Laser drilling is specific type of laser cutting process used to drill holes into a variety of materials without making any contact. To work, laser drilling harnesses the power of extremely focused radiation wavelengths, or laser beams, removing material and altering materials by simply burning away or vaporizing their surface layers. Lasers, which originally stood for “light amplification by stimulated emission radiation,” emit light and heat using a gain medium, which is a mechanism that energizes them, an electric current, an output coupler and, of course, a beam. The beam is the portion of the laser that actually does the laser drilling. To vary hole sizes, operators can control laser direction using laser power or galvo systems, which are reflective mirrors that help direct and delivery the wavelengths with more precision where they are meant to go.
While some laser cutting processes work in continuous modes or continuous and pulsing modes alike, laser drilling works exclusively by precision-controlling its heat energy in short and quick laser pulsations. To achieve this, manufacturers set up laser drilling systems using a combination of CAD computer programs and CNC machining. CAD, or “computer aided design,” programs are those actual computer programs into which the dimensions of a planned product are inputted. These same programs make calculations based on these dimensions and tell the CNC machinery, or computer controlling machinery, what to do. The clean and precise form of drilling is popular with the manufacturers and operators of a number of industries. The areas in which laser drilling is well-loved include: aerospace, electronics, industrial manufacturing, medical and surgical equipment manufacturing and semiconductor fabrication. Some of the products upon which manufacturers rely on laser drilling the most to fabricate include: nozzle guide rings, irrigation needles, fuel injectors, flow control devices and engine blades.
The high speed, precise laser drilling process can be performed on a select few plastics, such as silicone, and, for all intents and purposes, it can be said that the laser drilling process can be performed on every known metal and metal alloy. This means that many more obscure alloys that cannot be drilled using traditional methods likes CNC punching or EDM punching, can be drilled using laser drilling. Some of the materials with which laser drilling is most compatible include: aluminum and aluminum alloys, ceramics, diamonds, galvanized steels, inconel, mild steels, nitinol, stainless steels and titanium alloys.
Laser drilling processes can be divided into a few different subcategories. These subcategories include: percussion drilling, helical drilling, trepanning and single shot drilling. To achieve its ends, percussion drilling uses multiple low energy and short duration pulses. Helical drilling also works using multiple pulses. Unlike percussion drilling, though, this laser drilling process emits laser pulses that move in a circular motion and a downward spiral at the same time. Likewise, trepanning similarly employs circular motions, but in this case, an initial laser pulse creates a pilot hole and then multiple laser pulses follow in order to enlarge the hole. Finally, single shot laser drilling is a type of laser drilling that employs just one high energy laser pulse.
Laser drilling is an excellent product in which to invest for a number of reasons. For one, it was quite an inexpensive process, especially when compared to other drilling processes, which require additional parts and steps. In addition, with the ability to maintain tolerances as small as 10 to 20 microns, laser drilling can maintain much tighter tolerances other drilling processes. It has also gained popularity in recent years because of rapid prototyping. What’s more, while laser drilling does not require as many tools as others, it can work in conjunction with other laser cutters in order to form specialized tools, such as gaskets. Gaskets and tools like them may work independently or they may require treatment from laser drills before they can assist them. Laser drilling tools and machines are available for purchase online from both wholesale suppliers and special manufacturers. Laser cutting machine manufacturers can send out standard laser machines or they can custom design them. To make sure you have the right system for your application, it is very important to discuss your specifications with your manufacturer. Should you be interested in laser drilling and/or other laser cutting services, but do not wish to undertake the the task yourself, laser cutting and secondary services like anodizing, polishing and painting are available at local CNC machine shops. For more information, contact one or more of the various excellent suppliers and manufacturers listed on this page.