If we talk about the innovations in technology, we can’t go on without mentioning laser technology. The way energy has been harnessed from laser has been phenomenal. The key areas where the laser is making its presence known is laser cutting machine. Due to its high precision and accuracy, laser has proved to be the greatest alternate of all other technologies. Laser cutting machines are super-fast and they get the job done in the most finished way possible.
Laser is a very wide subject of discussion but we will limit ourselves to laser cutting machines in this topic. Bear with us as we brief you about what this intelligent technology is.
Laser cutting machines are basically any type of machine that employs laser to create designs and patterns by physically removing or cutting the material. The laser beam that is used in such machines is capable of melting, burning or vaporizing the material.
Laser cutting is a fabrication process. It consists of a very thin, invisible but focused laser beam that cuts and engraves the substrate material. It can either be used to cut through the material or it can be used to create logos, patterns, designs and write text or numbers. The latter information is made using the engraving option of the laser cutting machines. Laser is ideal for working on metal, wood, glass, ceramics, paper and stones. While other cutting machines are strictly dependent on one substrate material, laser has a wide range of applications.
As already mentioned above, laser cutting technology finds its uses in various fields. It starts from electronics, medicine, defense industry, automotive and ends at healthcare and design industry. The most prominent application of laser cutters is cutting any kind of metal. There is absolutely no restriction. It can equally cut steel, aluminum, tungsten, brass, nickel or iron. It does so with such a nice finishing and accuracy that it is impossible to resort back to those old fashioned metallic cutters.
There is one very interesting application of laser technology that is worth mentioning here. It has made its way to surgical wards and is replacing the metallic cutting tools like scalpel etc. It is being used nowadays to vaporize the human tissues and cells. These kind of operations are very risky and demand precision and extreme caution. But with higher risk comes a list of benefits. It is being used in the retina adjustment surgeries of eyes where the patient retains the eyesight lost in some accident or with age. After the surgery, the patient’s eyesight comes back to the original.
Specifications of Laser:
The diameter of a laser beam is usually in a range of 0.1mm to 0.3mm. The power of such beams ranges between 1 to 3 kW. The power of the machine is decided by looking at the substrate material. If you want to cut steel or iron, you might get your work done with 1 or 2 kW. But, for metals like copper and aluminium, which possess good reflective and conductive properties, you might want to look for power beams of 6 kW.
If we take a look at the components of a laser cutter, we get two major components; Laser resonator and the cutting head. Let’s see what’s their worth.
Laser resonator is the powerhouse of any laser cutting machine. It consists of a glass tube with two mirrors placed with their faces facing each other. The tube consists of gases like CO2, hydrogen, nitrogen and helium. Then come the diodes which charge up this mixture of gas. In some case, electric discharge is also used to charge this mixture. This charging of gases emit energy which comes out in the form of laser beam.
The Cutting Head:
After the resonator emits the laser beam, it goes in various directions after getting reflected from mirrors which are strategically placed inside the machine. After reaching the cutting head, the laser beam is magnified and focused on the point of interest. This cutting head transforms the laser beam into something that cuts through the substrate material or engraves on it. Before reaching the substrate, the laser beam passes through a nozzle along with compressed gases like nitrogen or oxygen. When the beam cuts or engraves the material, it melts the substrate which is then blown out by nitrogen. The cutting head is the mechanical part of the machinery which makes its movement across the substrate with the help of chains and belts.
The quality of operation is defined by the distance between the nozzle and the metal. It should be accurate enough to make sure the result is precise and as per customer’s requirement. Factors like the intensity of the beam and speed of laser beam and cutting head also determine the output quality.
Before we go towards the types of laser cutting or engraving machines, let’s remove a common confusion among people first. People often confuse marking and engraving. There is a difference between both. Let us briefly explain.
Marking is the kind of operation in which the laser does not penetrate fully into the substrate material. It only changes the properties and the appearance of the material. When laser comes in contact with the substrate, it creates high contrast marks because of the heat of the beam.
As the term indicates, laser engraving removes the material from the surface leaving a cavity behind. This cavity is basically what your information is. The heat of the laser first melts the material and then vaporizes it immediately to create sharp impressions.
Let’s discuss the types of laser cutting machines being used in the industry!
Laser cutting machines are differentiated based on the types of lasers being used. Consequently, the type of laser determines the type of substrate and thickness of the material.
