What are the processes of laser cutting?

What are the processes of laser cutting?

When many people think of laser cutting, their mind may drift to old spy films such as James Bond, in which the hero desperately attempts to escape their bonds before the laser hits. Simply put, laser cutting is the process of slicing through a material via the use of a laser beam. Whether you are looking to trim a material down, to cut out an intricate outline, or to pull off a cut that cannot be done with conventional drills, laser cutters are invaluable.

Laser cutters are able to deliver a clean and accurate cut by focusing a laser beam on an object and having it run through the given material. The heat and precision of the laser melt away any material in its path, although to the naked eye the process looks more like cutting. The process of laser cutting can be used on a wide range of material, ranging from soft cloths up to some of the toughest on Earth.

A laser cutter operator can control a number of things to provide the best quality cut for the job, including the intensity of the laser, the length, and the heat output. Different materials will require different levels of heat to cut through without leaving damage to the desired parts. A mirror or special lens can also be used to focus the beam even further if needed. The laser cutting process is so accurate that it can carve slits as narrow as 0.1 millimetres. This makes the process ideal for intricate jobs that simply cannot be achieved by hand, or even other drilling/cutting equipment.

What materials can be cut with a laser cutter?

Laser cutters can be used to cut, mark, drill, and engrave a number of different common materials. This is one of the major advantages of the laser cutting process, as the equipment is very versatile across different materials. It should be noted that different materials may require different settings on the laser cutter. For example, something soft like a loaf of bread will not require the same heat settings as something tougher like stone or metal. It is also important to know that, although laser cutters can cut through some materials, they will only be able to cut through a certain thickness of tougher material.

These common materials can be cut using a laser cutter:

  • Food – Bread for example
  • Fabric
  • Cloth
  • Paper
  • Card
  • Plastic
  • Acrylic
  • Plywood
  • Veneer
  • Solid wood
  • MDF
  • Birch plywood
  • Cardboard
  • Cork
  • A thin polycarbonate sheet
  • Delrin
  • Kapton tape
  • Mylar
  • Solid styrene
  • Depron foam
  • Gator foam
  • Leather
  • Teflon
  • Magnetic sheet
  • Coroplast
  • Carbon fibre
  • Rubber (non-chlorine)

These materials can be engraved by a laser cutter:

  • Glass
  • Ceramic tile
  • Aluminium
  • Painted metal
  • Stone
  • Marble
  • Granite

These materials should NEVER be cut using a laser cutter:

  • PVC
  • Thick polycarbonate
  • ABS
  • HDPE (milk bottle plastic)
  • Polystyrene foam
  • Epoxy
  • Fiberglass
  • Coated carbon fibre
  • Any material with a sticky glue backing

What different techniques can be used in laser cutting?

Laser cutters can be used for a range of different jobs and are not limited to simple slice and dice jobs. Lasers can be used for cutting, engraving, marking, drilling, and more.

  • Laser cutting – As explained above, laser cutting refers to the use of a laser beam for a simple cutting process. This could be as easy as slicing a material in half, or as intricate and complex as cutting out an outline to the precision of under a millimetre.
  • Laser engraving – Engraving is the process of removing the top layers of a material in order to leave an image or lettering below. This is commonly used in trophies and plaques and can often incorporate names, dates, times, locations, and more. This process can also be used to etch barcodes onto various items. While historically the engraving process can be done by hand, this is a pretty slow way of working. Modernised equipment now allows for the use of lasers to speed up the process and provide a cleaner finish.
  • Laser marking – Marking is a very similar process to engraving, but with one key difference. Engravings must be deep enough for the word or image to be easily seen/read while marking only removes the very top layer of material. It is essentially the exact same process, just with a shallower cut.
  • Laser drilling – As you can imagine, laser drilling refers to the use of laser beams to create dents and cut thru-holes on the material. This can just cut into the surface of a material, or it can be used to drill all the way from one side to another.

What are the advantages of laser cutters over conventional cutters?

  • The accuracy, precision, speed, and technology surrounding laser cutting brings with it a number of key advantages over more conventional and traditional cutting methods.
  • Laser cutting is what is referred to as a ‘non-contact process’ which means it can achieve an accurate cut without damaging any of the other material or parts.
  • The use of accurate lasers reduces material waste.
  • The parts are easy to source and are cheap to purchase for repairs and replacements.
  • Believe it or not, laser cutters are actually very cheap to maintain.
  • While conventional drills may have very specific jobs or materials they specialise in, laser cutters can be used for a vast array of different things and are able to cut through a multitude of materials.
  • Despite the use of a laser, the lightboxes keep every dangerous component contained, meaning that laser cutters are actually are safer than other drills and cutters.
  • The laser cutting process is accurate, efficient, and reliable.
  • You are able to use the technology to input any heat output, length, width, duration, speed, intensity, and more. This gives you complete control over your cut.

