Laser cutting: A complete guide

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Laser cutting: A complete guide

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Laser cutting is, undoubtedly, one of the biggest break-through in the metal fabrication industry. When the newly created technology was applied to metal cutting, the possibilities for a constant top-notch quality were available.

So, let’s consider all the details about laser cutting, especially if you are thinking of acquiring large laser cutting equipment for your manufacturing plant. Let’s get started with the basics.

What is laser cutting?

Laser cutting is a process that uses a high-powered laser to cut through materials. The laser beam is focused on the material, and the heat from the laser vaporizes or melts the material, leaving a cut edge. It is a precise process that can be used to cut complex shapes and patterns.

Laser beams are used in a variety of applications, including:

  • Cutting and welding
  • Drilling
  • Marking
  • Surgery
  • Telecommunications
  • Entertainment

Usually, laser cutting is used in manufacturing to produce high-quality parts. It is also used in a variety of other niche industries, such as sign making, jewelry making, and aerospace.

The most reliable cutting process

Plasma cutting has never been easier

What materials can be cut with laser cutting?

Laser cutting is a versatile process that can be used to cut a wide variety of materials, including:

Metals: Steel, aluminum, stainless steel, titanium, and more.

Wood: Plywood, MDF, hardwood, etc.

Plastics: Acrylic, polycarbonate, polyethylene, polypropylene, and others.

Glass: Clear, colored, and tempered glass.

Fabric: Cotton, polyester, nylon, and more.

Paper: Cardstock, construction paper, etc.

Foam: Polystyrene, polyurethane, and others.

Rubber: Both natural rubber and synthetic rubber.

Ceramics: Porcelain, earthenware, and more.

Stone: Marble, granite, etc.

It is important to note that not all materials are suitable for laser cutting. For example, materials that contain water or flammable substances should not be cut with a laser.

The specific materials that can be cut with laser cutting will vary depending on the type of laser and the power of the laser. For example, a CO2 laser is widely used to cut wood, paper, and plastic, while a fiber laser is mainly used to cut metal.

While we recognize that laser can be used for cutting a range of materials, the scope of this article is how it can be applied to metals.

Here are some key benefits of laser cutting:

  • It is a cleaner process to cut through metal
  • It is a faster process than plasma cutting
  • It provides the best cutting quality available

What is a laser beam?

A laser beam is a beam of light that is produced by a laser. Lasers are devices that amplify light by stimulating emission. This means that they use a small amount of light to create a large amount of light in a beam. The light from a laser is coherent, which means that all of the waves are in phase with each other. This gives the laser beam its characteristic brightness and narrowness.

The history of laser cutting

The history of laser cutting can be traced back to the early days of laser development. In 1960, Theodore H. Maiman built the first laser, a ruby laser. This was a major breakthrough in laser technology, and it paved the way for the development of other types of lasers, such as the CO2 laser.

The first laser cutting machine was developed in the early 1970s. This machine used a CO2 laser to cut metal. Laser cutting quickly became popular in the manufacturing industry, as it was a more precise and efficient way to cut metal than traditional methods, such as punching and shearing.

In the 1980s, laser cutting began to be used for other materials, such as wood, plastic, and fabric. This made laser cutting even more versatile, and it opened up new markets for the technology.

Today, laser cutting is a widely used process in a variety of industries. It is used to cut a wide range of materials, and it is a precise, efficient, and cost-effective way to produce high-quality parts.

Key milestones through decades in the history of laser cutting

1960: Theodore H. Maiman builds the first laser, a ruby laser.

1970s: The first laser cutting machine is developed.

1980s: Laser cutting begins to be used for other materials, such as wood, plastic, and fabric.

1990s: Laser cutting becomes more affordable and accessible.

2000s: Laser cutting is used in a wider range of industries.

2010s: Laser cutting continues to evolve and improve.

Who is Theodore Maiman?

