Laser cutting is a CNC cutting process in which a high-powered laser is used to cut through materials.
In this process, a high-density light beam is created by stimulating lasing material with an electrical discharge, within an enclosed container. Optics are used to focus the created laser beam onto the workpiece, effectively cutting it by melting, vaporizing, or burning through it. The movement of the laser beam is controlled using CNC technology.
Types of Laser Cutters
There are three main types of lasers used in laser cutters. They are CO2, Nd, and Nd: Yag lasers.
- CO2 (Carbon dioxide) lasers are the most commonly used because of their high energy efficiency and high power output ratio. They are great for boring, engraving, and cutting relatively thin material.
- Nd (neodymium) lasers have high energy but low repetition efficiency. They are mostly used for engraving and boring.
- Nd: Yag (neodymium-doped yttrium aluminum garnet) lasers are higher powered and can be used to cut thicker material. However, it is more cost-effective to employ plasma cutters for such material.
Laser cutting can be used to cut a variety of materials such as paper, wood, metal, rock, and many others, but it is widely applied in material removal for sheet metal fabrication of aluminum, steel, copper, stainless steel, and other metals.
In general, laser cutters are great for cutting relatively thin sheet metal with maximum thicknesses of 15 mm for aluminum and 6 mm for steel. They typically have a tolerance of 0.2 to 0.1 mm.
Benefits and Limitations
Because of the high precision of laser cutting, minimal finishing is required for laser cut parts. Laser systems create a small heat-affected zone, reducing the need for post-processing heat treatment.
Compared to other cutting processes, laser cutting is more precise and versatile (material wise) than plasma cutting but less than waterjet cutting.
Laser cutting is the most widely used because of its material versatility, precision, and ability to carry out both cutting and engraving (a process that cannot be done with waterjet). It is also cheaper than waterjet cutting.