What software is used for laser cutting?

There is a multitude of different options when it comes to choosing software for your laser cutter, which each specialising in different areas. You must first consider what you are going to be using your laser cutter for, and what functions you need for it to be able to carry out. Are you looking to perform simple cuts? Are you looking to cut out intricate designs? Do you want to be able to engrave text? Perhaps you want to mark an image onto a certain material? The laser system software is readily available, you just need to shop around and find what is best for you.

Here are some of the most common pieces of software that can be used with a laser cutter:

  • Microsoft WordIf you are looking for very simple text files then look no further than Word, although applications are limited beyond that.
  • CorelDRAW, Illustrator, and Inkscape – If you are searching for more graphic design and layout software, then these three are some of the most popular options. They can be used for marking, cutting, and engraving various designs onto your chosen material. These pieces of software also include precise scales and references to assist with the creation and positioning of your graphics.
  • Photoshop, GIMP, 1-Touch Laser Photo – If you want to work with photographs, enhancing images to be engraved or marked onto a material, then these three should be your top choices. You simply edit your photo on these pieces of software and export it to the laser printer.
  • AutoCAD, CATIA, Creo, DraftSight, Inventor, SolidWorks – These are just a few examples of the very best pieces of engineering software out there. These are perfect if you are looking to decision very precise and accurate designs that rely on perfect dimensions. These are often used for intricate laser cutting, laser drilling, and laser scribing.

What are the different types of laser cutters?

There are three main types of laser cutter on the market, all of which produce the use the lasers slightly differently, as well as being able to cut through different types of material. The type of laser determines what it can penetrate, with more high-powered versions being ideally suited for metal, while low-powered versions can cut through things such as paper and wood.

> Gas laser – A gas laser, also known as a CO2 laser, uses electrically stimulated carbon dioxide, produced within a mixture of other gases such as nitrogen and helium, to cut through material. This type of cutter boasts the power to slice through thicker material with a 10.6 mm wavelength laser. For use with thicker materials, a gas laser will give you a smoother finish. Gas lasers are the most common on the market. They are cheap, efficient, and can be used to cut through wood, acrylic, paper, leather, glass, and some plastics and foams.

> Crystal laser – In technical terms, crystal laser cutters use beams created from neodymium-doped yttrium ortho-vanadate and neodymium-doped yttrium aluminum garnet. These cutters have a higher intensity than gas lasers, meaning they can cut through thicker/stronger material. However, the higher power does mean that parts have to be replaced more often. These lasers can cut through plastic, metal, and even some ceramic.

> Fiber laser – The beam within these cutters comes from a seed laser, before it is amplified by specialised fibers. Fiber lasers are more energy efficient than gas lasers, and can even cut reflective materials. They can be used to cut plastics and metals. Fiber lasers are a cheaper alternative to crystal lasers as they last longer.

Types of machine configuration for laser cutter:

As well as the type of laser, there are also three main types of machine configuration for a laser cutter. These are moving material, hybrid, and flying optics. The configurations differ in the way that the laser is moved across the material it is cutting.

  • Moving material – The cutting head itself remains still, while the material beneath moves. This keeps the distance between the laser and material the same for the entire cut. This is usually the slowest type of machine but requires fewer optics than the others.
  • Hybrid – The cutting head moves along the Y-axis, while the table moves along the X-axis. It boasts a more constant delivery path length than the flying optics machines. It can also have reduced power loss.
  • Flying optics – The table remains stationary, while the cutting head moves across the material it is cutting. The material does not move throughout the cut and often does not need to be clamped. These machines are the fastest out of the three options.

Why choose Lightning Laser?

For the very best laser cutting services in Melbourne, contact Lightning Laser Cutting, the home of the world’s finest and most efficient cutting equipment on the market. The dedicated team at Lightning Laser have decades of experience covering laser cutting, designing, engraving, marking, powder coating, anodising, and more. This makes Lightning Laser your one-stop-shop for all things related to laser cutting.

The team pride themselves on being transparent with all clients from the very first meeting until the last, walking customers through the process from start to finish. While Lightning Laser specialises in metal cutting, they are also extremely qualified and experience in a range of other materials. They guarantee the accuracy of 0.1mm, reduced set-up times, on-time delivery, affordable prices, and high-quality results.

Lightning Laser is not only widely regarded as one of the best in the Melbourne area in the laser cutting sector, but one of the best in the world. Laser cutting is not only a job for this company, but it is also their passion. A huge slice of the Lightning Laser profits goes back into purchasing the latest machinery and equipment to maintain the high standards they set for themselves.

This guarantees accuracy, precision, and an on-time delivery for you, the customer. Not only this, but Lightning Laser are happy for you to be a part of the process every step of the way, from sending in your design to giving feedback on the final delivery. Contact the team at Lightning Laser today for all of your laser cutting needs.

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