Industrial manufacturing has come a long way since the stone ages. In modern days, companies are using a series of sheet metal cutting systems to create prototypes and products. With its growing popularity, laser cutting has become more accessible to many manufacturers. Once only available for high end companies with deep pockets, any manufacturer can get their hands on this ever-growing process.
In this article, I will discuss the ins and outs about this process and how it can be beneficial to your company.
What Is Laser Cutting?
It’s a kind of technology that uses a concentrated beam of light to cut through different kinds of metals. Because the light beam is so focused, it generates a lot of energy towards a piece of metal ultimately burning, vaporizing, and melting whatever comes in its way.
This cutter is connected to a CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machine. Which uses smart software that digitally designs a 2D prototype. This design is then translated in a series of instructions to the cutter.
Almost like a printer, but instead of releasing ink onto a paper, it releases a powerful laser that cuts intricate shapes in hard materials.
What is the Origin?
First used to cut diamonds by drilling holes, the laser cutter was first produced in 1965 by the Western Electric Engineering Research Center. In 1967, the British improved the design by incorporating oxygen jet cutting. It was used to melt through titanium used in aerospace productions.
Carbon Dioxide cutters were later used to cut through non-metal materials.
There are three different types available in the market: Carbon Dioxide, A Neodymium yttrium-aluminum-garnet (Nd:YAG) and the neodymium (Nd).
Carbon Dioxide – uses radio frequency energy or a gas mix. They are typically used for industrial purposes as they can cut a number of different materials including plastic, titanium stainless steel, wood, wax, mild steel, and paper.
YAG – YAG can scribe and cut through ceramics and different kind of metals. Typically used for designs that are very simple and easy – not too intricate.
Nd – Similar to the YAG as it uses high energy. It can’t repeat as many designs in one go and is typically used in low repetition projects.
All the above-mentioned types can also be used as welding machines to connect different metals together.
The strength of the beam depends on the thickness of the material. Depending on what the design or intensity is, the machine will be set to a certain setting. That’s why it needs an experienced and trained operator.
For example, a 500 W machine can cut through a 2mm steel sheet, while a 40 W machine can glide through cardboard, paper, thin plastic and foam.
Learn more about digital techniques and engravings here: https://www.sculpteo.com/en/glossary/laser-cutting-definition/
What are the Advantages?
When manufacturers use this machine instead of cutting sheet metal manually, there are great advantages. It provides the following advantages:
There’s no need to use an array of different tools, as the laser is able to cut a variety of different shapes. The cut isn’t made through a series of separate lines, but rather one fluent one that can be turned and twisted according to the design.
The strong light beam achieves great precision. It can read and follow instructions up to a fraction of a millimeter. Therefore, it creates a high standard and precise product. Because this machine works with such precision, the edges of the metal usually doesn’t show burr. This also makes buffing and polishing much easier and faster.
FAST AND EFFECTIVE
Engineers have resorted to using a laser light cutter because it is much faster than a technician. Traditional designing can take an extremely long time, especially when it’s small and intricate shapes that need to be made with delicate tools.
BETTER THAN OTHER METHODS
Flame and plasma cutting are other methods used by manufacturers to create the same product. Using a concentrated laser beam can cut seamlessly through a metal thickness of up to 10mm.
No tools are damaged throughout the process, since it’s a contactless method.
Extra Accessories that Go with the Laser Cutter
A great addition to the laser cutter is a bending machine. It assists in that it makes dies for the cutting machine. It helps to bend and crease a piece of sheet metal and even create a box type form.
Laser cutters are mainly used to cut through sheets of metal, wood, cardboard, or plastic. Manufacturers use this technique during the sheet metal prototyping process. Typically used in 2D designs, tracing a path onto a sheet to cut out forms.
Using 2D vector drawings that’s imported into a smart software, you’ll be able to start the process.
How to Create a 2D Model
It’s a much easier process than creating a 3D model for a 3D cutter or printer. Using the correct kind of software, you should start by drawing a 2D image in a vector style. The image should follow a few rules:
- The lines of the image should be closed. There can’t be any gaps where the lines have to meet.
- Check with the service or machine operator how thick the lines must be as well as the color of the lines.
- Use fillets to be able to use most of the flat sheet
- Create round holes in areas where you’d like to use a drill later for precision.
Once the 2D prototype has been designed it should be saved in a file format that can be read by the laser cutter.
From here, manufacturers (and even hobbyists) have two options. You can either send the design to a service that will do the cutting for you or if you have your own machine on site, you can log it in.
For manufacturers that are constantly creating new prototypes it will be a time efficient investment to buy your own laser cutter. These powerful laser beam machines are extremely beneficial and a clever investment for any manufacturing company.