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.

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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 laser drilling of metal.

Why is laser drilling good at working with metals and what metals can it work with?

A single laser drilling 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 laser drilling 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, taking into account that material’s specific qualities.

Laser Drilling stainless steel

One metal that Laser Drilling is commonly used with is Stainless Steel.

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.

Why is laser drilling used within the manufacturing industries?

Laser drilling is a non-contact process, 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. Hence the reason that laser drilling has been growing in prominence.

A case study; the laser drilling of stainless steel

We have previously used our range of Pulsed Fiber Lasers for the laser drilling of stainless steel, which we have covered in more detail here.

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. Laser drilling can be used to create extremely fine holes, 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 laser 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 laser drilling process can work.

What applications does the laser drilling of metal have?

As we have already discussed the huge amount of control that laser drilling 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 laser drilling of metal 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/air worthy.

Laser drilling of engine vehicles

Laser drilling is used for drilling cooling holes in car engines

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

Laser drilling 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 smart phones 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.

What else is laser drilling capable of?

Although metal is the most common material that laser drilling is used with, it is capable of working with many other materials, including, plastics, rubbers, and glass. This means that it is found in other industries too, like the medical and pharmaceutical sectors. If you want to hear more about laser drilling, then please don’t hesitate to get in contact with one of our team.


Image credits: fotoblend, Silberfuchs, and markusthomasde

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