Theodore Harold Maiman, (born July 11, 1927, Los Angeles, California, U.S.—died May 5, 2007, Vancouver, B.C., Canada), was an American physicist, who constructed the first laser. This is a device that produces monochromatic coherent light, or light in which the rays are all of the same wavelength and phase. The laser has found numerous practical uses, ranging from delicate surgery to measuring the distance between the Earth and the Moon.

After receiving a Ph.D. from Stanford University in 1955, Maiman accepted a position with the Hughes Research Laboratories (now HRL Laboratories, LLC), where he became interested in a device developed and built by Charles H. Townes and colleagues and known as a maser (acronym for “microwave [or molecular] amplification by stimulated emission of radiation”). Maiman made design innovations that greatly increased the practicability of the solid-state maser. He then set out to develop an optical maser, or laser, which is based on the maser principle but produces visible light rather than microwaves. He operated the first successful laser in 1960 and two years later established Korad Corporation for research, development, and manufacture of lasers. Maiman later sold Korad and worked as a consultant at TRW, a technology corporation. His autobiography, The Laser Odyssey, was published in 2000.

CO2 vs Fiber

There are two main types of industrial laser cutters: CO2 and fiber.

In a CO2 laser cutting system, light is produced when electricity runs through a gas-filled tube with mirrors at both ends. One mirror is fully reflective while the other one lets some light come through. These mirrors guide the laser beam into the material to be cut. The gas is typically a mixture of carbon dioxide, nitrogen, hydrogen, and helium.

Fiber is a type of laser that uses a fiber optic cable to transmit the laser beam. This makes fiber lasers more efficient and powerful than traditional lasers. Fiber lasers are often used for cutting metal, as they can produce very precise cuts. They are also used for welding, marking, and engraving.

CO2 lasers typically have a lower capital investment cost but are more expensive to maintain than fiber lasers. As a matter of fact, fiber laser is the type of laser that is widely used to cut through metals.

Advantages of laser cutting

As explained before, laser cutting is a process that uses a laser to vaporize materials, resulting in a cut edge. Some of the main advantages of laser cutting include:

Precision: It is a very precise process, capable of producing cuts with very tight tolerances. This makes it ideal for applications where accuracy is important, such as in aerospace, medicine, and the manufacturing high-quality parts.

Speed: When dealing with low thicknesses, it is a very fast process, capable of cutting through metals quickly and efficiently. This makes it a cost-effective option for high-volume production.

Versatility: It can be used to cut a wide variety of materials, including metal, wood, plastic, and glass. When it comes to metals, it can cut through steel, stainless steel, brass, aluminum, etc. This makes it a versatile process that can be used for a variety of applications.

Automation: Laser cutting can be automated, which makes it a good option for high-volume production. This can save time and money, and it can also improve the consistency of the cuts.

Durability: They are built to last, and with proper care, they can withstand the rigors of everyday use. Laser cutting systems are expensive equipment that can last decades without decay.

Disadvantages of laser cutting

Laser cutting also has some disadvantages that need to be considered before taking a decision whether to get the system or not. Some of these disadvantages include:

High upfront costs: These cutting systems are expensive to purchase, so the upfront costs can be prohibitive for small businesses. The simplest models can cost around $20,000, but normally it would represent an investment of around $250,000. Some laser cutting systems can reach a few million dollars.

Limited material thickness: They can only cut materials up to a certain thickness, so they may not be suitable for all applications. Most laser cutting systems can handle thicknesses lower than one inch.

Laser cutting systems cannot be mixed with oxyfuel, like some plasma cutting systems can. In these cases, the operator is to decide whether to use plasma or oxyfuel to cut, according to the thickness of the plate.

If you have a range of metal plate thicknesses to cut, laser cutting would only be a solution for you if they don’t go over one inch. Should you need to cut thicknesses over one inch, the best option is to do so with a plasma cutting system. We have all the equipment you might need for both laser and plasma cutting.

Hazardous fumes and gases: Laser cutting can produce hazardous fumes and gases, so it is important to have proper ventilation in place. This is a common disadvantage of both welding and cutting equipment, regardless of the size.

