How Laser Cutting Works
July 25, 2019
We use and see products each day that may go unnoticed. Ever wonder how your piece of metal — with the precision cuts and intricate designs that make it a unique piece of craftsmanship — became that piece of metal? The short answer is a machine capable of quick, efficient and consistent cuts.
In short, you can thank the evolution of laser cutting machines and laser cutting services. These advancements have led to significant growth in the industry. As of 2016, laser cutting accounted for the largest share of the metal cutting market. Market analysis and segment forecasts expect this trend to continue over the years.
Coco Architecture uses laser cutting in our all-inclusive custom metal fabrication facility. We’ll take a look at what laser cutting involves, the transition to fiber laser cutting, how we implement it at Coco, and go into detail about the benefits of laser cutting.
What is laser cutting?
Before we take a dive straight into the world of fiber laser cutting, it’s important to understand the general scope of laser cutting. Industrial manufacturing uses this type of technology for high-power outputs to melt, burn, vaporize or blow away the material, leaving an edge with a high-quality surface finish. It allows us to reduce setup time, cut the need for custom tooling, and provide grilles in heavier gauges that could not be punched.
Laser cutting consists of two categories: laser fusion cutting and ablative laser cutting. This engineer’s guide to laser cutting explains how fusion cutting melts the material before using a high-pressure stream of gas to remove the metal. Ablative cutting uses a pulsed laser to remove the metal.
Fiber laser, gas laser and crystal laser make up the three most notable types of laser cutting machines. CO2 is one of the most popular types of gas lasers, where the gas transmits through a beam guided by mirrors. This process can cut plastic, Plexiglas, metals, and wood. Crystal lasers use crystals, like neodymium-doped yttrium aluminium garnet, to produce high-powered cutting. They are more archaic and, therefore, have a shorter lifespan (8,000-15,000 hours). Fiber lasers use optical fibers doped in rare elements to create quick, clean cuts using an automated system that is easy to maintain should any errors occur.
Laser cutting services at Coco
We’ve previously written about the differences between waterjet and laser cutting in sheet metal. We use both, since waterjet is ideal for thicker materials and 3D printing by using a high-pressure stream of water. Thanks to new technology and new equipment, we are excited about the advancements in the laser cutting industry.
Here at Coco, we recently upgraded from a CO2 laser cutting machine to a state-of-the-art fiber laser from Amada, a Japanese manufacturer of metal processing equipment and machinery. This particular model, the Ensis 3015, uses fiber laser technology to process both thin and thick materials without a cutting lens change or manual setup. It allows for high-speed cutting in a more efficient manner.
We first start the design process with an AutoCAD file. Having a good, clean file that is full scale with no overlapping lines or unconnected endpoints is part of the battle to get it to run smoothly. There is an additional offline software that programs the CAD file to create the G-Code in order run the machine. Nozzle changes, cleaning, and the Z-Axis calibrating are done automatically. We also have many new features such as flash cutting that can be used. The machine’s computer is as intuitive as a giant smartphone as a way to assist the operator.
The benefits of fiber laser cutting
Why is this important and why does it matter? We can operate the machine for long production runs thanks to the automated technology. The result is a quality product at a high speed that is energy efficient. We can use the fiber laser for things such as steel, copper, brass or titanium.
The Ensis 3015 processes thin materials up to four times faster than a CO2 laser and has the ability to cut up to 1-inch thick mild steel.
This technology consists of a Variable Beach Control Unit that automatically adjusts the laser beam mode based on the cut condition selected on the machine control. Users can process a wide range of material thicknesses without exchanging the nozzle, cutting lens or any additional machine setup. Amada Fiber lasers don’t require laser gas mix or mirrors to generate the beam. Individual modules combine to send a single fiber laser directly to the cutting head. This reduction in modules is faster and more efficient.
A four-station nozzle changer cleans the nozzle and selects and calibrates a new nozzle in less than a minute. The laser head features a water assisted system, which cools down and reduces heat in thick parts of the metal.
Fiber laser vs. CO2
There was a time earlier this decade when CO2 lasers dominated the market. In fact, Engineer.com reported Amada’s fiber lasers were just 5-10% of sales in 2010. Compare that to more than 90% in 2017, and the movement away from CO2 is apparent.
When comparing fiber laser vs. CO2 laser, it’s not so much about CO2’s limitations as it is about the benefits associated with fiber machines. The cost effectiveness, efficiency and precision with thin materials are key factors. A fiber laser is an estimated 100 times greater and converts 70-80% of the power. There aren’t mirrors or lens to constantly adjust. Everything with fiber is automated. CO2 still holds its place, as it works well with thicker materials, can provide a smoother finish and performs faster when cutting in a straight line. But they are sensitive and can require more maintenance. Plus, the older age makes it less energy efficient.
Ready to start a custom project that involves laser cutting or any of our other services? We can help. Contact us at 631.482.9449 or firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’re in need of some inspiration, feel free to take a look at our extensive Grille and Metalwork catalogue.
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