Most people are in the dark about laser cutting. What is laser cutting exactly? Why would someone need such a service? Well, Cadet Steel is a good place to start in understanding the basics of this fine art. We provide all metal fabrication services, customizing and designing unique concepts in metals that can bring your business or project to the next level.
Lasers are a huge part of our everyday lives and believe it or not, the laser is approximately 50 years old. Their beams come in the forms of a gas state, solid state, chemical, dye and stimulated electron beams. Not only are they used in metal fabrication and art, but we now see lasers used in applications like eye surgeries, tattoo removal, hair removal, CD players and more. They are everywhere!
So, what is laser cutting?
Simply put, laser cutting (Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation) is a laser that expels a high energy or power laser, usually through optics. Industrial manufacturers are the most typical users, but it is branching out to schools, hobbyists and small businesses wanting custom designs. The laser cuts extremely precise dimensional slices with heat and pressure which leads the material to melt, burn, vaporize or get blown away by a jet of gas, leaving the finished cut design behind.
The good thing about monochromatic light in laser cutting technology is that it does not dissipate energy as quickly as conventional light beams. These unique characteristics are what make a laser beam suitable for the energy transfer needed to cut metals.
In modern technology, the primary laser used is carbon dioxide which also uses the gas as the stimulated medium. Oxygen is a cut assist gas typically used for mild steel cutting when keeping the cut clean, and from rejoining together, nitrogen helps to shield the hot stainless steel from the oxygen and is considered an inert gas in the process. Both air and nitrogen are used in aluminum cutting.
Nuts and bolts of laser cutting
What materials can be laser cut? Here is a list of the most common, and if there is a material you need cut but aren’t sure, just ask us at Cadet Steel if it is possible to do a laser cutting test.
MILD STEEL: bright form, black form, cold rolled, pickled and oiled
STAINLESS STEEL: up to 20 mm
ALUMINUM ALLOYS: up to 12 mm
HIGH TENSILE STEEL: grade 350, boilerplate, bis alloy, manganese steel, tool steel, chrome steel
NICKEL ALLOYS: hast alloy, incolloy
EXOTIC METALS: titanium, brass, zirconium, nickel
There are 3 main laser types used in metal laser cutting:
- The CO2 laser is used for cutting, boring and engraving.
- The Neodymium laser is used for boring and high energy but low repetition requirements.
- The Neodymium yttrium-aluminum-garnet (Nd-YAG) used for boring, engraving and very high powered applications
And finally, there are four different configurations of industrial laser cutting machines.
- Moving Material Lasers have a stationary cutting head, move the materials below it, and tend to be the slowest.
- Hybrid Lasers have a table which moves in one axis and the head along a shorter axis.
- Flying Optics Laser uses a stationary table and a cutting head that moves over the workpiece. This is the fastest type of laser.
- Pulsed Lasers, used for piercing or making tiny holes. Low cutting speeds enable the workpiece not to melt.
What’s so great about laser cutting?
There are many people and businesses that require precise laser cutting, 3-dimensional designs for items such as their cars, aircraft, ships, and even robotics. The finished pieces can then be effectively integrated including displays and signage, branding products, intricate art, architectural models, as well as props and home furniture to name just a few. Laser cutting is extremely cost efficient and offers small batch production as well. Did you know that wood, glass, ceramics, and plastics can also be laser cut?
Here are some ADVANTAGES of laser cutting:
- Clean cut edges with no burrs or dust formation
- Extremely fine contours with practically radius-free inner edges
- Low thermal influence
- Cutting of various material thicknesses with combinations in one operation
- Separation of fitted printed boards
- No material deformation because of contactless material processing
- No tensioning device or protective cover needed
- High level of precision as well as positional accuracy of cut edges
- Maximum usage of circuit boards because no space has to be kept free for cutting channels
- Safety is a guarantee because, during laser cutting, there is a protective box
- Accuracy, with clean edges and surfaces
- Less wasted material
- Extreme material versatility
- No hard tooling required
- No direct contact with the workpiece
- Less manpower needed as computers control them
Here are some DISADVANTAGES of laser cutting:
- Efficiency and power consumption. Usually, laser cutting has high energy consumption depending on the application used.
- Laser cutting of plastic components can be expensive because when exposed to heat, plastic emits gas. A well-ventilated room is needed because the gasses emitted can be toxic.
- Not all types of metals can be cut with laser cutting. For example, copper is tough to laser cut.
- Production rate lacks consistency and will depend on the type of material used, thickness and the nature of laser cutting.
- Setting of the temperature and the distance can lead to the combustion of some materials.
When you’re in need of laser cutting
So how do you get your design or drawing from paper to the laser cutting process and final product? Well, there are many online programs such as Illustrator, AutoCAD, and Sketch to name a few. You can use their templates and files and send them directly to the company of your choice to laser cut your idea. If you have a new design in mind, it is best to sit down and discuss the options with a laser cutter. Have them draw the design to the proper dimensions and get help choosing the materials you would like to use. Cadet Steel is proud to offer this service and can get you started on your customization.
Now, that you know what is laser cutting, you understand what can be manufactured using this method and what’s involved in the process. Cadet Steel is a great place to learn more, too. We can help you with your next design or project. Our 12,000-square foot fabrication shop can handle any design, big or small. Call today for a quote and be sure to check out our projects gallery online!