One thing that has been constant in the manufacturing, production, and fabrication industries over the years is the market’s need for the most innovative and sophisticated machining technologies to meet their uncompromising design and requirements. Laser cutting technology is one of the most reliable solutions that has been helping machinists satisfy the market’s demand. It creates the ability to work faster, more precisely, while still delivering high-quality products.
Understanding Flat CNC Laser Cutting
Flat CNC laser cutting is a thermal cutting process for prototyping and manufacturing workpiece materials that require a high-powered laser beam to slice through flat pieces of sheet metal and plate to cut out desired patterns and specified geometries. The laser cutting technology is being controlled via computer; thus, it is referred to as Computer Numerical Controlled or CNC. The laser burns through metal on contact, creating clean and precise edges. This laser cutting process involves a flat sheet or flatbed machine capable of cutting various materials with different thicknesses.
Flat CNC laser cutting has become a popular choice in several manufacturing and production industries because of its distinct qualities and process advantages:
- Precise & Quick. Laser cutters can churn out even the most intricate designs in just a few minutes.
- Versatile & Efficient. Computer-controlled laser cutters can take in tight tolerances and optimal cutting plans.
- Quality & Accurate. Laser cutting creates clean, top-grade processed parts and edges at every pass.
- Cheap & Economical. With its speed and accuracy, laser cutters eliminate tooling rework and save time and money.
Operating Principle Of Flat CNC Laser Cutting
A laser resonator generates an intense beam of light that reflects and amplifies through a contained system of mirrors. Once the laser emission gathers enough energy to escape the container, it targets right through the cutting head. The laser beam narrows and projects down at the raw material and can cut or raster the workpiece.
As a non-contact cutting method, flat CNC laser cutting avoids needing a physical blade and the associated output imperfections. A designer, fabricator, or an artist can draw something in a computer design software and then send it to a laser cutter where the machine projects the laser beam to cut or etch into the material on the cutting bed automatically, with just the push of a button.
3 Main Types Of CNC Laser Cutters
The type of laser cutter defines the kind and thickness of material it can cut through. Different laser types vary in terms of power ranges. Usually, higher-power lasers are used on the industrial scale to cut out large sections of raw materials. In comparison, lower-power lasers are used for a wide range of thinner, more potentially combustible materials.
The 3 main types of lasers used in flat CNC laser cutting include – Gas, Crystal, and Fiber lasers.
- CO₂ or gas lasers are generated from electrically stimulated gas mixtures (mainly carbon dioxide). They are relatively inexpensive and the most common type of lower-power laser cutters used for engraving or cutting. The CO₂ laser is highly efficient and accurate, with a wavelength of around 10.6 micrometers. It is most useful for laser cutting various non-metallic materials such as wood, paper-based products, leather, acrylic, glass, some types of plastics, and foams.
- Neodymium or crystal lasers are formed from neodymium-doped crystals with much higher intensity than CO₂ lasers. Neodymium (Nd3+ ions) is a chemical element classified as rare earth metal that can assist the process of stimulated emission within the crystal to amplify light at a cohesive wavelength. They can cut through much thicker, more robust materials like metals, plastics, and some ceramics. These lasers offer a wavelength of 1.064 micrometers and are helpful for many applications, from medical and dentistry to military and manufacturing. The drawback of crystal lasers is that they can be expensive, not just due to their market price but also because of their shorter life expectancy of 8,000 to 15,000 hours compared to other laser cutters.
- Fiber lasers are increasingly being used for laser cutting steel and other materials due to their cutting speed and energy efficiency. A single-frequency beam is sent into another laser to achieve narrowband emission via injection of “seed” or laser beam. They are amplified via special glass fibers and have a solid-state construction and high-power output, reducing consumable costs and requiring less maintenance. Thus, they are more energy-efficient than CO₂ lasers. Their broad wavelength is 1.064 micrometers, which is exactly ten times smaller than the CO₂ lasers, producing a tiny focal diameter. They are also typically the most expensive of the various laser cutting devices.
With flat CNC laser cutting, you can cut, engrave, melt or vaporize products and workpieces of various levels of complexity from solid materials. CNC laser cutting continues to surge in popularity, and its broad range of cutting capabilities and superior dimensional accuracy make CNC laser cutting the ideal production tool for different businesses and industries.
Laser Cutting Design & Control Software Programs
CNC Laser cutters work similarly to an office regular printer. For it to “understand” exactly what it needs to do, laser cutters come with specific drivers that allow them to take what is on the computer, convert it into a format that the laser cutter can read, and then let the laser cutter perform its function. The most common file formats for laser cutting are CAD files in .dxf or .dwg format. Solid models in .step or .stp format are also acceptable.
The two commonly used design software and computer program applications for flat CNC laser cutting are AutoCAD and SolidWorks.
AutoCAD is a great, free program that will allow you to edit designs and drawings and export them to a file type that the laser cutter can read. You may also use the CorelDraw program, which functions like AutoCad but is not free and requires a license. Both programs have many design tools and templates and can work with vectors and bitmap images. They work with different image formats necessary for laser cutting that the machine understands.
SolidWorks is another excellent software for visual creativity, modeling, planning, feasibility assessment, prototyping, and project management. The program is used by mechanical, electrical, and electronics engineers to form a connected design. SolidWorks files can be exported to vector files easily read by laser cutters for fast and accurate manufacture.
Both Autocad and SolidWorks programs function hand-in-hand in a flat CNC laser cutting procedure.
Undoubtedly, flat CNC laser cutters’ unique design, functionalities, and advantages make them so valuable in today’s manufacturing and fabrication industries. To achieve accurate and precise fabricated parts using CNC laser cutters, you must work with a top-tier solutions provider with a track record of delivering quality parts at a fair price and relatively quick lead time.
Taylor Business Strategies, Inc. (TBSI) has access to more than 50 lasers within its extensive supplier networks. TBSI has been fabricating high-performance components since 1998 with its teams of experts with vast knowledge of many material types and applications in various industries.
Utilizing the latest innovations in laser cutting technology, TBSI offers versatile precision laser cutting solutions for different raw material types, such as
- Mild Steels
- Coated Steels
- Stainless Steels
- Acrylic or Plastics
- Leather Materials
Aside from Flat CNC Laser Cutting solutions, TBSI is also capable of
- CNC Sawing
- Tube Laser Cutting
- Waterjet Cutting
- CNC Plasma Cutting
- CNC Router Cutting
- Torching or Flame Cutting
TBSI can help your business with any of your raw materials or steel fabrication needs. Reach out to our agile team to learn more about our superb manufacturing solutions that ensure successful projects. You may also request a quote and provide details of your specific needs, and we will get back to you with recommendations, a competitive quote, and a swift turnaround time.