Laser Drilling of Metal
Laser drilling is a process that is capable of working with multiple materials to produce many different results. One of the materials that it is most commonly worked with are various types of metal, a material that is found in pretty much every single industry on Earth.
Being able to adapt, change, and work with metal is crucial in any manufacturing industry, and we’ll find metal in everything from the electronics in our house to the transport we use to get to work. Without metal, it is safe to say things wouldn’t work quite as easily as they currently do!
Laser drilling is one of the most efficient and effective processes on the planet that works with metal, and has grown in popularity over the last few decades. Below we have explored in more detail the drilling of metal with lasers.
Why is laser drilling good at working with metals and what metals can it work with?
A single Fiber Laser machine and setup is capable of working with a host of different materials, and not just metals. This includes plastics, rubber, diamonds, silicon, and glass.
The reason that this process is so good at working with this wide range of materials is because of the total control that the process gives to the user over beam manipulation. This beam manipulation includes beam intensity, duration, and heat output, something that you cannot do with more conventional methods, such as using a standard drill. This means that the beam can be changed to work with each material and metal in a different way, considering that material’s specific qualities.
So when working with the different metals, laser drilling won’t damage the metal and will only cause a minimal amount of distortion, leaving it in perfect quality for whatever it is going to be used for. Thanks to this, laser drilling is able to work with a wide range of metals, which includes nickel alloys, iron, aluminium alloys, copper alloys, titanium alloys, stainless steel, nitinol, and brass.
So, when working with the different metals, drilling with lasers won’t damage the metal and will only cause a minimal amount of distortion, leaving it in perfect quality for whatever it is going to be used for. Thanks to this, the process is able to work with a wide range of metals (and their alloys), which includes nickel, iron, titanium, stainless steel and nitinol. In addition, drilling with an SPI laser also works with highly reflective materials (thanks to their patented Back Reflection Protection technology), which include silver, aluminium, brass, bronze, copper and gold as a few examples.
Why is laser drilling used within manufacturing industries?
Drilling with lasers is very popular within manufacturing industries for the efficiencies and cost-savings it delivers. These include:
- Complex and unusual – even the most complex and unusual of drill holes can be made as these can just be programmed into the laser.
- Environmental benefits – there are numerous green/environmental benefits of the process. One is the compactness of Fiber Lasers, which saves valuable building space. Reduced energy usage is another benefit (compared to traditional equipment). Click this link for further information.
- No material damage – the process creates no material damage, creating drill holes which are perfect and don’t need other processes to sand/clean-up the drill hole (many traditional processes require this).
- Non-contact process – the process is remote, which improves employee health & safety and reduces contamination risks.
- Precision – allows for great beam manipulation as discussed above, and can drill with an incredible depth to diameter ratio, which is greater than 10:1. Previously, a ratio like this was not needed, but devices and components have been getting increasingly smaller and more complicated, and a more precise process has been needed.
- Reduced costs – overall staffing levels are reduced, some tooling is eliminated, power costs are reduced, and considerable amounts of waste materials are saved (as drilling with lasers create virtually no waste) to give a few examples.
- Speed – the process is much quicker than traditional processes.
The above reasons provide ample insight into why drilling with lasers has been growing in prominence within manufacturing.
A case study; the laser drilling of stainless steel
In many cases, metals that have a thickness of less than 1mm need to be worked with, and more conventional drilling methods can damage the metal in question. Extremely fine holes can be created, with spot sizes of less than 30 microns, while leaving the quality of the metal undamaged.
In our case study, we were able to achieve drilling rates of around 400 holes per second in stainless steel that had a thickness of 200µm. Of course, holes with different diameters and depths can be achieved depending on the size of the metal, but this one case study proves how efficiently and effectively the drilling process can work.
What applications does the laser drilling of metal have?
As we have already discussed the huge amount of control that drilling with lasers allows for and the wide range of metals that it can successfully work with, it is hardly surprising that it has use for a number of different applications when it comes to metal. We have explored some of these applications in more detail below.
Thru-holes for cooling and fuel flow
One of the most common uses for the drilling of metal with lasers is within the automotive and aerospace industries to create thru-holes for cooling, fuel flow, and lubrication purposes. Naturally, these two industries use thousands of different parts and pieces, and it is incredibly important that the end product is safe and road/airworthy.
Laser drilling is the perfect solution for this and is capable of drilling roughly between 0.3 and 3 holes per second at incredible accuracy, so can create thousands of precise holes in a short time frame. And typically, the thru-holes used on things like airplane turbine engines number in the thousands, so laser drilling is the most adequate process for this.
What else are thru-holes used for?
As well as for cooling and fuel flow purposes, the thru-holes in metal that laser drilling offers also has uses in many other places. This includes in showerheads, food mincers, coffee machines, air bearings, filters, sieves, and vent holes.
Small holes to help with the flow of electricity
The process is also commonly used within the electronics and semi-conductor industries to create thru-holes in printed circuit boards that allow for the proper flow of an electrical current. These tiny holes are called microvias.
Printed circuit boards are found in many different places, including the smartphones and computers that we use every day. As you may imagine, these printed circuit boards are incredibly small, and as with the small thru-holes in the aerospace and automotive industries, they need to be precise and accurate. Laser drilling is one of the most capable processes at achieving this level of precision.
Applications within e-mobility
The e-mobility market is an exciting emerging new market which is moving various forms of transportation from fossil-fuel-powered technologies to electric-powered technologies.
Fiber Lasers have many applications, which can enable the breakthrough of e-mobility, one of these is laser drilling. Example areas include the drilling of cooling holes, the precision drilling of metal electrodes in batteries as well as drilling of thousands of other drill holes in the electric vehicle manufacturing process.
Other materials which can be laser drilled
Although metal is the most common material that drilling with lasers is used with, it is capable of working with many other materials, including, plastics, ceramics, rubbers, silicon and glass. This means that it is found in other industries too, like the electronics, medical and pharmaceutical sectors.
Contact SPI Lasers to discuss your drilling requirements
If you want to hear more about laser drilling, then please don’t hesitate to get in contact with one of our team. Contact SPI Lasers today by calling +44(0)1489 779696 or complete our contact form at our contact page for an early reply. Click this link to receive regular updates from SPI Lasers.
Image credits: markusthomasde
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