The Truth Behind Laser Cutting Myths
The laser is arguably one of the most utilitarian advances of technology that we’ve seen. These beams of energetic light have been harnessed to accomplish tasks ranging from corrective eye surgery to transmitting sound.
Laser cutting is an optic technology used by computers to guide a high-powered laser as it manipulates various materials into a pre-programmed design. Some popular examples would be circuitry guides for camera technology or home decorations made from a wide range of materials. With the right equipment, lasers can be used to cut a wide range of metals into detailed and unique shapes perfect for a wide variety of projects.
However, the ubiquity of laser cutting in the world of manufacturing has also led to some common myths that surround the process. So, in this article, we’ve put together a few of the top myths about laser cutting.
Laser-Cutting Myths Debunked
Let’s take a look at each of these laser cutting myths, and dispel some of the most common misconceptions about the process.
Myth: Laser Cutters are Complex and Hard to Use
Many people think that because laser cutters are very sophisticated, they are hard to use.
Laser cutters have become more widespread and become easier to use, and are in fact much more simple than mechanical cutting tools – like presses and die-cutting tools.
Skill is still required to ensure a proper end product is produced without injury or damage to the material, but laser cutters are much more “plug and play” and simpler to operate than most people think — especially compared to mechanical cutting processes like die cutting.
This is because, unlike those other tools, laser cutters do not need any special tooling like a die or a stamp to cut material. They are programmable for each job, with no need to change tooling.
Rather than replacing a die or stamp, the laser just needs a user to upload the proper instructions in the form of a drawing or CAD file, and load them into the computer – then, it can cut the material precisely and accurately.
Myth: Lasers Burn the Materials they Cut
Lasers produce a lot of heat, so many people assume that they burn the material that they cut.
Lasers do produce a lot of heat so they can char some types of materials, like wood.
However, lasers do not “burn away” the edge of a material. The Heat Affected Zone (HAZ) caused by laser cutting is very small, and after the laser cut is complete, it can typically be ground away completely, resulting in a very clean, sharp edge with your exact specified dimensions.
In addition, charring does not occur on any material besides wood – and when cutting plastic or composite material, the edges will be sealed by the high heat, which results in an even higher-quality cut!
Myth: Lasers Can Cut Through Material of any Thickness
Many people think that because lasers are so strong, they can cut through any material — no matter how thick it is.
Every cutting technique has its limits. A high-wattage laser can handle some very thick materials and cut stainless steel and aluminum that’s up to ½” in thickness. Some lasers can even handle steel of a ¾” thickness or higher.
However, lasers tend to slow down significantly when used to cut extremely thick, dense materials. Laser cutting is more suitable for thinner materials, while an alternative cutting method like water jet cutting is often a better choice for extremely thick, heavy metals.
Myth: Lasers Can’t be Used to Cut Highly-Reflective or Transparent Materials
A common misconception about laser cutting is that it can’t be used to cut extremely highly-reflective material because the beam of light can be “bounced off” the metal and damage the laser.
While some CO2 lasers can’t be used to cut highly-reflective materials like aluminum, many have specially-aligned beams that can cut through the material with no issues. In addition, a solid-state fiber optic laser can be used – because fiber optic lasers use an extremely low-wavelength infrared light (under 1μm), the reflectivity of the metal is dramatically reduced.
Lasers can also be used to cut completely transparent materials – like glass and acrylic – with no issues at all. The laser doesn’t just “pass through” the material, despite the transparency of the material being cut.
Myth: Higher Wattage is Always Faster and Better
Many people think that simply cranking up the power of a laser will make it faster and give a cleaner cut.
The higher the wattage, the more easily a laser can cut through thicker material. However, wattage alone does not determine the productive power of a laser.
A more important measurement is power density. This refers to the total amount of laser watts that can be focused on a single square centimeter. Lower wattage lasers often have a higher overall beam quality that can be focused into a smaller area.
This means that they have a higher power density than a comparable, extremely high-watt laser, and are more efficient at cutting materials of medium thickness. If you are looking to rapidly cut a medium-thickness material, a lower-wattage laser may – counter-intuitively – actually be a better choice.
Myth: Laser Cutting Is Dangerous
Lasers are really powerful and can easily slice through materials like steel, so of course, people think that they are incredibly dangerous.
Laser cutting is actually extremely safe when the laser cutter is installed properly, and the operators are properly trained on the procedures and techniques required to keep them safe. In fact, there is a lower risk of a serious injury, compared to a comparable tool-based system.
And despite popular belief, fires are very uncommon when using a laser cutter. While the material being cut is heated up quite a bit, relatively little heat is produced during the cutting process, and there is no serious combustion risk.
In addition, there is no need to expose the hands or other parts of the body to dangerous, heavy-duty machinery – which is required when changing the tooling of a tool-based system like a die cutting press.
Know What’s Fact – and Fiction – About Laser Cutting Systems!
We hope this article has been useful, informative, and helped you learn more about the fact – and fiction – about laser cutting.
If you’re interested in learning more or need a laser cutting partner to help you with your laser cutting project, contact Engineered Mechanical Systems today.
We’re experts in the field of laser cutting – and we can help with cutting and manufacturing projects of any size. Get in touch now to learn more, and get started today.