Laser cutting is a manufacturing process used to produce custom shapes and designs through the use of a high-powered laser beam. Laser cutting is frequently used in the automotive, musical instrument and medical device industries because it is suitable for a wide range of materials, including metal, plastic, wood, glass, paper and gemstones, to produce intricate, precise and complex parts.
To produce these parts, laser cutting service vendors utilize one of three different types of laser cutting: fusion cutting, oxidation cutting or scribing. Each process generally produces less contamination, physical damage and waste, which contributes to material cost savings for the manufacturer.
This blog post is intended to help you gain a better understanding of the laser cutting process so that you are well informed in selecting the right laser cutting service vendor.
The Laser Cutting Process and Machinery
Laser cutting is a thermal-based, non-contact fabrication process suitable for cutting metal and non-metal materials. Unlike mechanical cutting, which utilizes power-driven cutting equipment, laser cutting uses a laser cutting machine to produce cuts, markings and engravings.
The Laser Cutting Process
Basic laser cutting consists of the the following stages:
- Beam generation: The laser beam is produced through spontaneous or stimulated emission.
- Beam focusing: The beam enters through the nozzle that directs the area of impact.
- Localized heating and melting: The beam is absorbed by the material that increases in internal energy and heat generation.
- Material ejection: As part of the heating and melting process, areas of the material are vaporized to produce the desired cut.
- Beam movement: Movement and cutting are achieved through reflective mirrors, laser head movement or workpiece manipulation.
Each stage is crucial to the laser cutting process and producing a precise cut. Depending on the material and type of cut, laser cutting also employs inert or active assist gases.
Types of Laser Cutting Machines
Although laser cutting machines differ in subtle ways from one model to the next, a laser cutting machine is typically set up to include a laser resonator assembly, mirrors and a laser cutting head, which consists of a laser focusing lens, a nozzle and a pressurized gas assembly.
The different types of laser cutting machines are categorized into gas, liquid and solid-state lasers. The main two types of lasers employed by laser machines are CO2 and solid-state lasers:
- CO2 lasers: These are used to cut non-metal materials. Although laser technology has evolved to enable CO2 lasers to cut metal, they are still better suited for cutting through materials such as rubber, leather or wood.
- Solid-state lasers: These are typically made from crystal or fiber that allow for high-powered metal cutting. Crystal lasers are incredibly versatile in terms of material cutting capabilities. However, they tend to be more expensive and have shorter lifespans. Alternatively, fiber lasers are cheaper and longer lasting.
When researching a laser cutting service vendor, be sure to find out what type of laser machines they have in their machinery set. As you can see, there are a number of different machines that are more suitable for specific tasks, and not all manufacturers have every piece of machinery available.
The Benefits of Laser Cutting
Laser cutting provides several advantages—including flexibility, repeatability, cost-effectiveness and speed—in the production process of precise, high-quality and versatile components. By utilizing best practices, your laser cutting service vendor should provide the following features:
1. Cutting Precision and Accuracy
Unlike most conventional cutting machines, laser cutting machines produce a wide range of cuts and designs that offer more precision and accuracy. Laser cutting machines are usually fully CNC controlled, which means that they have high repeatability in producing complete, intricate parts. The high-quality cuts produced by lasers generally do not need further cleaning, treating or finishing, which decreases the need for secondary processes.
2. Less Material Contamination and Waste
Because lasers use a focused beam that allows for narrower kerf widths, the amount of material removed is minimized. With minimal thermal input from localized heating, the heat-affected zones are minimized, which also decreases the thermal distortion. If thermal temperatures are too high, the material can be damaged, rendering the component useless.
3. Lower Maintenance and Repair Costs
Compared to other cutting machines, maintenance costs for laser cutting equipment are relatively low. Plus, laser cutting machines do not require changing out separate tools to perform different operations, which decreases both the equipment costs and lead time between processes. Finally, laser components experience less fatigue because laser cutting is a non-contact process.
4. Greater Operator Safety
Laser cutting has a decreased risk of operator injury because it employs little to no mechanical components. With a quiet operation, laser cutting is less distracting than louder processes. With less interaction with the machine and less noise, the overall workplace environment is safer.
Choose the Well-Equipped Laser Cutting Service Vendor
By choosing VPIC Group as your laser cutting service vendor, you will have a team with the capabilities and machinery to work with a variety of materials, meet complex requirements and provide the right prototype consistently, on time and within budget.
Ready to start the process of your laser cutting project? Contact us today!