Fabrication techniques used in industry include sheet metal fabrication as one of the principal processes. Consequently, laser cutting of sheet metal appears to be one of the go-to processes. The production process known as laser cutting makes use of an intense beam of light (a laser) to cut away thin and flat sheets of metal. The outstanding level of precision that laser-cut items possess is because the cutting process is guided by optics and technology known as computer numerical control or CNC.
When it comes to cutting materials in industrial manufacturing, there are three distinct varieties of lasers. Every laser cutter has its own set of distinctive characteristics that set them apart from one another. With that out of the way, an analysis of each of the three distinct kinds of laser cutters follows.
Types of lasers used for sheet metal cutting
Fiber laser cutting equipment is among the most powerful and accurate cutting tools currently available. They are classified as solid-state lasers and use seed lasers in conjunction with specialized glass fibers to magnify the beam. They work well for slicing through chunks of metal, alloys, and even non-metals such as glass, plastics, and even wood. They can also be used for engraving and annealing metal and the more straightforward cutting activities.
The high power of fiber lasers may be because their kerfs are wider than those of other types. They have a long service life, requiring minimal maintenance due to their durability. They create beams that are among the sturdiest and most robust available.
Lasers that use CO2
Electricity is passed via a tube that is filled with a combination of gases in CO2 lasers, which results in the production of a beam of light. Most of the gas combination is composed of carbon dioxide and inert gases such as helium and nitrogen, which are the most typical types for lasers.
However, in comparison to fiber lasers, their power is significantly lower. Cutting is only possible with CO2 laser machines on non-metals such as wood, acrylic, and plastics. They may also be used for laser cutting sheet metal in some circumstances, fragile sheets of aluminum and some other non-ferrous metals.
There are two different varieties of crystal laser cutters: Crystals of Me:YVO (neodymium-doped yttrium ortho-vanadate, YVO4) and Nd:YAG (neodymium-doped yttrium aluminum garnet). Both of these are potent cutting tools. On the other hand, they are rather pricey while having a long shelf life. They are able to cut coated and uncoated metals, as well as non-metals and plastics, and in certain situations, they can even cut ceramics.
Advantages of using sheet metal laser cutters
In the laser cutting process, the light beam achieves a very high degree of precision while cutting metals. It is impossible to find another method of cutting that can compare to the laser’s accuracy and precision when it comes to melting and evaporating materials.
High percentage of sheets utilized
Using laser cutters opens up the possibility of repurposing a significant amount of the materials being fabricated. The process leaves very little room for waste if any at all; the machine maximizes the number of parts that can be used from any given metal sheet. As a result, you won’t need to worry as much about providing extra resources because you’ll be able to acquire the exact quantity you need knowing that it will be sufficient.
Versatile process and products
The processes involved in laser cutting are highly adaptable and versatile. A single laser cutter can do various cutting operations, including simple cuts, sophisticated ones with detailed details, marks, drilling, and even engravings, with ease and efficiency. As a result, producers have no requirement to periodically replace tooling while the operation is in progress.
Uses less electric power
In contrast to other types of cutting devices, a laser cutter does not need to manually manipulate any component elements. Because of this, they can efficiently cut out chunks of material without expending an excessive amount of energy. While laser cutters only need 10 kW of power to run, most other processes require anywhere from five to ten times that amount.
Minor damage to the metal sheet
You may be under the impression that applying heat to materials during laser cutting can result in warping or distortion of the pieces or even complete destruction. This, however, is not the case. The areas of the material that are affected by heat during laser cutting are limited. They do not present a risk to the tolerance of the features or components once they have been fabricated.
Disadvantages of sheet metal laser cutters
Laser-cutting sheet metal offers a wide variety of advantages, but it does have a few drawbacks as well.
Needs skilled operators
If you want to get the most out of your laser cutters, you probably need to hire a trained operator to run the machine when it’s being used to fabricate parts. For instance, an expert will be able to determine very quickly whether a problem exists or whether the machine has been set up incorrectly, which can compromise the production processes or even the machine’s integrity.
Needs specific measurements of metal
Although laser cutting can work well with a wide variety of materials, including sheets of metal, it is recommended that other cutting processes be used when working with thick metals because laser cutting may not perform as well. Standard laser cutters are excellent for cutting steel sheets with a maximum thickness of 6 mm and aluminum sheets with a maximum thickness of 15 mm.
May be dangerous
When laser cutters cut plastic, they produce a substantial amount of toxic fumes because the components they are cutting melt and evaporate. Consequently, it is essential to perform laser cutting in a room with adequate ventilation or in a secure working environment.
High starting financial commitment
The price of a laser cutter of the highest quality is quite significant. The price of a common laser cutter may be around $3000, which is approximately twice as much as the price of a waterjet or plasma cutter. You will need to be prepared to bear the high initial investment if you want to engage in laser cutting services to conduct business.