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Laser Cutting and Steel Fabrication

Updated on August 28, 2012

Laser Cutting

Laser Cutting

Today nearly all manufacturing processes are complex and require a great understanding of the applicable technology. This trend will only continue in the coming years. Therefore, anyone wishing to get involved in one of these processes should get to know its ins and outs thoroughly. The field of laser cutting, both sheet and tube, is no exception. This is a process which employs high energy lasers - that are focused and controlled by computers - to cut through materials. Because of its many good qualities, laser cutting has become an important manufacturing technique.

Some of the benefits that laser cutting offers include versatility and precision. The versatility comes in the form of three types of lasers, all of them unique and capable of different applications. First, there is the CO2 laser which is best used for engraving, boring, and cutting. Next, you have the Neodymium which has a high energy pulse but low repetition speed, making it ideal for certain boring operations. Finally, there is the Neodymium yttrium- aluminum-garnet. This variety is suited for boring and engraving processes which require very high power. Between these three options you are able to cover most manufacturing processes and it is only necessary for a company to determine which one option is appropriate.

While versatility is important, the precision that laser cutting offers is also what makes it an invaluable manufacturing tool. Typically, a laser cutting beam is .2mm in diameter at the surface of the cut, making each cut precise. Furthermore, laser beams are very powerful which makes them great for cutting tough material such as carbon steel and stainless steel. Another way that laser cutting demonstrates its precision is in the cutting edge. Because there is no contact between the material and the cutting agent there is no risk of contamination for either one. Additionally, laser beams are not subject to the wear that occurs with more traditional cutting agents.

Although the exactness that laser cutting offers is a plus, the advantages do not end there. With most manufacturing processes there is usually a finishing phase where the product is touched up in one way or another so that it is ready for commercial or industrial use. In the case of laser cutting the need for this phase is greatly reduced because the edges are of a higher quality than traditional methods. In fact, unless the material is thicker than 1/8” there is no finishing needed at all. Combine this with laser cutting’s ability to create virtually square edges and you have an excellent industrial process.

One of the only disadvantages to laser cutting is that it does not work well with copper and aluminum alloys. This is because those materials reflect the laser’s light while absorbing and conducting its heat. However, if you plan on using steel or a variety of other materials then laser cutting will most likely meet your needs with greater proficiency than traditional methods. This holds true for flat sheets, piping and tubing, and structural components which demonstrates the wide versatility this method has.


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    • sheetmetal1 profile image

      sheetmetal1 6 years ago from Fareham, Hampshire, UK, PO15 5SD

      It is true that laser cutting can be a very useful machine tool for cutting thick materials and where intricate profiles are required. However, when thinner gauges of sheet metal need to be processed at speed or where regular component profiles are needed CNC punching can be a viable alternative to laser cutting. With some machines like the Trumpf 3000R CNC punch press all sorts of features can be formed into sheet metal components as well as punching holes and the outer component profile. We use laser cutting when metals over 5mm thick are needed but under that we CNC punch.

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      shimking 7 years ago

      To your point regarding the cutting of reflective materials (aluminum, copper etc), Water Jet Cutting is the probably the best cutting alternative. Not only is the cutting machine not affected by the reflectivity of the material but there is also no heat affected zone when cutting your parts. Depending on the thicknesss of the parts, you can stack materials and also cut with multiple heads at the same time to increase productivity.

      Water Jets are also great for thick materials up to 4.0 inches in some cases. So keep them in mind for your cutting needs.