6 Ways Laser Cutting is Advancing Technology
Laser cutting refers to the process by which a laser is used to cut materials. The word ‘laser’ itself started as an acronym which stood for “light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation.” The first laser was constructed in 1960 by Theodore H. Maiman while working at the Hughes Research Laboratories. The use of lasers in a wide variety of applications and industries has occurred since its invention. In this brief article, we will look at a number of ways that the laser’s cutting ability is advancing technology.
Let us first discuss in a bit more detail the science behind laser cutting. The first laser cutting machine was demonstrated in 1965 by the Western Electric Engineering Research Center. It was used to drill holes into diamond dies. A next stage in the advancement of this technology was demonstrated by the British in 1967. They created a technology known as laser-assisted oxygen jet cutting, which was used on metals. As it was brought into production in the 1970s, this type of laser cutting was used to cut titanium for use in aerospace applications. During this same time period, another type of laser was being constructed utilizing carbon dioxide and was used for cutting non-metals such as textiles.
Today there a number of of laser types and methods for cutting objects made from a variety of materials. A neodymium (Nd) laser is used for boring applications where one needs to apply high energy but with low repetition. The neodymium yttrium-aluminum-garnet (Nd.YAG) lasers are used where very high power is required for engraving and/or boring. Fiber lasers are growing rapidly in the metal cutting industry. Differing from a carbon dioxide laser, the fiber laser uses a solid gain medium rather than utilizing a gas or a liquid.
A number of different methods are used for laser cutting, varying according to the type of cut to be made and the composition of the material being cut. A few of these are outlined here:
>> Melt and blow — Also known as fusion cutting, uses high-pressure gas to blow molten material out of the area being cut. This technique is used primarily for metals.
>> Vaporization cutting — Here a focused beam heats the surface to a boiling point and creates a ‘keyhole.’ This hole then deepens and the vapor generated erodes the molten walls and ‘ejecta’ is blown out. This method is used on non-melting materials such as plastic and wood.
>> Reactive cutting — This technique is also known as ‘flame cutting’ or ‘burning stabilized laser gas cutting.’ This could be compared to an oxygen torch using a laser beam as the ignition source. This method can be used to cut very thick steel plates using relatively less laser power.
Other variables are considered in today’s laser cutting technologies, including tolerances, surface finishes, machine configurations and power consumption. For a more detailed outline of current laser cutting technology, please refer to this Wikipedia listing: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laser_cutting
Advancements in laser cutting technoloiges and methods have progressed rapidly in the last several years. These include:
>> System integration — System integration is now utilized in all input and output modules. Operators can now reload jobs in seconds, re-using previous job data such as laser settings and web controls. System integration can now include interfaces to cameras, machine controllers and digital printers.
>> Software enhancements — Up until recently, laser cutting systems were not engineered to handle cutting complex patterns. Older laser cutting systems were limited by pinholes at the start and stop points of a cut, rounded corners and burnthroughs. These problems were exacerbated at higher cutting speeds and with complex design patterns. Today, more sophisticated software engineering has allowed for improved control and movement of the mirrors that direct the laser beam.
For additional details on new enhancements such as these, please refer to: “Five Developments in Laser Cutting Technology,” by: Paul Dirienzo, ECN Magazine, 12/02/2009 https://www.ecnmag.com/article/2009/12/five-developments-laser-cutting-technology ).