During this century, manufacturers around the world have adopted lasers as cutting tools on a widespread basis. Laser cutting as a machine process offers important advantages for metal parts designers and producers.
Laser Cutting Process
During laser cutting, an operator employs a high powered beam of energy to slice through material, usually in a carefully computer-controlled setting. The beam emitted from a laser typically outlines desired shapes precisely and cuts them away with burning, melting or vaporising force.
Most laser cutting machines rely upon a combination of a laser and optics to help change electrical energy into a concentrated light beam. In modern industrial environments, a computer typically controls the movements of a laser cutting machine with precision. The laser beam won't change or wear away during this process, unlike the sharpened cutting blade of a manual tool.
The word "laser" actually represents an acronym. The letters signify "Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation".
A wide variety of different types of lasers exist today. The methods they employ to cut into material vary: cold cutting, scribing, vaporization, burning, melting, thermal stress cracking and combinations of these processes may occur. However, the three most important lasers currently used in industry include:
Carbon dioxide lasers
Also called "CO2" lasers, these machines rely upon invisible light in the infra-red range of the light spectrum. The laser machine directs both this light and a highly compressed gas, usually Nitrogen or Oxygen, through a single concentrated pinpointed nozzle. This process can generate intense focused heat. For instance, these lasers sometimes melt stainless steel or aluminum
A type of laser combining a pulsed laser with a jet of water. The liquid washes debris away from the cut surface of the workpiece.
This new style of laser amplifies a laser beam, passing it through glass fiber to generate a very fine cutting edge. These lasers have grown in popularity as metal cutting tools in recent years.
CNC Laser Cutters
A CNC laser cutter combines the accuracy of computer-controlled movements with the power of laser-cutting tools. The acronym "CNC" stands for "computer number control".
CNC machines use lasers together with 3-dimensional grids to complete precision laser cutting assignments. Recent generations of these machines can create a virtual reality 2-D model of a cut work piece to permit a manufacturer to examine the anticipated appearance of a laser-cut metal part in advance.
Modern Laser Cutting Systems
Manufacturers developed a variety of laser cutting systems. Three of the most popular types vary based upon the configuration of the cutting head:
Moving Material Systems: Materials move beneath a fixed laser cutting head.
Flying Optic Systems: Materials remain affixed to a stationary cutting surface and a moving laser operates overhead horizontally along an X-Y grid. This type of machine cuts workpieces rapidly.
Hybrid Systems: A configuration combining aspects of both of the other systems. A moving surface carries a metal part underneath a laser cutter which slides along a single horizontal direction.
Numerous applications exist for laser cutting. Industrial manufacturers rely upon this machine process widely. However, recently many small enterprises, educational institutions and even private hobbyists have embraced the use of cutting lasers to cut shapes from sheet metal, pipe and other forms.
Advantages of Laser Cutting
As a machine process, laser cutting offers distinct advantages. These benefits may justify a substantial initial capital investment. CNC laser cutting performs an especially significant role in industrial settings. At least seven important considerations contribute to the popularity of lasers in fabrication settings:
- A laser cutting machine promotes a high level of efficiency. This tool may prove helpful when companies seek to apply Lean Management principles to reduce waste and improve production volumes. A laser cutter may help some firms conserve raw materials because it cuts with precision, for instance. The use of manual cutting tools might result in a higher number of wasted parts, since occasional errors occur during human operation. By contrast, a laser cutter can duplicate the cutting process accurately every time.
- Laser cutting possesses broad utility. Manufacturers employ this machine process to cut through a variety of different materials, including: certain metals, wood, plaster, ceramics and rubber.
- Since computer programs control the operation of CNC laser machines, manufacturers enjoy some planning advantages. Firms will know exactly how many parts will result from a particular run. Managers don't need to expend time calculating the best way to extract a maximum number of parts from a metal sheet, for example. Computers will perform this task accurately.
- The use of lasers may enable a manufacturer to keep parts positioned with greater consistency. Since the laser cutter will duplicate its work uniformly, completely identical parts result.
- Laser cutting typically occurs during much briefer intervals of time. Manual cutting usually takes longer and results in more inaccuracies.
- Laser cutting often greatly assists the production process by generating complex or detailed shapes during a single cutting session. By contrast, other cutting tools often require multiple steps to generate a complex shape.
- One big advantage associated with laser cutting involves the absence of any cross-contamination between the part and the cutting tool. The laser emits a beam capable of causing the cutting of material at a distance. This aspect of laser cutting enhances the safety of this machine process in some manufacturing environments. While incorrectly deployed lasers do pose hazards for workers, plants which adhere to appropriate safety standards may experience low rates of injury.