The three main types of laser cutters are as follows:
CO2 Laser Cutters:
CO2 laser cutting machines consist of CO2 gas along with the mixture of other gases like helium and nitrogen. This type of gas mixture is charged up by electric discharge which then produces the laser beam. The wavelength of such cutters is 10.6mm. CO2 laser cutters are the most common and well-reputed because of efficiency and cheaper prices.
Materials: Glass, plastics, leather, wood and acrylic.
Crystal Laser Cutters:
Crystal laser cutters generate beams from Neodymium doped yttrium ortho vandate. The wavelengths of these cutters is smaller as compared to CO2 laser cutters hence they can cut through some thicker materials. Smaller wavelength also contributes to better focus and higher intensity as well. One drawback of these cutters is that their parts wear out because of the high power functionality.
Materials: Plastics, Metals and Ceramics.
Fiber Laser Cutters:
The origin of fiber laser is seed laser which is amplified and magnified using special optical fibers. The more common name for fiber laser cutters is solid state laser. The remarkable benefits of this laser cutter include cutting of reflective and conductive metals, thrice the times of efficiency as compared to CO2 laser cutters and the absence of movable parts. Fiber lasers can work on metals as well as organic materials.
Although fiber laser cutters are very similar to crystal lasers but they are more efficient and low maintenance.
Materials: Metals and Organic materials.
Based on the description of the types of laser cutters, let us now take you to the tips and suggestions that might help you while choosing a laser cutting or engraving machine.
- Based on technology, we are more concerned about CO2 laser cutting machines vs fiber laser cutting machines. CO2 laser cutters are the pioneers of the laser cutting equipment. Therefore, they are considered as the backbone of the metal industry for the last twenty years. Fiber laser was introduced in the market in circa 2008. Fiber laser possess higher speed of cutting and low operating cost. In the beginning of this invention, it couldn’t perform on thicker metals. However, after steady developments, it is now able to cut as deep as 1.5 inches of metal. Even if they come at higher price, they have managed to become the popular choice.
- CO2 laser cutters cannot cut reflective and conductive materials but the fiber laser can. But, there are certain aspects in which CO2 laser cutters are better than fiber laser cutters. Primarily when the manufacturers have to work on some thicker metals where good edge quality is required, they choose CO2 laser cutters. Also, since CO2 cutters have been in markets since long, factories have trained in house personnel for maintenance and repair. For fiber lasers, you might have to call your supplier in case of a problem.
- When it comes to material handling, you need to know the speeds of your machine. Fiber laser machine works really fast hence handling the material might get tough. You should be able to figure out the total working hours in a day and the speed of the machine for a given task. That is how you are going to handle the material or else you’ll have to change your machine.
If we look at the market prices of laser cutting or engraving machines, it varies on the basis of the type of working. Are you trying to use laser cutters or engravers as a hobby and looking for DIY laser machines? Good going! DIY laser machines are available for as low as 500$.
This user-friendly laser cutting/engraving machine has the easiest setting up protocols. The accuracy of this machine is outstanding because of the high-speed software and good communication in the machine. The software is Grbl software which is an open-source software so no need to worry about software procurement. One good thing is that it can also run on Arduino. With one-year warranty period, this device can cut materials like wood, plastics, PVCs and acrylics. The price of this machine is 250 USD.
If you are not a hobbyist but somewhat of working from home kind of person, you might want to take a look at this laser engraving machine. This BIBO 3D Printer Dual Laser Engraving Machine works on objects that are organic in nature and softer e.g leather, wood, paper and plastics. It can do both, printing as well as engraving. This machine comes for a price range of 750 USD.
When it comes to making industry fiber laser engraving machines, Heatsign has emerged as a reliable supplier. This machine of Heatsign supports deep metal engraving and has a large working space. The long work life of this machine makes it very trustworthy in industrial setups. The work life of this machine is around 1,00,000 hours. This machine can both, mark and engrave and that too with high precision. The design is plug and play and requires almost no consumables. The price range of this industrial fiber laser marking machine varies from 5000 USD to 9000 USD.
This pretty much sums up our writing about the laser cutting machines and engraving machines. After figuring out what kind of work you need from your machine, you just have to look at the relevant specs of the machines. If you have to work with non-metals, try going for CO2 laser cutters and engravers with power range on the upper side. However, if your requirement is precise work and working on metals or reflective surfaces like steel,aluminium, you need to look for fiber laser machine. In any case, the choice is yours but the output varies with every choice. So you better make it right!