Laser cutting and welding is a technology that uses a laser to cut and engrave (etch) materials, and is for industrial manufacturing.
Laser cutting works by directing and moving the output of a high-power laser, using a computer, at the material to be cut. The material melts, burns, or vaporizes away and is blown away by a jet of gas leaving a precision edge. Laser cutters are used to cut flat-sheet material as well as structural and tubular materials. Laser is an acronym that stands for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation.
Advantages over conventional abrasive / mechanical and heat cutting include:
- Easier work holding and reduced contamination of work piece.
- Consistent precision cutting as the laser beam does not wear during the process.
- There is less warping the material that is being cut due to a smaller heat-affected zone.
- Some materials are also very difficult or impossible to cut by more traditional means.
- Can use less energy when cutting sheet metal than say plasma cutting.
- Highly complex cuts and forms are possible.
There are thee main types of laser:
CO2 - The CO2 laser is suited for cutting, boring, and engraving CO2 lasers are used for industrial cutting of many materials including mild steel, aluminum, stainless steel, titanium, paper, wax, plastics, wood, and fabrics.
Nd - The Neodymium (Nd) is used for boring and where high energy but low repetition are required.
Nd YAG - Neodymium yttrium-aluminum-garnet (Nd-YAG). The Nd-YAG laser is used where very high power is needed and for boring and engraving YAG lasers are primarily used for cutting and scribing metals and ceramics.
Both CO2 and Nd/ Nd-YAG lasers can be used for welding. Using a mixture of gases like helium and nitrogen aids cutting and controls welds. Laser tubes need cooling and are often water cooled. Lens and mirror optics that reflect and focus the laser beam are crucial to accuracy and precision. Lasers are CNC controlled.