Requires skilled operators: Laser cutting machines are complex pieces of equipment, so they require skilled operators to use them effectively. Any operator that wants to control a laser cutting machine requires specialized training on the field.

This is especially important because of the potential health risks that might come from the misuse of laser beams. Every operator handling the laser cutting machine should be aware of them.

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How much is used laser cutting in the world?

The global laser cutting machine market size was valued at USD 3.37 billion in 2020 and is expected to reach USD 6.69 billion by the end of 2027, growing at a rate of 10.65% each year during the period 2021-2027. The market is segmented by type (CO2 laser, fiber laser, and others), application (sheet metal, tube & pipe, and others), and region (North America, Europe, Asia Pacific, and Rest of the World).

The growth of the laser cutting machine market is driven by the increasing demand for high-precision and high-speed cutting of materials in a variety of industries, such as automotive, aerospace, electronics, and medical. The increasing demand for laser cutting machines is also being driven by the growing adoption of automation in manufacturing.

The Asia Pacific region is expected to be the fastest-growing market for laser cutting machines during the forecast period. This is attributed to the rapid economic growth in the region, which is leading to an increase in the demand for manufacturing goods. China is the largest market for laser cutting machines in the Asia Pacific region.

Equipment required for laser cutting

The equipment required for laser cutting will vary depending on the type of laser and the power of the laser. However, the basic equipment required for laser cutting includes:

Laser: The laser is the heart of the laser cutting system. It is responsible for generating the laser beam that is used to cut the material.

Gantry: The gantry is the mechanical structure that supports the laser head and moves it around the workpiece.

Worktable: The worktable is the surface on which the workpiece is placed. It can be known also as laser cutting table, although sometimes that is how they call the entire cutting system.

Computer: The computer is used to control the laser cutting system. It is used to input the design of the workpiece and to control the movement of the laser head. laser can be controlled by a software known as CNC (Computer Numerical Control). There are many options available.

This software can automatically nest the different pieces you want to cut in the metal sheet to consume better the available material. Also, they can handle the heat produced by the cutting process and will vary the location of the laser beam to avoid warps in the material.

Cooling system: The cooling system is used to cool the laser head. This is important because the laser head can get very hot during operation.

Gas supply: Every cutting system, whether oxyfuel, plasma or laser, will need a gas supply to perform. It is quite important that the air provided is of a high quality.

Exhaust system: The exhaust system is used to remove the fumes and gases that are produced during laser cutting. These fumes and gases can be harmful to human health.

Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) for the operators

In addition to the basic equipment for the system, there are some other accessories that are required for the laser operators, such as:

Safety glasses: Safety glasses are essential for protecting the eyes from the laser beam.

Gloves: Gloves are used to protect the hands from the heat of the laser head.

Apron: An apron is used to protect the clothing from the laser beam.

Cutter: A cutter might be needed to cut or release the material after it has been laser cut.

Sandpaper: Sandpaper is used to smooth the edges of the cut material. It can be part of the finishing process.

Now, speaking about the PPE that any operator might need, it’s time to talk about the safety guidelines to consider when using a laser cutting system.

Safety guidelines when using laser cutting equipment

Laser cutting systems are powerful tools that can be used to create intricate and precise cuts in a variety of materials. However, it is important to follow safety guidelines when using laser cutting equipment to avoid injury. Here are some of them:

Wear safety glasses when operating a laser cutting machine. The laser beam can cause permanent eye damage, even if it is just briefly viewed, so always wear the appropriate safety glasses regardless of if you are operating the machine or are located just on the proximity.

Never look directly at the laser beam. Even a momentary glance can cause permanent eye damage. Don’t direct the laser beam to anyone, not even as a reflection.

Keep your body and clothing away from the laser beam. The laser beam can cause burns to the skin and eyes. The more appropriate PPE you can wear, the better.

Do not operate a laser cutting machine if you are tired or intoxicated. This could lead to accidents due to not paying attention to the operation. If you are under medication that can cause drowsing, don’t use a laser cutting system.

