Lasers are versatile tools that can be used for a host of applications – from costly alloys to more traditional materials. But like any process, laser cutting is not without its weaknesses, despite all of the strengths and advantages it offers. A proper understanding of both the strengths and limitations of laser cutting is critical for determining whether or not a laser is the best tool for your cutting needs.
In this article, we’ll examine those strengths and weaknesses. We will also provide helpful insights and practical advice for effective laser cutting. So, if you’re asking: “How can I overcome the common challenges of laser cutting?” this article will provide helpful solutions and fixes, as well as insights to help position you for success with your next laser cutting endeavor.
First things first – let’s get the weaknesses out of the way. First of all, it is important to note that the thicker the material, the less effective laser cutting becomes. Attempting to cut thicker materials also increases the risk of a thermal runaway or blowout. To overcome this obstacle, intensely focus the laser’s beam and reduce the spot size. This process allows the laser to become a sharper tool. In addition, focus the gas assist for thicker materials.
Laser cutting is also prone to thermal issues, which are typically caused by insufficient materials or part geometry that is complex in nature. Thermal issues often occur when attempting to “pop” or drill holes. To address this challenge, the laser should be pulsed as opposed to cutting with a continuous wave.
Lasers are quite good at cutting through single materials such as acrylic or cardboard, but may not do as good a job in cutting composites such as Gator Foam, which has foam in between two layers of paper. In addition materials with coatings, such as PVC are not good candidates as the laser releases chlorine gas.
Material Quality: Type and Thickness
- Quality is an especially important consideration because laser cutting is sensitive to materials when compared to other processes. Other factors such as surface finish and material composition can also have a significant impact on the quality of a cut. High-pressure nitrogen instead of clean shop air may be used for cutting, for example, where excessive burning may occur without its use.
- The time commitment necessary to properly set up a laser can be significant, especially when cutting materials that are unfamiliar to the user. For this reason, it is important to maintain and utilize an established database of parameters of known materials based on time tests, specifications, and conditions. Utilizing such a database can improve efficiency and save time.
- Distortion occurs when an unexpected increase in the temperature of material takes place in close proximity to the cutting area. When added to the laser cutting nozzle, water quenching systems can help minimize stress caused by heat.
- It is important to be familiar with the shape of the parts being produced. More complex parts – cutting jobs such as those with fine angles, corners or intricate details – have an increased likelihood of blowouts or other adverse events during the process of laser cutting.
- There is no question that lasers are effective in drilling holes. However, drilling with lasers requires careful attention so as not to trigger a blowout in the process. Blowouts can often be avoided by lowering the pressure of the gas being used. The pressure should be reduced, but within levels that still allow for combustion.
It is also important to maintain control of the focal point of the laser. Dirt and debris can be the cause of blowouts; thus blowout risk can be further reduced by ensuring the surface of the material is clean and free of any oil or residue.
The Right Tool For The Job
Lasers come in a number of different forms and varieties, some of which are better-suited for certain materials than others. It is important to know the materials you will be working with and gain an understanding of what laser or tool is most conducive to your use.
For example, graphics that must be printed digitally are best cut by CO2 lasers, such as with MCT’s VersaTech2 flatbed cutters. CO2 lasers are also ideal for textiles and certain rigid materials, such as acrylic. Higher powered CO2 lasers and fiber lasers are better suited to cutting thicker metals and for cutting metals, although the CO2 laser is able to etch the surface of many materials that may not be capable of cutting, such as aluminum or ceramic.
Just like any tool, a laser is not a one-size-fits-all solution for every task. But those applications that are a good fit for laser cutting will benefit from greater efficiency, flexibility, and compatibility with a range of materials. The process is also easily defined, allowing for a replicable and controlled model.
The Laser Cutting People for Graphics
At MCT Digital, laser cutting is a crucial part of what we do. We have more experience in the development of digital finishing than any other American organization, having pioneered the use of digital flatbed cutters with our VersaTech2(TM) solution to accurately “cut to print.” The latest iteration, the VersaTech2, offers a true all-in-one solution to address both current and future customer needs.
Our team offers extensive knowledge and experience in laser cutting – contact us today to discover the ideal solutions for your needs.