Metal cutting – what are the most effective techniques?

As you may know, lasers possess the peculiar property of concentrating a tremendous amount of EM radiation power into a very small area. This property allows the laser to be used even for cutting metals in different environments and applications.

A great many technologies and techniques are available for cutting metal in its various shapes and sizes. Each of these technologies comes with its advantages and disadvantages, which must always be taken into account by those handling and using metal in their own industrial or commercial sectors. 

If you are an operative in the mechanical engineering, construction or building sector, knowing which technologies allow the cutting of metals in an effective and simple manner is always useful. When you finish reading this article, you will understand why lasers provide the greatest benefits when working with metals.

Metal cutting techniques, are they all sound?

As we know, four methods are used to cut metal:

  • laser
  • waterjet
  • plasma
  • shearing

One of the strengths of the laser for cutting metals is its unique ability to focus power onto a very small area. This makes the laser the ultimate technology in accuracy and quality work in metal marking.

Later we will see how speed is also a strength of the laser when it comes to cutting metals.

The laser might seem at first glance to be the least cost-effective solution, but considering speed, accuracy, cutting quality and versatility, it is by far the most effective technology for a variety of metal cutting tasks. Let’s look at the details.

What sectors is metal laser cutting used in?

The laser’s flexibility of application allows it to meet the many requirements of any industrial sector where metal and metal derivatives are processed. In all kinds of shapes. 

Laser cutting is particularly handy where precision performance in terms of size is required. Low thermal impact is also a requirement – and one that the laser successfully meets – during the cutting process. 

For this reason, the sectors in which laser beams are widely used as a metal cutting system are as follows – automotive and aerospace, as well as the medicalbuilding and construction industry, fixtures and fittings and visual communication, specialist mechanical engineering, flexible dies, and engineering.

Lasers used for cutting metals are quite different from those used for marking or etching. Marking of metals is typically used to identify serial products with their manufacturing specifications. Or to apply serial, provenance and traceability codes. 

These are applications in the electrical and electronics industry, mechanical engineering and toolmakingsheet metal working, medical technology, promotional materials, jewellery and the automotive industry.

Metal laser cutting, all you need to know

Today, laser technology is a commonly used method for cutting metal. For the different types of composition, alloy, thickness and texture of the metal to be cut, there is a specific laser system designed to cut the metal.

As mentioned earlier, the chief benefits of using a laser cutting machine for metal are – 

  • high degree of accuracy
  • speed 
  • versatility 

Here we outline how laser cutting works and what materials it can be used for. Do you need to dig deeper? Contact us or ask one of our sales reps about what laser machine is best suited to your metal cutting needs.

Laser source for cutting metal, which one is best?

The market for laser cutting machines for sheet metal processing has been developing rapidly in recent years. 

New machines marketed by multiple manufacturers are revolutionising the laser cutting process and, consequently, the choices available to companies and professionals in need of metal cutting solutions.

When it comes to the source, users have two different choices, depending on their needs –

  1. conventional sheet metal laser cutting machines with a CO2 source
  2. machines with a new-generation fiber source 

CO2 laser source

The conventional CO2 laser has long been the most commonly employed source. The first application on sheet metal dates back to the late 1980s and, until a few years ago, was designed for particular substrates with thicknesses greater than 4 to 5 mm

This source uses a mixture of gases, known as lasing gases, and a considerable electric current to generate a beam of light. Considering the elevated operating temperatures, a large cooling unit (chiller) is required. 

These sources have a low energy efficiency (no more than 10 to 12%), so for every kW of power available for cutting, 10 times as much is needed to power the laser device alone.

Up until 2007, this was the only type of laser available for cutting processes.

Fiber laser source

In the years that followed, the laser cutting machine market began to shift to new technologies – fiber sources

Fiber lasers use optical fibers ‘pumped’ with diodes to create solid-state laser cutting sources with far fewer components and no need of a lasing gas. The key determinant when choosing laser cutting machines is efficiency.

The reason behind the rapid development of fiber sources is higher manufacturing speedsgreater accuracy and significant cost-saving benefits.

Basically, fiber optic lasers have better focusing capabilities, are much more stable, and spot diameters are much smaller compared to CO2 sources. This allows a considerably more accurate and stable cut during machining.

The energy efficiency of a fiber source is now on average 35% greater than CO2 sources. There are no lasing gas costs, no mechanical parts that wear out, and fiber sources are maintenance-free.

A decade ago, those who had to cut thicknesses greater than 4 to 5 mm were compelled to choose a machine equipped with a CO2 laser source. The power of the fiber sources seldom exceeded 2 to 3 kW. Today, because of technological developments, fiber sources with power outputs of over 15 kW are available. 

Fiber laser sources have essentially replaced CO2 lasers for all applications where metal needs to be cut.

Undoubtedly, CO2 laser sources are still effective for cutting non-metallic materials (such as wood, plastics, or textiles).

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