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How a Laser Cutter Works

June 2, 2016MainPathNewsComments Off on How a Laser Cutter Works

laser cutter

Laser cutting machines allow fabricators to develop high-quality parts accurately — without need for much finishing work. As the laser cuts, excess material burns, melts, or vaporizes away, while a high-pressure gaseous jet removes debris for a precise and clean finished cut.

Laser cutters offer distinct advantages to alternative mechanical cutters; because the laser never makes physical contact with the component material, there is often no wear, less chance of heat damage, and fewer opportunities for contamination of the component. What’s more, most laser cutters can cut with greater precision than mechanical machines.

Following, we will consider the technology behind laser cutters, and how they are able to produce accurate results on a wide range of materials and parts.

Step 1: Choosing the Material

In laser cutting machines, the actual laser is at the back of the system, emitting an almost parallel beam of light in one specific wavelength. Manufacturing experts and trained professionals can control the powerful, yet precise beam with computerized access to mirrors and lenses. When focused on a material, the laser reacts with the localized space, causing it to burn, vaporize, or melt.

Fabricators place the chosen material on a substrate table, which moves up or down relative to the focus point in order to achieve the right results for the project at hand. Experts can set the cutting line according to the strength of the material in question, the desired results, and the depth of the cut. This means that the laser can either cut through the material completely, or etch a design into the surface.

For engraving purposes, some available materials include:

  • Ceramics
  • Marble
  • Stone
  • Mylar
  • Pressboard
  • Glass
  • Metal

For cutting purposes, laser machines can work on:

  • Metal
  • Acrylic
  • Wood
  • Cloth
  • Leather
  • Melamine
  • Veneer
  • Rubber

Step 2: Inputting a Design

Most laser cutters cut complex parts for machines, or engrave designs on artistic architectural pieces. However, with the right expertise, they can be ideal for a variety of other tasks. Many of these systems are controlled through computer programs, or “CNC code”, which adjusts the Y and X axes of the machine according to the blueprints or vector files uploaded. These computer programs not only map out the correct cutting pattern for the machine, but also provide functions for an engineer to adjust the power of the laser beam to optimize the depth and width of the cut, as well as the cutting speed.

The computerized control panel provides a secure way for manufacturers to manage cut quality, without having to manually adjust mirrors or risk coming into contact with the laser.

Step 3: Focusing the Laser

Finally, once the design has been set, and the material situated on the substrate table, mirrors, and a powerful lens concentrate the laser beam. The very thin light stream —powered by carbon dioxide in most modern industrial lasers — emits radiation at a wavelength of 10.6 micrometers – invisible to the naked eye. The curved mirrors within the machine and the special lens focus the laser beam into the cutting head, concentrating the light source so that the energy density and focus spot are consistent and applicable to the chosen project.

Because the heat generated by the focused beam is so high, the material will melt, burn, or vaporize within the localized area. At the same time, gas flows along the cut line to clear waste materials from the area. Oxygen is for mild steel cutting, whereas nitrogen is for stainless steel, and combination gasses are used in aluminum cutting.

Effective Laser Cutting

Just like with any other fabricating or manufacturing machine, the benefits and limitations of laser cutters must be carefully considered before the start of any project. For example, while they’re exceptional for cutting hard materials like steel, laser cutters don’t function well on reflective metals, because the light reflects and heat dissipates, prompting the need for a much more powerful beam.

There are many other forms of cutting available, such as waterjet cutting, which may be more appropriate in certain circumstances. However, when used for the right projects, laser cutting machines can provide accurate and precise results for high-quality components and parts.  

Have you used laser cutting machines before for your business projects? How did you find the experience, and the results? Let us know in the comments below!


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