Everything you need to know about laser cutting.
What is laser cutting? How does laser cutting work? What can be laser cut? What are the the pro’s and con’s of laser cutting? If you’ve got any of these questions, we’ve got your answers.
Our laser cutters are running all the time, sometimes even 24 hours a day because almost all of the products we manufacture here at Black Lab Design will begin their transformation from sheet metal in one of our laser cutting machines. So, yeah, we’ve become experts in laser cutting over the years so look no further for the answers you seek.
What is Laser Cutting?
Simply put, Laser cutting is a technology that uses a laser to create a cut edge in a piece of material. The term laser is adapted from the words Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. Being able to heat, melt and even vaporise material, lasers are seen as the ideal medium for channelling intense but controllable energy.
Laser cutting works by directing the output of a high-power laser most commonly through optics. The laser optics and Computer Numerical Control (CNC) are used to direct the laser beam to the material. Initially, the beam pierces the material with a hole at the edge, and then the beam is continued along from there, melting away the material it runs over.
The are various types and methods of laser cutting; types vary between CO2 lasers, solid-state, and Fibre Lasers. The methods range from vaporisation cutting, to melt and blow, as well as thermal stress cutting and reactive cutting. Being primarily a sheet metal fabrication manufacturer, we require the high-output, energy efficiency and speed provided through the use of fibre lasers at Black Lab Design.
Why do we use Laser Cutting?
Though there are a number of ways that sheet metal can be shaped and cut, few are as precise, reliable and cost effective as laser cutting.
Inherently a ‘plug-and-play’ process, modern laser cutters are programmed with relative ease, simply mapping the parts onto a sheet on a computer, loading the sheet of material into the machine and letting it go to work.
Another major benefit of using laser cutting results from the fact the beam does not touch the material surface, this minimises damage to the work surface, meaning we get high-quality cuts that don’t need any post-cut treatment – boosting project efficiency.
Fiber vs CO2 Laser Cutting
In sheet metal fabricating, manufacturers will typically use either CO2 lasers or Fiber Lasers – there are other machining options such as Water Jet cutting but for the purpose of this article, we’ll focus on the comparison between fiber and CO2 lasers.
The primary advantages of cutting flat sheet metal with Fiber laser technology are derived from its Fiber-to-Fiber, compact solid state design configuration that is maintenance free and provides a lower cost of operation than can be achieved with comparable CO2 lasers.
The higher absorption of the Fiber wavelength and the higher power density created by the focused beam combine to achieve up to a five time increase in cutting speeds in materials that are less than 1/2 inch thick.
Fiber can cut copper, brass and aluminium much better and more safely than CO2 because the beam is more readily absorbed and not reflected. Fiber laser operating costs are typically half of what a CO2 system can offer due to the lower electrical consumption and high electrical efficiency of Fiber lasers.
CO2 lasers, on the other hand, are more considered more effective for thicker materials and generally produce better edge quality on plate stainless and aluminum workpieces. CO2 Lasers offer the flexibility across a range of laser applications including non-metals. The differences though, are not substantial as the rate of innovation around the newer fiber laser technology is rapid.
What Materials Can Be Cut With Laser Cutting Machines?
Fiber lasers are more than capable of cutting various sheet metal materials such as carbon steel, stainless steel, copper, brass, aluminum and titanium. Fiber lasers excel in cutting reflective materials which CO2 lasers struggle with.
In regards to material thickness, this varies depending on the type of material and the machine’s power. Almost all fiber laser machines can cut a sheet of metal that is up to 13mm thick. Higher powered fiber laser machines with 10kW of power can cut mild steel up to 2mm and stainless steel and aluminium up to 30mm.