During the manufacturing process for many different types of items, it becomes necessary to cut material into specific shapes or to cut designs into various types of material. Prior to the advent of more technologically advanced methods of cutting these materials, this process was labor intensive and required access to many different types of tools. In more recent years, however, precision laser cutting has enabled this task to be completed efficiently and without the use of lots of various tools.
What is laser cutting and what industries rely on this unique way of cutting materials? What are the benefits seen in laser cutting as opposed to other methods of performing the same tasks? The information below will answer these questions.
What is Laser Cutting?
To put it in the most simple terms possible, laser cutting is a technologically advanced method in which precision lasers are used to cut materials into various shapes or to create intricate designs in various materials.
In the past, this method was primarily used in the industrial manufacturing world, but it is now being taken up by other industries or even individuals who become interested in exploring it a creative artform or unique hobby. Used in this sense, the term laser is an acronym that stands for "light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation."
During the process of cutting with a laser, machinery is used to create and emit a high-powered laser beam, which is then directed at the material to be cut. A laser can be fine-tuned to create intricate cutting patterns, no matter how small or detailed they need to be, allowing for precision cutting to take place.
What are the Different Types of Laser Cutting?
In general, there are three basic types of laser cutting. These are described in a little more detail below.
- CO2 Laser
This is probably the most commonly used laser for the purpose of cutting. The CO2 laser is used for cutting, boring, and engraving. CO2 lasers can be fast axial flow, slow axial flow, slab, or transverse flow.
- ND Laser
The neodymium laser is used exclusively for boring or cases where high energy and low repetition are needed to get the job done.
- ND-YAG Lase
Neodymium yttrium-aluminum-garnet lasers can be used for welding or in cases where very high power for engraving or boring is needed.
CO2 lasers are often pumped by passing an electrical current through the gas mixture. Alternatively, they can also radio frequency energy to accomplish this task. CO2 lasers are useful for cutting through a variety of materials such as stainless steel, titanium, aluminum, wood, fabric, paper, and even wax. On the other hand, YAG lasers are most often used for cutting or scribing ceramics and various types of metal.
Methods of Laser Cutting
There are several different methods used to cut materials with lasers. Some of the most common cutting methods are described in more detail below.
Non-melting materials can be cut using the vaporization method. In this particular method, the laser beam heats the material being cut to the point of boiling and therefore generates a keyhole in the material. As the beam continues to aim at the area, the keyhole deepens, the material boils, and vapor begins to erode the material, allowing the desired shape to be cut with precision and ease.
Melt and Blow
This method uses high-pressure gas to blow melted material away from the area being cut. This drastically cuts down on the power required to accomplish the task at hand. The material is first heated to its melting point before a gas mixture is used to blow molten material away from the cut area. The melt and blow method is generally reserved for cutting metal materials.
Thermal Stress Cracking
In the thermal stress cracking method, a laser beam is focused on one area of the material, resulting in a build-up of heat and a subsequent heat fracture or crack on the surface of the material. This crack can then be guided into the desired pattern or shape by simply moving the beam along the desired path.
Generally reserved for cutting carbon steel, this method is similar to oxygen torch cutting. However, reactive cutting uses a laser beam as the ignition source. It is sometimes also referred to as flame cutting by professionals who perform laser cutting services.
The Benefits of Laser Cutting?
These types of cutting methods offer many benefits. For one thing, cutting with the use of lasers generally offers a much cleaner cut, with less room for human error in the cutting process. Cutting using the help of lasers is also less expensive overall and requires less reliance on a variety of other tools to get the same effect that a laser can produce.
Using lasers in the cutting process also tends to provide a greater degree of consistency with the finished product, which can be important in the mass production of certain materials or objects. There is generally lower costs to the manufacturer and less waste associated with cutting with lasers than with other methods of achieving these same cutting results.
The main downside, which is not problematic for most, is that cutting with the use of lasers does require the use of a coolant. Water is the most commonly used coolant because it is widely available and inexpensive. All in all, cutting with lasers is fast, efficient, easy to duplicate, and saves time and money in the long run.
When considering the type of material and design you need to produce, it is easy to see how laser cutting can be beneficial in many instances. Finding qualified professionals who perform detailed laser cutting services should be your next step in completing your task in the most efficient way possible.