Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Laser Cutting Fundamentals

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By Marc Anderes

Not too long ago laser cutting was a futuristic technology, but it has proven itself to be a practical technique for custom cutting for sheet metal and a viable alternative to standard machine cutting. This strategy is the most precise and efficient that it is possible to use. To understand the various benefits of laser cutting an understanding of the process must first be established.

Using sophisticated computer software to control it, a laser cutting device is used to cut through almost anything. This is most commonly employed in industrial manufacturing, but numerous small workshops now use for some obvious reasons. During the process the material then melts away, vaporizes, burns, or is blasted away by powerful jets of gas, leaving a clean-cut edge with a smooth finish. Through this process, lasers can be used to cut flat sheet metal and structural and piping materials.

Lasers do not dull or get chipped by the process so not only is the quality better from laser cutting but also much more reliable. While lasers operate by heat, the actual heat-zone is usually very small so there is less of a chance of warping. The laser output can be altered to suit the material's type and thickness, further reducing the likelihood that heat damage will occur during the cutting process. Some of the benefits of laser cutting over mechanical cutting include better workholding as the piece its self is cut much faster by the laser. There is also reduced contamination of work piece. When you consider that cutting blades often become contaminated by the previous job this is a major advantage.

Ordinary metal cutting involves a high degree of cutting and grinding. The edge is often left unfinished and needs to be refinished. This is a disadvantage that can be easily overcome by using laser cutting techniques. By being entirely computer controlled the precision of laser cut material when compared to machine cut materials is unprecedented. When a piece is cut, there is no finishing to be done. Therefore the laser cutting much more efficient than other cutting techniques.

Although it is true that the price of laser technology has come down substantially as the machines establish a niche in the industrial sector, it would not be practical to buy one if it will only be used for a few thousand pieces every year. Many custom laser machine shops or machine shops with a laser or two exist solely to to custom cut materials for manufacturers. There are several benefits to that as well. Without the need to employ operators for a machine that is seldom used or needing to remind yourself of how to operate it before every job, the quality continues to be high with these workshops. They are also known for being time efficient and customer friendly. So, over all, outsourcing a job that can be done faster and more accurately to a smaller laser shop may be the way of the future over on site shops which are not neccessarily cost effective or easy to maintain.

Laser cutting is still not quite out of its infancy in a lot of ways. New technology and techniques are still being developed but the fundamental process remains essentially the same and the obvious benefits of laser cutting can never be denied.

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