Laser cutting is a fabrication process which employs a focused, high-powered laser beam to cut material into custom shapes and designs. This process is suitable for a wide range of materials, including metal, plastic, wood and glass. Article by Ahmad Alshidiq.
Manufacturers have sought to make the manufacturing process easier and more efficient. By verifying that a design can actually be manufactured early on in the development process, manufacturers can save time and money, and speed up time to market for new products while also ensure optimum productivity.
The development of technologies such as laser cutting have made manufacturing complex products easier. Laser cutters have simplified the process of manufacturing products simpler, rather than simplifying the products themselves, thus allowing for greater complexity in less time — and increased innovation.
Laser is the acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation, which is the main participant in this process, is a beam of heavily intensified light. This beam of light is formed by a single wavelength or single colour.
The laser machines use amplification and stimulation technique to transform electric energy into high density beam of light. The stimulation process happens as the electrons are excited via an external source, mostly an electric arc or a flash lamp.
Focusing the light beam is not so easy. The laser has to go through a specialised lens or any type of curved surface. This focusing part of the laser happens inside the laser-cutting tip. The focusing is crucial to this cutting process because if the beam is not focused concisely, the shape will turn out different.
Laser cutters can be customised to cut nearly any material of any thickness to exact specifications accurately and fast. It is a cleaner process, requires little or no secondary cleanup, can be easily adjusted to meet the changing needs of the product.
The process works by having a focused and precise laser beam run through the material that users are looking to cut, delivering an accurate and smooth finish. Initially, the beam pierces the material with a hole at the edge, and then the beam is continued along from there. The laser melts the material away that it is run over. This means that it can easily cut light materials up to tougher metals and gemstones.
Either a pulsed beam or a continuous wave beam can be used, with the former being delivered in short bursts while the latter works continuously. Users can control the beam intensity, length and heat output depending on the material you are working with, and can also user a mirror or special lens to further focus the laser beam. Laser cutting is a highly accurate process, thanks to high level of control offered; slits with a width as small as 0.1mm can be achieved.
There are three main types of laser cutting: C02, crystal and, more common, fibre laser cutting.
Fibre laser cutting machines have emerged as the technology of choice for sheet metal cutting in the metal fabricating industry. They are able to deliver unrivalled productivity, precision, and cost-effective operation when compared with the cutting technologies that came before them.
Techniques In Cutting Process
There are also several techniques involved with the laser cutting process, according to SPI Laser:
Laser cutting – This is the process of cutting a shape to create smaller sizes, pieces, or more complex shapes.
Laser engraving – The process of removing a layer of a material to leave an engraving below. This is often used for etching barcodes onto items.
Laser marking – Similar to engraving in that a mark is made but the difference being that the mark is only surface level, while an engraving from laser engraving has much more depth.
Laser drilling – Drilling is creating dents or thru-holes on or in the surface of a material.
Laser cutting allows more flexibility in the manufacturing process. A laser operates with a heat intensity, making it possible to cleanly and accurately cut virtually any material, from the strongest alloy all the way down to the thinnest polymers.
Lasers aren’t bound by geometry, so parts do not have to conform to the capabilities of the laser cutter. Because the laser itself never actually touches the part being cut, materials can be oriented in any fashion, which allows them to be cut in any shape or form. In many cases, the precision cuts made by the lasers require little to no post-cut processing, which also speeds up the manufacturing process.
There are, however, some drawbacks, as laser cutting uses more power than other types of cutters and does require more training to do properly, as poorly adjusted lasers can burn materials or fail to cut them cleanly. And while laser cutting does typically cost more than other types of processes, such as wet cutting, the benefits often far outweigh those costs.
Laser Leads the Way
The laser continues to solve more and more manufacturing problems, and process variables such as beam diameter and manipulation continue to have a meaningful impact. It’s no mystery why manufacturers constantly choose laser cutting for their prototype and their final production over any other traditional metal engraving process. With its precise cutting, smooth edge, cost and energy efficiency as well as many other profitable advantages, it seems like the use of laser cutting in different sectors and industries is not likely to decrease in next decade or so. And it is indeed a wise decision to shift from traditional expensive metal cutting technologies to this efficient process of shaping ideas. Advancements in laser technology are sure to be a key component of success in the era of Industrie 4.0.
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