Best Metals for Laser Cutting Projects
Laser cutting is a marvel of modern technology in the industrial and manufacturing market. It is an extremely versatile way of creating parts in a large variety of materials. Laser cutting is so versatile that it can be used to cut woods, plastics, acrylics, and metals for both structural and decorative purposes. When it comes to parts that last and resist wear and tear, metal has always been the go-to option, but there might be some options for lightweight or technical parts.
What metals can be used with laser cutters? Technology continues to advance to make this question moot. Currently, almost all metals can be laser cut, but there may be some requirements depending on the material that might be chosen. The different types of materials can be broken into 3 categories:
Each of these has different applications, requirements, and laser needs.
Ferrous metals are metals which contain iron. Other non-reflective metals are also grouped with ferrous metals. Most commonly, steel, stainless steel, and iron itself are considered for manufacturing in this category. These metals are extremely strong and versatile and are used for their strength. Materials in this category are used for structural and high-stress applications. Parts made with these metals are able to hold up under high pressure and heat with less chance of distortion.
When it comes to cutting, these materials are easily cut by a number of different types of lasers. This versatility also makes it nice for cutting. Its resiliency and non-reflective properties when it comes to laser cutting also allows for modern lasers to be able to cut pieces that are thicker than some other options. Once cut, these parts should last a long time, but they are not always the best for more delicate applications or applications where electro-conductivity is sought after. The costs of ferrous materials can very depending on the type of material and the thickness, but is usually in the middle of non-ferrous options.
Non-ferrous metals include aluminum, magnesium, copper, silver, gold, titanium, zinc, etc. With lower electrical impedance and heat resistance, these metals are used in more delicate applications where ferrous metals might not be the best option. Some materials will not survive the same conditions as the ferrous metals. For example, aluminum is a great option for lightweight gears or technical parts that won’t experience massive amounts of stress, but still need to be able to function properly for a reasonable amount of time. Copper or gold might be a better option to consider if a piece needs to be able to conduct electrical charge.
When it comes to laser cutting, these metals also are much trickier to cut and require specific types of laser in order to be cut effectively. Without the proper laser and settings, damage can occur to the piece or the machinery creating costly mistakes. Usually these materials are not able to use a standard CO2 laser and require a fiber laser to cut. Gold, silver, and copper are so unaffected by a CO2 laser that it requires a fiber laser. Even with a fiber laser, the thickness of the material that can be cut is much less than ferrous metals. Greater thickness requires longer exposure to cut the material and these metals are far less resistant to the heat and other environmental factors created by the process. The price of possible materials in this category vary greatly with aluminum and zinc often being examples of less costly options and gold and platinum being examples of some of the most costly options.
While obviously not metals, most synthetic materials (and even woods) are generally used for aesthetic embellishments and decorative pieces. That being said, polyoxymethylene, or POM, is an engineering thermoplastic that has some applications in parts production. Sometimes called Acetal or Delrin, this is a resilient plastic that can be used for technical parts and lightweight gears. It is is great at keeping its shape without warping and breaking like is seen from other synthetics such as acrylic.
POM is easily cut by a number of different lasers. It is also waterproof, weatherproof, and resistant to most acids, bases, and other solvents.
A great number of materials are applicable for creating and cutting with laser cutting. With so many options and some special requirements, it can be dizzying. Fortunately, the experts at Engineered Mechanical Systems are available to help you. They can assists you with all the latest techniques and technologies to get the best results for your budget. Get in contact with them today to start on the path to completing your project.