Applications for laser cutting have increased steadily in the recent years because of its numerous advantages of the technology.
For one it is efficient and cost-effective. The technology is also versatile and can cut various materials including metals, wood, leather, plastic and paper to name a few.
Laser cutting is also preferred because of its precision that makes it possible to cut very detailed shapes and holes or lines and because it only makes a small kerf.
High travel speeds and deep penetration both contribute to high productivity of laser cutting processes. Typical travel speeds for production laser cutting processes are up to 10 meters per minute.
Thinner metal sheets ranging from 0.1 to 2 mm are typically cut faster while thicker sheets require lower speeds. These speeds surpass traditional cutting technologies which range from 0.25 to 2 meters per minute. A 4kW laser machine can cut up to 25 mm in a single pass.
In addition, since laser cutting is a non-contact process, it does not only have lower fixture costs but also shorter loading and unloading time.
An advantage of the high speeds is that it minimises heat diffusion into the surrounding material. With this, heat affected zones (HAZs) are narrower and there is a lower chance of thermal damage to nearby components.
Laser cutters are also ideal in the manufacture of medical devices. This is because lasers can cut precisely, without damaging heat-sensitive components. This ability made possible the construction of miniature devices.
Once parts are taken from the sheet after cutting they are usually perfectly prepared for their next task. Edges are clean and ready for assembly or welding etc.
The two advantages above have spawned multiple benefits, including:
Look at the laser cutter as a very small cutting tool. Since the laser utilizes a highly focused spot, less heat is put into the sheet metal leading to a narrower path of material or HAZ. Narrower HAZs, in turn, lead to cleaner edges and precise cuts to a higher tolerance.
Given that laser cutting is a noncontact process, there is usually little work piece distortion or warping. This produces a high quality metal sheet.
Laser cutting doesn’t require any hard tools. Hence there is no need for tool storage, tool changeover, and tool sharpening. This reduces costly downtime between jobs and inefficiencies in long runs as well.
Since there are no retooling costs prototypes can be quickly reprogrammed to easily overcome any potential production problems.
With no hard tools needed, it also takes a shorter time to set-up laser cutters. The only things you need to do is to program the machine and load and unload the material accordingly.
Close nesting of parts allows efficient use of materials and the ability to either reduce or even eliminate scrap.
Lastly, laser cutting can easily be repeated and is easy to automate. The process can be simplified by utilizing computer-numerically controlled (CNC) manipulators and robots. That’s why it provides endless customization opportunities.
In a nutshell, laser cutting has multiple benefits. It’s about time to exploit the salient features the technology offers.