Laser Cutting Part 1

Have you ever wondered how a beam of light can cut through steel?

It may seem like the stuff of science fiction, but lasers are in fact concentrated beams of light capable of slicing through metal, steel, and plastic with ease. While this may conjure images of the James Bond movie Goldfinger, where the villain uses a laser to cut through metal and threatens to continue until the it slices through 007, in the real-world laser technology serves far more practical and, for the most part, peaceful purposes. Except for military applications, lasers are used in everyday peaceful technology, from scanning bar codes at the grocery store to playing CDs and DVDs to industrial production.

This causes many people to wonder: What exactly are lasers?

What Is a Laser?

The word laser is an acronym for “Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation.” While that may sound a bit complicated, understanding what lasers are is fairly straightforward.
Lasers are a technology that creates exceptionally powerful beams of light.

It may seem strange that light, a harmless and helpful force in the workday world on Earth, could become a dangerous force, but just imagine what happens if a spaceship gets too close to the rays of the sun?

How powerful are lasers?

That depends on the type of laser. For everyday applications, such as laser printers, the light beams are obviously nothing on the order of Goldfinger’s secret agent splitting laser.
For industrial applications that cut metal and steel, lasers harness far more power than a laser printer.

The world’s most powerful laser is located at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. This behemoth, used for nuclear research, is so monstrous it must be housed in a ten-story building with a footprint the size of three football fields. It uses 192 laser beams to generate up to 500 trillion watts of power, which generates temperatures up to 100 million degrees.

That’s a far cry from the power generated by a DVD player or laser printer or even the industrial lasers used to cut steel. Despite the differences in magnitude, all lasers are created using the same principals.

How Laser Light Differs from Regular Light

Lasers are fundamentally different from the ordinary light we are used to, such as that of a flashlight or candle.

Light is created when energy is released from an atom. The atom, if you recall high school science, consists of a nucleus and electrons. Electrons usually stay in a “grounded” state, which is close to the nucleus. When energy acts upon the atom, the electrons become “excited” and move further from the nucleus. To return to their normal grounded state, they must release the energy, which they do in the form of a photon. Photons are packets of energy that make light.

When photons come together to make normal light, they all exist on different wavelengths. Some of the wavelengths are long, some short, so that the peaks and troughs of each wave lands on a different color spectrum.

Because the wavelengths are on various spectrums, regular light does not appear as one color, such as red. Rather, multiple colors fuse together, resulting in the white light we are used to, such as comes from a flashlight or a candle.

On the other hand, a laser unifies the wavelengths of light, so that all waves reach their peaks and troughs at the same time. Because of this unification, lasers become a single color, such as red or green.

Lasers achieve this by using a power source to stimulate the atoms in the laser’s medium. A medium, for example, could be a ruby crystal if we want to create a red laser beam.

The medium is continually stimulated so that the electrons in its atoms remain in an excited state. A photon is then shot through the atoms at the desired wavelength.

The result is each atom emits both the photon that it was shot with and the one needed for the electron to return to its grounded state. Light is amplified and remains at the same wavelength, resulting in the far more powerful light of a single color.

Lasers are possible because of our understanding of nuclear physics. Atoms are a natural occurring phenomenon, and by knowing how to stimulate them to create photons and unify the wavelengths of light, we are able to create lasers. With advances in technology, lasers have grown more powerful and their uses increased. Because of these advances, we benefit from laser technology that can do everything from cut steel to play our favorite movies and music.

Prototech Laser is a national leader of full-service metal fabrication and laser cutting in Michigan, the Midwest, and Beyond. Our manufacturing processes provide state of the art laser cutting, metal forming, machining, welding & assembly since 1990. Questions regarding laser cutting and metal fabrication services? Call today and speak to one of our laser cutting industry experts in Michigan.