This is a common question on a lot of parts. Typically in the life cycle of a part constructed from flat steel (sheet, plate, etc), the part will be prototyped using either a CNC cutting system (laser, plasma, etc) and once the item is of satisfactory shape, it will go to production.
When parts are introduced to be made in small quantities (1-500), more often than not the CNC cutting is superior for a few reasons, mostly due to time to market (turnaround) and price. Where it starts to become more efficient is when the volume starts to increase.
Why use stamped parts?
Stamping will typically require new tooling, at a cost of possibly a few hundred to thousands of dollars, depending on the size and complexity of the part. However, there are some great advantages when quantities start to increase.
Lets say that XYZ Manufacturing has a requirement for 5,000 units of a new product which would require a 3″ x 5″ rectangle made from 12 gauge (0.105″) material.
They call a company that does laser cutting and receive a quote for $1.50 each.
5,000 x $1.50 = $7,500
They send the same part to have it stamped and will require a tool at a cost of $4,000, but the per unit cost of the part is $0.40 per part. So the total cost of the 5,000 parts would be:
5,000 x $0.40 = $2,000 + $4,000 (tooling) = $6,000
$7,500 – $6,000 = $1,500 savings, or $0.30 per part!
You can also figure the break even of this algebraically
$1.50x = $0.40x+$4,000
x = 3,636 parts
In this example anything less than 3,636 parts would make sense to have done by laser, and anything more should be done by stamping. Once the tooling is complete, the lifetime of that tool could possibly produce millions of parts, and substantial savings.