Laser Drilling FAQs

Laser drilling is the process whereby thru-holes are created in a material by pulsing a focused laser repeatedly to break it down layer by layer. Each of the laser processes, whether it is laser marking (FAQs), engraving (FAQs), cutting (FAQs), drilling (FAQs), additive manufacturing (FAQs), welding (FAQs), cleaning (FAQs), ablation (FAQs)  or another one entirely, has its own unique qualities and functions. Below we have explored in greater detail some of the most frequently explored laser drilling FAQs.

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Laser processes

How does laser drilling work?

As explained briefly above, the process of drilling with a laser is using a precision laser to create “popped holes” in a material. The beam intensity, length, and heat output can be precisely and accurately controlled throughout the process, allowing the laser to work with a number of different materials and create holes of several diameters and sizes.

This level of control makes it a great alternative to other drilling processes such as mechanical drilling, wire EDM, or punching. This is an extremely quick and efficient process, and can be automated to produce the required results, resulting in minimal input needed from employees. Also referred to as ‘ablation’, the process involves the melting or vaporisation of the material that it is working with. This, in turn, then increases the material volume within the hole that is being laser drilled, resulting in high vapour pressure. This pressure then drives the excess melt out of the hole.

What materials can laser drilling work with?

Due to the high level of adaptability that beam intensity, duration, and heat output, it is able to work with a wide range of materials. The materials that lasers can work with include various metals such as stainless steel, nickel alloys, copper alloys, titanium alloys, aluminium alloys, and brass. Alongside metal, lasers are also extremely effective in drilling semi-conductors, plastics, quartz substances, ceramics, rubber, and even diamonds.

Laser drilling for diamonds

Laser drilling can be used on many materials, including diamonds

What industries is laser drilling used in?

As with the above point, laser adaptability means that it is useful in many different industries and sectors. These sectors include; the automotive industry, the aerospace industry, the semi-conductor industry, the electronics industry and the medical sector. Laser-based drilling is becoming an increasingly vital element of manufacturing processes, and will most likely have been used in many of the everyday products that we use.

What are the benefits of laser drilling?

Lasers offer a number of drilling advantages to its users over other more conventional forms of laser processes. The benefits include:

  • Non-contact – Lasers use a non-contact process, meaning that it causes little change to the materials it is working with (except to drill holes of course!)
  • Precision – Lasers provide precise control of beam intensity, heat output, and duration, meaning it consistently produces accurate results
  • Hole shape variation – This level of control means that lasers can drill shallow angles and different shaped holes
  • Small but high aspect ratio drilling – Lasers can produce holes with small diameters but high aspect ratio (this is where the depth-to-diameter is greater than 10:1)
  • Automated process – This is an automated process and can easily be programmed for different uses. It allows for fast setup times and quick production rates
  • Machine multiple use – The same laser that is used for drilling can also be used for laser welding and laser cutting, making it an extremely versatile process
  • Material diversity – Lasers can work with a number of different materials, including plastics, rubbers, silicon, various metals and even diamonds
  • Multiple simultaneous drilling – Some laser processes can drill multiple features at the same time
  • Flexibility – also offers flexibility when it comes to changeovers for prototypes or small-batch manufacturing

How accurate is laser drilling?

Drilling with lasers provides a process that uses a very focused, narrow laser beam that gives precise and accurate results. Thanks to this precise nature, lasers can drill at incredibly small yet perfect sizes. Before the world of lasers, a conventional drill could only create a hole around 0.003” in diameter, which is around the size of a human hair. Now, thanks to the accuracy, holes with a diameter as small as 0.0004” can be drilled.

Drilling with a laser finds uses in many industries, including in the automotive industry

What are the main applications of laser drilling?

Here are just a few applications:

  • Ceramic drilling – this is particularly used in LEDs and other electronic components
  • Gemstone enhancement – microscopic holes are drilled into gemstones (e.g. diamonds) to improve their quality and clarity
  • Micro holes – the drilling of micro holes (e.g. in semi-conductors), or perhaps in medical equipment (e.g. vials and syringes)
  • Silicon drilling – the drilling of PCBs (printed circuit boards) in particular and also in solar cell production

What are the capabilities?

As listed above, a laser is able to drill holes as small as 0.0004” at incredible speeds. For example, the process is used within the medical sector to drill roughly 140,000 tablets every hour in some instances! A laser can typically produce between 0.3 and 3 holes per second. A laser is capable of incredible drilling accuracy, high speeds, good efficiency, and is very adaptable, allowing it to be worked with a range of materials from metals to rubber to diamonds. A single laser machine is capable of producing hundreds of differently sized and shaped holes over 3D surfaces.

Will laser drilling damage my material?

No, this is one of the biggest benefits. It is a non-contact process, and with a precision beam it is only focused on the specific area being worked with. It won’t damage or alter the rest of the material, maintaining the high level of quality that you have started with.

What is single-pulse laser drilling?

There are several types of laser-based drilling processes, listed here and below.

Single-pulse drilling is when holes are laser drilled through a material with a thin thickness, or just for creating small holes, i.e. when roughing up a surface for coating and gluing purposes.

What is percussion laser drilling?

This is similar to the single-pulse drilling method, but is when the size of the laser’s focus spot is changed in order to change the size of the finished hole. Our Fiber Laser range has a drilling peak power of up to 20kW, and can drill holes as small as 25µm in diameter and up to a size of 1000µm, although the majority of holes laser drilled using this method are in the 300µm to 600µm range. Percussion drilling involves a series of laser pulses of small energy and duration.

What is trepan laser drilling?

Trepan is a drilling technique where a laser pierces a material and then, using a motion system, the laser is used to cut out a hole. This unique method allows for the creation of shaped holes, for a changing cross section, and for the trimming of complex 3D parts and objects.

What is helical laser drilling?

This is the process that is used to create large, deep drill holes. The hole isn’t created straight away, and instead several pulses are required to create a circular track in the material being worked with.

What else is laser drilling used for?

Other types of drilling techniques include the roughening of surfaces rather than creating thru-holes, and this is typically used for coating and gluing purposes.

What lasers are capable of laser drilling?

Our range of Pulsed Fiber Lasers and Continuous Wave Fiber Lasers are some of the most modern and innovative pieces of laser equipment on the market, and are capable of performing drilling to an extremely high and efficient level.

What other processes are SPI Lasers Fiber Lasers capable of?

As well as drilling, our range of Fiber Lasers also have uses for laser marking, cutting, welding, engraving, ablation, cleaning, and additive manufacturing. If you’re interested in hearing more on our range of Fiber Lasers or have more questions you may be able to benefit you, then please don’t hesitate to call +44 (0) 1489 779 696 or get in contact with us.

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Image credits: US Air Force, gr8effect, and Gratisography

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