How Laser Cutting Works

Laser cutting is one of many processes that have noticed a much more widespread use over recent years. Many of the laser-based processes have similar benefits and applications, and as one cutting laser machine can perform multiple processes, it can be hard knowing exactly which one could be right for your business.

To make this a little easier, we have explored the process in greater detail below, looking at how the process works, the different types of laser cutting, its advantages, and where you’ll see it most commonly used.

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The laser cutting process is completed using a laser such as this

What is laser cutting?

As the name may suggest, this is the process of cutting a material using a laser beam. This can be done to either trim down a material or to help cut it into complex shapes that more conventional drills would struggle with.

This process also has many similarities to the drilling and engraving processes. The former involves the creation of thru-holes in a material or dents, like an engraving used in the later process. These dents and holes are essentially cuts, and you’ll often see a cutting laser machine also being used for drilling and engraving too.

A vast range of materials and thickness sizes can be cut with lasers, making it a handy and adaptable process.

A laser cutting machine can also be used for laser engraving

A laser cutting machine can also be used for engraving

What is the laser cutting process?

The process works by having a focused and precise laser beam run through the material that you are looking to cut, delivering an accurate and smooth finish. Initially, the beam pierces the material with a hole at the edge, and then the beam is continued along from there.

The laser essentially melts the material away that it is run over, so is more like melting than cutting. This means that it can easily cut light materials such as cloth up to tougher metals and gemstones such as diamonds.

You can use either a pulsed beam or a continuous wave beam, with the former being delivered in short bursts while the latter works continuously. You can control the beam intensity, length and heat output depending on the material you are working with, and can also user a mirror or special lens to further focus the laser beam.

Laser cutting is a highly accurate process, thanks to this high level of control that you are offered. Thanks to this, slits with a width as small as 0.1mm can be achieved when using the process.

There are three main types of laser cutting:

C02 laser cutting

C02 cutting is achieved using a gas laser. The gas in question is a carbon dioxide mixture which has been electrically stimulated. C02 cutting is most often used on non-metal materials as they have a wavelength of 10.6 micrometres.

Crystal laser cutting

This method uses nd:YAG (neodymium-doped yttrium aluminium garnet) and nd:YVO (neodymium-doped yttrium ortho-vanadate) lasers. These are crystals which belong in the solid state group of lasers, and have the same wavelength as fiber lasers, around 1.064 micrometres. This means that they are useful for both metals and non-metals.

However, this type of laser machine is made up from expensive pump diodes, which can be costly when needed to be replaced; typically, after 8,000 – 15,000 hours of use. The crystal used also has a much shorter service life than that of a fiber laser.

There are other types of laser cutting, such as gas laser cutting

There are other types of laser cutting, such as CO2

Fiber laser cutting

This type of cutting is completed using a fiber laser, the type we manufacture here at SPI Lasers. Like the crystal method above, fiber lasers belong to the solid state group too.

A beam is created using a ‘seed laser’, which is then amplified using glass fibers and pump diodes. They have the same wavelength as above, 1.064 micrometres. This means that the beam for a fiber laser is roughly 100 times greater than that of a C02 equivalent when it comes to intensity. It also means that they can work with both metal and non-metal materials.

A fiber laser is the most useful of the three types. Alongside the benefits listed above, they are often maintenance free, require much cheaper replacement parts, and have a much longer service life of around 25,000 usage hours.

We focus solely on state-of-the-art fiber lasers at SPI Lasers.  We manufacture  both Pulsed Fiber and Continuous Wave (CW) Fiber Lasers to complete any cutting tasks. With efficient speed and production rates, our lasers are great at working with numerous materials and high output industrial applications.

Fiber Laser Cutting Infographic

Read our Fiber laser cutting infographic to learn more about the laser cutting process, end to end.

Click on the infographic below to view the entire image, as only a thumbnail view is shown on this page.

Laser Cutting Infographic Thumb

Laser Cutting Infographic Thumb

There are also several techniques involved with the laser cutting process, which we have touched on briefly above:

Laser cutting

The main use for a laser machine, explained extensively in this article. This is the process of cutting a shape to create smaller sizes, pieces, or more complex shapes.

Laser engraving

Engraving is the process of removing a layer of a material to leave an engraving below. This is often used for etching barcodes onto items or personalising items such as trophies.

Laser marking

Marking is similar to engraving in that a mark is made but the difference being that the mark is only surface level, while an engraving from laser engraving has much more depth.

Laser drilling

Drilling is the process of creating dents or thru-holes on or in the surface of a material.

What materials can be machine cut?

A laser cutting machine is great at cutting a huge variety of materials. Listed below are just some of the many materials:

Whatever the material is that you need to work with and whatever the application, it’s highly likely that laser cutting will more than be up for the task.

What advantages does cutting with lasers have over other more conventional cutting methods?

There are a huge number of benefits over other more conventional forms of cutting:

  • It’s a non-contact process, and so there is minimal damage caused to the material you are working with and associated moving parts
  • Has low maintenance costs and only needs inexpensive replacement parts
  • The process helps to dramatically reduce material wastage
  • One laser cutting machine is capable of working with multiple materials and applications
  • It is much safer using than other processes as the beam is enclosed within a light box
  • You are offered total control with the beam intensity, heat output and duration when undertaking a laser cutting process, making this a highly reliable process

These are just some of the many advantages of laser cutting, for more benefits please refer to this page here.

These benefits have led to laser-based cutting being used in numerous industries, including the automotive (including e-mobility)aerospaceelectronicssemi-conductor and medical industries to name just a few.

Related articles

We highly advise reading the additional related content:

Think laser cutting is the right process for you?

If you’re interested in cutting with a laser after what you’ve read above or you have more questions, then we would be happy to discuss this further. Simply call us on +44(0)1489 779696 or complete our contact form. If you would like to receive further updates from us, click here.


Image credits: SD-Pictures, moritz320 and PeteLinforth


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