Laser cutting is a high precision CNC thermal process that uses a high-power laser beam to cut, melt, or burn a material sheet. It uses a focussed beam of light to cut and etch sheet material to the design specification. Ideal for a variety of material types (including metals, wood and polymers), it is capable of producing complicated parts without using a custom-designed tool.
The process is suitable for both one-off jobs and low, medium volume production due to its high repeatability. Laser cutting is particularly useful for the fabrication of metals (steel, brass, aluminum, or nickel). It has become a firm favorite in the production of medical products owing to its high precision, reliability, and resultant smooth finishes.
In contrast to CNC machining, laser cutting works with sheet material, producing shapes and forms no more profound than 10mm (depending on the material type).
In this article, the key differences between the main types of laser cutting are introduced, and the characteristics of the process are discussed. By the end, you will have an overview of the basic principles of the technology and how these relate to its key benefits and limitations.
If you need to create a unique object you may decide to use rapid prototyping, which is a popular technique nowadays. However, it is also possible to use laser cutting in order to produce a prototype. Laser cutting is a CNC thermal process which uses a high-power laser beam. By using the laser a material sheet will be cut, melted, or burned. This will be done to create a high detailed item. Several material types can be used during this process, these include wood, metals, and polymers. It will thus be a sheet, which will be turned into an actual product. Laser cutting has several advantages and disadvantages, as you can read below.
A big advantage of laser cutting is that it can be used to create exact marks and cuts. This makes it a suitable manufacturing technique for a lot of different products. A battle opener is a great example of an item that can be created with the help of laser cutting. Besides that, this method will often be not only faster than other manual fabrication techniques, but it will also be much more efficient.
Another benefit you can experience when using laser cutting is that it offers unparalleled flexibility if you are working with material sheets. You can create many different shapes from the same material thickness while you do not have to change the setup. This is the case regardless of size and/or complexity of the product you are looking to create.
Of course, laser cutting has some disadvantages as well. This is essentially the case for all production methods, there simply is not a perfect technique available. Laser cutting comes close to being perfect though. In essence, this manufacturing method only has two disadvantages. The first one is about the costs. These may be higher if you want to use laser cutting, which is the case since the energy consumption is quite high. This will thus lead to expensive running costs.
However, the laser cutting costs vary quite a lot. It, for example, depends on the type of laser used and the material thickness. Another potential disadvantage of laser cutting is actually that it may struggle if you want to use thick materials. If the material you are going to use is over 100 millimeter thick it could become difficult, although this depends on the laser type.