FAQs for Laser Cutting

Laser cutting is one of several processes, with the others being marking, welding, drilling, engraving, ablation, additive manufacturing and cleaning. The cutting process has some similarities and overlaps to the drilling and engraving processes and is the process of cutting a material.

Laser cutting can be undertaken for several reasons, whether to make a product, part or material smaller, or give it a smooth finish, or to cut it into a complicated or intricate shape. Laser cutting has been steadily replacing more conventional forms of cutting over the years thanks to its ability to cut in ways that other machines simply can’t.

To help explain the process in more detail, we’ve answered some of the most frequently asked questions below.

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Laser cutting is also perfect for working with a huge variety of metals too

How does laser cutting work?

Laser cutting works by having a high-powered, highly-focused laser beam run through a material, leaving a clean cut with a smooth finish. This beam can be either pulsed, meaning the cut is delivered in pulses, or continuous wave, meaning the beam is kept focused on the material until the cut is delivered.

Cutting with lasers starts by piercing the material with a hole, and then continues the cut from there. The beam intensity, length and heat output can be controlled, allowing the cut to be delivered in different ways and in different times.

The process is, in some ways, similar to drilling and engraving. Drilling involves the creation of popped ‘thru-holes’ in materials, but occasionally these holes are created as dents rather than thru-holes. These dents, acting like engravings, are also considered ‘cuts’ in a material.

The diagram to the right is an example of how laser cutting works, although there are different laser cutting processes which work in different ways

The diagram above is an example of how laser cutting works, although there are different processes which work in different ways

What materials can be cut?

Thanks to the control of beam intensity, length and heat output as described above, lasers are great at cutting many materials. Listed below are just some of the materials that cut well with:

  • Metals – Although stating the obvious a primary use of laser cutting is the precise cutting of a wide-variety of metals across a diverse number of industries. Examples of metals which can be cut include aluminium, brass, Copper, gold, nickel, silver, steel, titanium, tungsten and others
  • Reflective metals – It’s worth noting separately that fiber lasers can also cut reflective metals, which can prove challenging with other techniques
  • Silicon – Often used in micro applications, fiber lasers can safely and precisely cut silicon for a wide-variety of uses in industries such as electronics and semi-conductors
  • Ceramics – Various ceramics are frequently cut using fiber laser cutting methods
  • Glass – Various glass types can be cut to the precise measurements needed
  • Plastics and polymers
  • Wood (although care is needed to prevent scorch/burn marks)
  • Gemstones – Laser cutting can also be used with strong materials such as diamonds and other gemstones

Which metals can be laser cut?

A huge variety of metals, can be cut including:

While metal is the most common material that is cut with lasers (e.g. hydro formed parts) it is used with many other materials too, as listed above.

Fiber lasers can cut a variety of shapes including tubes, bars, sheets, etc.

Laser cutting can be used to safely cut glass, avoiding unnecessary cracking such as shown in the above!

Laser cutting can be used to safely cut glass, avoiding unnecessary cracking such as shown in the above!

Which industries commonly cut with lasers?

The control that cutting with lasers provides, as well as the numerous materials that it can successfully work with, means that it unsurprisingly finds use in a host of different industries.

These include the automotive industry, the aerospace industry, the semiconductor industry, the electronics industry and the medical sector.

With all of these industries, production and manufacturing rates have been increasing over the years, while parts and components have become smaller and smaller. Due to this, laser cutting has noticed an increased use throughout many of the manufacturing processes.

What are the advantages of cutting with a laser?

There are a huge number of advantages to its users:

  • Control – Laser cutting allows for great control over beam intensity, length and heat output
  • Low power – Laser cutting uses an extremely low level of power consumption, typically around 10Kw as compared to 50Kw used by other processes
  • Material diversity – Laser cutting can work with a huge range of materials
  • Non-contact – Laser cutting is a non-contact process, meaning that the laser beam itself never actually touches the material it works with. This reduces heat damage to the surrounding area, which increases productivity by decreasing downtime and repair costs
  • Low operating costs – Laser cutting machines have very low maintenance costs and inexpensive parts for replacement
  • similar environments
  • Precision – Laser cutting delivers precise cuts with smooth finishes
  • Multiple applications – Laser cutting can switch quickly between multiple applications and setups, reducing time wastage and the need for multiple machines
  • Safety – This is a much safer method than traditional processes, the laser beam is in a closed tight sealed box
  • Speed – Laser cutting is much faster than traditional methods and therefore offers faster turnaround times, which can be all-important in manufacturing and

With the above advantages, it is easy to see why cutting with lasers is becoming so widely used.

Why is laser cutting better than other conventional processes?

It offers unique benefits over other more conventional forms of cutting. It has a lower power consumption, typically around 10Kw compared to 50Kw of other forms, and it operates at a much quicker and more precise rate.

Also, it is safer as the laser beam is enclosed within a tight light box, whereas with other conventional methods typically a free running blade is doing the cutting.

How accurate is cutting with lasers?

One of the biggest benefits of the cutting process is the accuracy and precision that it provides to its users. With a focused, narrow beam, it can provide an ultimate level of accuracy.

Slits with widths as small as 0.1mm are achievable with laser cutting. You can see more on the process in action with a video from us here; redENERGY G4 Pulsed Fiber Laser Cutting & Marking 0.3mm& 0.9mm.

What are the capabilities of laser cutting?

The process is capable of performing a huge number of tasks. Thanks to the accuracy and speed that it provides, you will see it being used to delivery cuts in materials, make holes, create complicated shapes, and even to perform surgery on human tissue.

Will cutting damage my material?

No, and this is one of the greatest advantages of all. As it is a non-contact process and uses a beam that is highly precise on the area it is being focused upon, heat damage is minimal to the surrounding area of the material.

Are there different types of laser cutting?

Yes, there are several different types and techniques of laser cutting. The three main types are C02, crystal and fiber. Here at SPI we only work with fiber lasers for cutting using our Pulsed Fiber Lasers and Continuous Wave Fiber Lasers.

Other frequently asked questions (FAQ) guides from SPI Lasers

This is just one of a series of FAQ guides from SPI Lasers, we have also published:

Do you have more questions ?

As you can see from the above, this is one of the most useful laser-based processes to have been developed for modern society today. Although you may not realise it, laser cutting affects us in more ways than you think!

The laser cutting process has many benefits over convetional cutting, namely that it delivers a much cleaner cut and finish

The laser cutting process has many benefits over conventional cutting, namely that it delivers a much cleaner cut and finish

From helping to save lives with laser surgery to building the cars we drive or the smartphones that we use, laser cutting has a part to play. It is just one of a number of useful processes our range of Fiber Lasers can complete, learn more by registering for SPI updates. If you have more questions that aren’t answered here on laser cutting or one of the other laser processes, we would be happy to help, call us on +44 (0) 1489 779 696 today.

Image credit: Unknown, Jilbert Ebrahimi, Arcaion and Unsplash

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