Make sure the laser cutting machine is properly grounded. This will help to prevent electrical shock. Also, an electric shortcut can cause costly damage to the laser equipment.

Keep the laser cutting machine area clean and free of debris. Debris could catch fire or cause the laser beam to deflect. Also, it can prevent the laser from performing a cut or make it irregular. Clean the optics as frequently as the manufacturer recommends in the user’s manual.

Have a fire extinguisher and first-aid kit on hand in case of an emergency. Due to extreme heat in the workpiece or another reason, a fire can get started. Any emergency must be addressed as soon as possible.

Read and follow the manufacturer’s safety instructions carefully. This should be a given, but it is surprising the amount of people don’t follow through instructions. In the case of laser cutting systems, it is essential to follow carefully the instructions provided by the manufacturer.

Some regulations from the United States are now followed by many other countries. A few examples are these:

By following these safety guidelines, you can help to ensure that laser cutting is a safe and productive process in your own company, avoid accidents and liabilities.

We can help you to get started with laser cutting

We know how important for you the decision whether to get a laser cutting system for your production plant is or not. Even when you have concluded that laser cutting is indeed the best for your circumstances, there are plenty of options out there.

Any of our experts are there to answer the questions you might have about laser cutting. Fill out the form or give us a call and we can get this process started. We have more than 40 years of experience helping companies of all sizes to set up cutting systems in place. Feel free to contact us anytime.

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This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Steve Smith

    I like that you said that irregular cutting mistakes could be prevented by having laser-cutting solutions. I have a cousin who is hoping to find a laser-cutting service for his metal sheets project for efficient cutting outcomes. He asked if I had any idea what would be the best laser-cutting approach. Thanks to this informative metal fabrication guidelines article for effective planning. I’ll tell him it will be much better if he consults a trusted metal cutting company as they can answer all his fabrication inquiries and will surely provide good-quality service.

  2. Zachary Tomlinson

    It’s amazing how laser-cutting machinery can create marks and cut materials in various shapes and sizes. I can see how this could help the fabrication industry in creating more products that are unique to them. I think smaller companies should consider investing in these for their products if they need them.

  3. Henry Killingsworth

    It stood out to me when you mentioned that it is important to follow the safety instructions carefully when you need to use laser cutting. If you haven’t used a laser cutter before, it might be a good idea to find a professional that can handle the work for you. Working with a professional would be a good idea because they could provide better laser-cutting work as well.

  4. Mia Evans

    I find it interesting when you said that the very first laser cutting machine has been made back in the 1970s wherein CO2 is used to cut metal. I wonder how advanced the technology is these days when it comes to cnc cutting and design project, since it has been many years ever since their development. I can imagine how the equipment should also have security features in them to ensure that the workers are always safe whether they are using them or not which i think is possible now in that industry.

  5. Precision CNC

    This blog seems to be an extensive resource for laser-cutting information. Precision CNC It discusses a range of topics related to laser cutting technology and its uses. Because of its insightful and well-organized content, this resource is invaluable for anyone with an interest in this topic.

  6. Victoria Addington

    Thank you for letting me know that laser cutting can create intricate and precise cuts in a variety of materials. My friend wants precise cuts for their parts. I should advise him to turn to a firm that offers a wide range of engineering services.

  7. Millie Hue

    I totally agree when you said that the area where the laser cutting machine is used should be clean and have no debris to prevent catching fire or causing the beam to deflect. I can imagine how important it is for professionals to be handling metal laser cutting processes to prevent accidents that can lead to severe injuries or even amputation. So those that would plan to get those kinds of services from a company they will find should make sure that the workers there are certified and trained in the industry before entrusting their project with them.

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Codinter Editorial Team

Codinter Editorial Team

The Codinter Editorial Team is composed of a diverse and multinational group of specialists, researchers, and writers, equipped with field experiences throughout decades of developing solutions with technology for industrial purposes.

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