help me considerably. The reason for this is that some laser cutter places will take a pencil drawing of what you want however they will charge a premium to convert it into a CAD file. Having the file also allows me to make changes on the fly as I have the CAD program on my home computer.
Having the right file extension:
When you are happy with your files be sure to have the file type that they will need. You can simply call ahead and jot down the file type they prefer. In my case I went to the business in person with a thumb drive with the files yet I still did not have them saved in the correct file extension. They needed a AutoCAD .DXF file for each part. I then exported all my files into this extension. Unfortunately I was using FreeCAD and it did not save the mm extension to the file. To fix this I opened in Draftsight changing the units to mm and re-saving the file in mm. (this took me a bit to find this out)
This is the time it takes to cut and form your custom pieces. It was odd to me in a world that you can just go up to a shelf and take one home. Though when your talking about a custom made piece of metal it can take any where between 1-4 weeks to create. The typical lead time for laser cutting at the company I went to was approximately 1-2 weeks. To my surprise they did it in about a week. So I was very happy with the results. If they are friendly enough they will even take you on a tour of the facility and show off the machines as they are running. There was a engineer there that showed me all the machines and what they were currently working on.
Below is a few pictures of the robot base I recently had made though Quality Stainless Products based in St Louis MO.