Lasers have become a mainstay in modern manufacturing and are capable of precisely cutting parts in a wide array of materials such as ferrous and non-ferrous metals, plastic, wood, gems, glass, and even paper. Let’s take a deeper look at how lasers work and what applications they excel at.
Laser cutting is a non-contact fabrication process that is done thermally on metal and non-metal components.
Setup and Process
There are several factors to consider to effectively run a laser. The laser needs to be configured to specific settings depending on material types and thicknesses. Nozzle types, as well as distance from the material are crucial for a clean penetration and cut, along with other factors such as the type of gas used, cutting speed, nozzle opening size and beam alignment, corner cutting speeds, and other settings that relate to the materials and material thicknesses.
With materials such as steel, probably the most common material cut on a laser, the quality of the steel itself can also impact the quality of the cuts, with lower quality steel having the potential to create an “unclean” cut, thus causing issues such as part slag build-up immediately after the laser passes.
Main Laser Types
There are a few different types of lasers that are most common in industrial settings. Let’s look at the two most common laser types.
Co2 Laser cutters
Co2 lasers are the most common type of laser used in industries like metal fabrication. Co2 is produced with a mixture of other gases like Helium and Nitrogen and has the capabilities to pierce through thicker materials compared to other laser types like fiber lasers while using the same amount of power. The finishing cuts on materials like steel that is thicker than a half inch is also smoother and cleaner.
Co2 lasers are typically much cheaper and efficient per watt to run compared to other types of laser technology and the reason they are prevalent in many fabrication shops today. Co2 lasers are great for metals, wood, some plastics, acrylic, and even leather.
Fiber Laser cutters
In recent years fiber laser cutting has become increasingly popular in the manufacturing and metal fabrication industry. The cutting is done using fiber optics. The laser originates from a “seed laser” before being amplified by a special type of fiber optic process. Fiber lasers can also be referred to as “solid-state lasers”. Compared to Gas lasers, fiber lasers have fewer moving parts, and the energy efficiency of fiber lasers is typically better than with gas lasers.
On top of the added benefits of efficiency, fiber lasers are typically used to cut reflective materials without the fear of back reflections interfering with the beam’s focus, whereas gas lasers using precise glass lenses would be negatively affected. Fiber lasers are great for materials such as plastics and glass.
Benefits of Laser Cutting vs. CNC Milling
There are a few benefits to using lasers over CNC milling and the biggest benefit is time. Lasers have a high production speed when it comes to producing parts, meaning a quicker turnaround time for customers. Lasers are also very precise and accurate when it comes to producing parts, even if a part has to be precision built to within a tolerance of 1/1000th of an inch. For example, the ultra-fast production of a part being cut on a laser and then finished via CNC milling is typically a better option than having entire parts CNC milled from scratch.
There is also a much lower risk of contamination with materials with a non-contact process such as laser cutting. This can be incredibly important if you’re making parts out of stainless steel for the food industry for example, where contamination with mild steel can cause issues with rust.
Lasers have become one of the most important pieces of manufacturing equipment in present times. The ability to work with a wide array of materials, the precision and clean cutting they are capable of, fast production speeds and overall efficiency make it a clear winner in many manufacturing applications. This game changing technology in many ways has eliminated the need to go through lengthy and time-consuming production processes requiring many different types of equipment and excess unnecessary labor hours.
Prototech Laser is a national leader of full service metal fabrication. Our full service offerings begin with two decades of laser and program management expertise. Our manufacturing processes provide state of the art laser, plasma cutting, forming, machining and welding with a staff of highly skilled, customer oriented, laser cutting experts. Call today for a Free Estimate.