Laser machining, or laser beam machining, is a non-contact method of removing metal or refractory materials. Using a powerful beam of light from a computer-controlled laser, surface layers are melted and blown away or vaporized. The beam of the laser is an extremely focused radiation of a wavelength, meaning the beam will not dissipate like conventional light beams.
Some laser beam machining services include drilling, graining and 3-D shaping. Serving industries such as medical, aerospace, telecommunication and microtechnology, laser machining applications include thin material processing, thin film patterning, wafer coring and hole drilling. These are just a few of the vast amounts of tools produced by laser cutting machines, since every machine in the manufacturing industry requires such parts. In laser beam machining, the beam may be shaped in two different ways: either through beam focusing, which uses an optical system to focus the laser beam on a particular size of spot, or through a mask, which utilizes geometric optic properties. Once the beam is shaped, it is controlled through a stable motion system, which is a combination of CNC and CAD computer systems, to achieve high edge quality during laser-material interaction. Assist gases such as nitrogen or carbon dioxide are then used in conjunction with laser machining to prepare newly cut surfaces for painting or corrosion resistance. Materials that can be laser machined include plastics, ceramics, cast iron, precious metals, glass and titanium.
Laser Machining - Great Lakes Engineering, Inc.
Laser cutting and plasma cutting processes are both commonly used techniques for manufacturing industrial parts and components. While these processes are used to accomplish a very similar goal, they both offer different advantages and operate in very different ways. Therefore, it is common to hear the question, "Should I use laser or plasma cutting?" As you might expect, there really is not a straight forward answer to this question, and certain conditions and requirements should be analyzed to make the right decision.
Before diving into this question completely, it is important to first discuss these two processes individually:
The laser cutting process was created and first used in the 1960s. This process was originally developed to assist in the cutting of holes in diamond dies but has since been expanded for use in a multitude of industrial manufacturing applications. Laser cutting is classified as a thermal cutting process, and it uses a focused beam of light together with oxygen, nitrogen, and compressed air to melt, burn, blow away, or vaporize the material being cut.
Plasma cutting was first developed in the decade before laser cutting, the 1950s, and was created to serve as an alternative to flame cutting. Plasma cutting utilizes plasma torches which blow inert gas through a nozzle at a high rate, while simultaneously passing an electrical arc through the gas. The electrical arc causes a change of states from gas to plasma, which is simply an electrically-conductive ionized gas. The plasma is then hot enough to melt metals and perform cutting processes.
In modern manufacturing processes, both laser cutting and plasma cutting procedures incorporate CNC technologies to improve accuracy, precision, and control. However, understanding the differences between these processes is the most important way to determine which process is right for your applications. Here are some important differences:
With this information, we can now discuss the question at hand, "Should I use laser or plasma cutting?"
Laser cutting is best used for the following applications:
Plasma cutting is a better option for the following applications:
For the best results for your cutting and fabrication needs, it is best to discuss your specifications and requirements with an experienced metal fabrication company, but this information will provide you with an excellent starting point for deciding which processes will work best for your project.