The Definitive Guide to Laser Cutting Manufacturing and How it Works

The Definitive Guide to Laser Cutting Manufacturing and How it Works

Laser cutting has made several advancements in the industry to make its widespread use acceptable. The most noticeable benefits are its versatility for multiple applications, regardless of project size. Both big and small projects gain a massive boost with the use of laser cutting. Cost of the machinery remains low if you factor in how one piece of hardware can handle several different processes. The key is knowing which type of laser cutting process will benefit your company the most. With leaders in the industry like Laser Light Technologies, that decision has become much easier to make.

The Process Of Laser Cutting

Laser cutting is a thermal based process that is completely non-contact when used with compatible materials. That includes non-metal and metal applications that need precise measurements and cuts. Laser machines rely heavily on configuration settings to ensure a fast and smooth cut. There are also several other factors that lead to a successful cut, and they are all described below. Although the initial setup process seems like a lot, the speediness of completing the job depends on experience and a willingness to adapt to project changes. In a way, laser cutting is no different than similar mechanical processes that rely on an experienced setup. Once the initial setup is done, it is smooth cutting from start to finish.

The Difference Between Laser And Mechanical Cutting

With that said, there are major differences between laser and mechanical cutting. Instead of relying on power-driven equipment and tools, laser cutting is an all in one solution for projects. Waterjet cutting can boast the same benefits of laser cutting but is not practical for most businesses. The three main parts of a laser cutting machine is a resonator assembly, laser cutting head and mirrors. The beam of a laser cutter goes through several stages in order to deliver a smooth, precise cut. This is why the correct type of laser cutting machine and configuration are vital to project success. There is no one size fits all laser product, so the experience is required to make the correct decision.

More Information About The Beam Process

There are four major stages to the laser cutting process, each with its own predefined set of rules. Beam generation uses spontaneous and stimulated emissions to create the perfect beam of light. Mirrors direct it all into a single focused beam so everything is precise. Beam focusing uses a specialized lens to concentrate the beam to as small a spot as possible. As an additional benefit, it also increases the intensity of the beam. Localized heating and melting describes the type of cut, and can be categorized as fusion, chemical degradation, evaporation, scribing and oxidization. Finally, beam movement is responsible for producing a full, clean cut. This is done by adjustments to the reflective mirrors, workpiece or laser cutting head. Once again, a solid configuration is the base of all good laser cutting machines. Current systems in place fall into the category of flying optics, moving material or hybrid. Each has its own particular uses that may be beneficial for a particular project.

How Beam Focusing Works

Concentrating a laser beam to the center of the nozzle makes it stronger and able to provide precise cuts. With higher intensity, a single pass through will have more of an impact. A smaller beam is also easier for the machine to control, so is a much-preferred solution to prevent errors. Think of it as the difference between using a butter knife or a scalpel for surgery. Although they both can accomplish the same thing, only one is suitable for tasks of precision. A laser machine relies on controlled intensity to make cuts that would require major effort using alternative machines.

Types Of Cutting

The different types of cutting were mentioned, but deserve more detail. Fusion cutting is usually the go-to for Nd: YAG and CO2 laser cutting machines. This is used when cutting thermoplastics and metals. Chemical degradation is also CO2 and works great when used with wood or other organic materials. Evaporation cutting is CO2 with a specialty for acrylic and polyacetal. The general difference here is that the melting and boiling points are different, so the edge comes out glossy. Scribing can be handled by CO2 and Nd:YAG and is critical when you need penetrating grooves or perforations. This can be seen with silicon chips, where the precision and really vital to the success of the finish. Oxidization cutting uses CO2 and Nd:YAG laser cutting machines for mild and carbon steel. This is a reactive process, with the extra heat actually aiding with cutting.

Movement Is Critical

To produce a full cut, movement of the mirror, workpiece or laser cutting head is necessary. There are three different ways to classify movement, and as described before, they are material, flying optics and hybrid. Hybrid is self-explanatory and combines the best features of the two other types of movement. Moving material machines have a stationary laser beam that makes adjustments with a movable cutting surface. The benefit to this movement is that less optical components are needed for a full, precise cut. The workpiece can be moved when necessary instead of being relied upon for the full job. Flying optics use a movable laser cutting head, but this time around the workpiece is stationary. Using x and y axes, the perfect cut can be achieved in a much faster way. This is the preferred method when dealing with materials that don’t have a consistent thickness or size. Adjustments are made in real time with special consideration given to the beam length.

What Types Of Laser Cutting Machines Exist?

CO2 and Nd:YAG have been discussed, but they are only two of several types of laser cutting machines. There are many different types, all with their own set of strengths and weaknesses. All laser cutting machines will be categorized as liquid, solid state or gas. It’s the state of the active laser medium that determines the type of laser cutting machine. When describing laser mediums, CO2 and Nd:YAG covers a lot. But the correct way to categorize laser types is CO2 and solid-state lasers. This describes most of the laser cutting machines, or at least the two types that are the most used.

Choosing The Best Laser Cutting Machine

A few of the things you have to look at with a laser cutting machine are the configuration, laser power, beam mode, and focal spot. The configuration has already been discussed, so that leaves three things to consider when choosing a machine. The more laser power you have, the faster the cut will finish. A more powerful laser also means a higher price when purchasing. Beam mode is about the distribution of the laser’s intensity, something that can be the determining factor in a good or great cut. The focal spot is where the beam is directed after the lens or mirror is adjusted. Several configurations and adjustments affect this, and it is typically a major part of the cutting process.

The Different Variety Of Materials

Glass, paper, wood, gemstone, metal plastic and other materials can be handled by a laser cutting machine. Every laser cutting machine will have a material that it excels with several factors driving home the decision of which works best for which project. The properties of the material have to be taken into consideration, especially when deciding between reactive and non-reactive materials. If the material has a high degree of reflectivity, then more adjustments need to be made on the type of laser cutting machine to use. When the material is too reflective, there is a chance it can damage the machine during the cutting process. Higher reflectivity also slows down the entire process, so choosing the right machine is vital to get the project done correctly.

Why Should You Choose Laser Cutting?

Laser cutting machines provide incredible accuracy when handling materials of all types. You can also ensure that the edges will be quality, up to specification and uniform across several types of materials. With the right setup, you’ll also be looking at less material waste and contamination. For some companies, that alone is worth looking into laser cutting. Proper maintenance leads to the machines living a long and productive life, with repair costs not costing an arm and a leg. Something that often gets missed with laser cutting machines is how safe they are to operators. Experienced users can accomplish a lot and meet deadlines without endangering themselves in the process. Laser cutting machines are designed to have high worker and company value when used correctly.

Wrap Up

Take advantage of laser cutting by educating yourself about the pros and cons. The technology will only continue to improve, and may very well become the standard for most modern projects. By opting in early, companies can achieve their vision in a timely fashion. There are a lot of details to go over, but the bottom line is that laser cutting just works better.