Laser cutting can be described as a broad word used to describe the application of the beam of coherent light to produce intense energy into a narrowly targeted hot area. The beam triggers melting, vaporization, or ablation of a variety of substances. The sources of lasers used are like those powered by CO2, silica glass that has been doped with metal NdYAG, or doped liquid crystals at the lower part of the power spectrum.
The applications of laser cutting are numerous and expanding in scope. These include the production of sheets and tubes, high-speed cutting engraving of delicate patterns, micro drilling using diamonds and micro welding for chip manufacturing.
Laser cutting provides advantages over traditional processes, for example: high precision, zero material contamination high speed, and unlimitable 2D complexity. Its drawbacks, on the contrary, are: limitations on thickness of the material as well as harmful fumes and gases as well as high energy consumption and expensive cost of initial expenses. In spite of the incredible capabilities laser cutting has, other alternatives provide similar results from distinct methods like cutting with waterjets, CNC machines as well as plasma cutting. In this article, we will discuss the advantages and disadvantages, as well as the pros and cons of the process of laser cutting and offer alternatives to cutting with lasers.
How do I know the Laser Cutting Process?
The laser cutting process uses a tightly focused high-energy light/radiation laser beam to create rapid, high-temperature-gradient heating of a single, small-diameter spot. The process triggers rapid melting and vaporization of the material being targeted, which allows the spot to travel down the thickness of the material quickly and accurately.
The hot area is blasted by gas, removing the melted or vaporized material. The cut is then exposed at the bottom to allow for renewed melting and cooling locally which allows the cut to continue. For more reactive and lighter metallic materials, gas aid employs nitrogen to limit the possibility of oxidation. For steel, oxygen assist speeds up the cutting process by locally oxidizing the material to aid in the clearance of slag and reduce the reattachment the melted or cut material.
Laser cutting machines can be constructed in a variety of sizes. The most commonly used model keeps the workpiece in place and lasers (mirrors) are moved in both the both Axes. Another alternative is an “fixed optic” model maintains the laser head in place while the workpiece is moved. Another option is a combination of both options. All methods implement 2D or 2.5D G-code codes using computer-controlled programming systems to create fully automated and complicated cutting routes. Figure 1 illustrates an illustration for a cutting method:
Laser Cutting Advantages
Laser cutting advantages include High precision, no contamination of the material, speedy and unlimited 2D complexity many different materials, and a vast array of industries and applications.
The slenderness of the beam’s energy and the accuracy with the materials and/or laser optics are moved guarantees extremely top cutting quality. Laser cutting permits the creation of intricate designs that are able to be cut with high rates of feed even on difficult or delicate material substrates.
No Material Contamination
Traditional manufacturing of materials by rotary cutters requires the use of coolants. The coolant could contaminate cut pieces, which need to be cleaned. Grinding processes also need cooling fluid or lubricant. The grinding wheel’s ablation is a normal part that occurs during the grinding process produces carbide granules, which can be dangerous in many products. Similar to water cutting, water cutting causes the formation of granules that leave behind a residue. Laser cutting requires only gases and energy and does not pose a risk of contamination of the materials that result from cutting components.
Very few manufacturing methods offer the same speed of processing in comparison to cutting with lasers. The capability to cut a 40mm steel sheet using a 12- oxygen-assisted laser of 12 kW is about 10 times more efficient than bandsaws and 50-100 times quicker that wire-cutting.
Unlimited 2D Complexity
Laser cutting permits intricacy due to how the G-code that controls the positioning method and the dimension of the hot spot. Features that are not connected to the body are cut without application of force. Therefore, the process is restricted by the properties of the material, rather than the capability of the process.
A Variety of Materials
Laser cutting has the potential to be a versatile technology that is able to cut many different types of materials with ease, such as acrylic, and other polymers, mild steel, stainless steel and titanium, hastelloy and hastelloy, and tungsten. This flexibility is growing as technology advances. For instance dual frequency lasers could be used to cut carbon fiber-reinforced composites – one frequency for the fiber and another to bond the agent.
Variety of Applications and Industries
Laser cutting has applications in numerous industries due to the combination of flexibility as well as high processing speeds and accuracy. Sheet materials are essential for production in all manufacturing industries. Laser cutting applications in industries include airframes medical implants, ships, electronic components, prototyping, as well as mass production.
Laser Cutting Disadvantages
Laser cutting’s drawbacks include limits on the thickness of materials toxic fumes and harmful gases as well as high energy consumption and initial costs.
Limitation on the Thickness of Materials
Most laser cutting machines operate in the 6 kW area. Their cutting depth is limited to 12 millimeters in thickness of metal, and they do it only very slow (~10 millimeters/s). It is a requirement for the biggest and most powerful equipment to be able to meet the requirements of cutting. But the same limits are applicable to wire and waterjet erosion cutting. Three different processes can make the deeper cuts more quickly than could be otherwise achieved.
Harmful gases and Fumes
While many materials–particularly metals–do not produce harmful gases in the cutting process, many polymers and some metals do. For instance, PTFE and various fluoropolymers create the gas phosgene (which is not compatible with human-made environment) upon heating them to temperatures that are high. The materials need controlled process of the atmosphere.
High Energy Consumption
The laser cutting machine has a greater efficiency in energy use than most other tools for cutting. A CNC 3-axis machine cutting out 40mm steel plate blanks consumes about 1/10th of the energy of a laser cutter that is removing the same piece. If the processing duration is one minute for one laser and 20 minutes for the CNC and the power consumption is 2:2 to using the laser cutting machine. Each component has a different design in this respect however the difference is difficult to determine.
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