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Laser Cutting Machine: FAQ Guide
Figure 1: Laser Cutting Machine
The popularity of laser cutting machines has exploded in recent years. Fiber lasers, in particular, have become more powerful and better at cutting through various types of metals.
The technology has also become cheaper making it accessible to more industries and individual users.
If you’re considering purchasing a laser metal cutting machine, you will no doubt have a lot of questions. Let’s address them in this FAQ guide.
Table of Contents
What is a Laser Cutting Machine?
It is a laser cutting machine equipped with CNC capabilities. CNC stands for computer numerical control.
There are different laser cutting machine for cutting steel, wood, leather, plastic, metal , etc.
You can simply enter the design configurations in software such as Cypcut. The computer will then guide the cutting head over the material and control the workpiece position.
What is a CNC Metal Laser Machine?
It’s a machine that utilizes a high-powered beam to cut various metal sheets and tubes.
For the cutting action to occur, the material particles absorb the energy from the laser beam. They heat up and vaporize or melt.
The cutting beam is highly focused on a small area, and this allows you to get neat and clean cuts.
Figure 2: Intricate design on sheet metal from laser cutter
By using computers to control the process, you can achieve high-precision cutting of various structural components. Automating the cutting process through CNC results in a lot of time saving and decreases labor costs.
What are the Types of Laser Machines?
Laser machines used in commercial applications are differentiated based on the differences between their laser sources. You’ll encounter three laser machine types, including fiber, CO2, and ND: YAG lasers.
CO2 lasers were invented in 1964 and were the first generation of lasers used commercially in metal sheet fabrication in the 1980s. How do they work?
Basically, they generate the laser light from diodes and utilize fiber optical cables to amplify the beam.
Nd: YAG Lasers use the Neodymium-doped Yttrium Aluminum Garnet crystal to generate the laser light. Like fiber lasers, they are considered solid-state lasers.
Which is Better: CO2 or Fiber Cutting Lasers?
Fiber lasers are vastly superior. That’s because they produce beams with higher intensities, making them the ideal choice for metal cutting and engraving operations.
They have a longer range of wavelengths and can achieve shorter & hotter wavelengths that are easily absorbed by aluminum, brass, and copper.
CO2 only emits a small range of wavelengths, which limits the range of CO2 lasers. The wavelengths tend to be longer and correspondingly have lower energies.
CO2 lasers can generally peak at about 4kW. Fiber lasers can even achieve continuous working power of 100kW.
You’ll also confirm that fiber laser cutting machines don’t rely on gas mechanisms. That makes their laser source virtually maintenance-free with no consumables.
Fiber lasers can also produce more focused beams, which increases the energy efficiency and reduces power loss in cutting operations
You’ll still find CO2 lasers in various industries that deal with cutting non-metal materials such as textiles, leather, glass acrylic, and thin films.
Which is Better Fiber VS Nd: YAG Lasers?
Fiber lasers still hold many advantages over Nd: YAG lasers. They are easier to operate, owing to their relatively simplified laser source only consisting of the pump diodes and fiber optical cable.
Nd: YAG lasers utilize many optical components such as the beam bender mirrors that may need to be adjusted end aligned.
Figure 3: Nd:YAG solid-state laser
Fiber lasers have a higher conversion efficiency, which necessitates the use of a smaller chiller. Nd: YAG lasers, on the other hand, have lower energy efficiencies.
Fiber lasers are also faster and offer better penetration properties making them suitable for handling difficult metals. They also last for a longer time.
The only limitation with fiber lasers is the higher initial cost of acquisition. But over the long haul, you will find that running and maintaining fiber lasers is cheaper.
What are the Main Components of a Metal Laser Cutting Machine?
The following are some of the main parts of a fiber laser cutter:
1) Fiber laser source
Figure 4: Laser Diodes, Credits IPG Photonics
Pump diodes are light-emitting devices that form the core component of the laser source. So, how do they work?
The diodes emit the laser light, which is combined and amplified in the fiber optical cable and delivered to the focus laser head.
Before purchasing the laser cutting machine, find out if the supplier utilizes long-lasting and quality diodes from reputable manufacturers such as IPG Photonics.
2) Focus laser cutting head
Figure 5: Laser Cutting Head
The second major component of the fiber laser cutting machine is the laser cutting head. It typically consists of the focusing lens that integrates the laser beam from the fiber optic cable. The focusing lens narrows the beam to a smaller and more intense spot.
Modern laser heads now come with auto-focusing systems. This allows the laser machine to easily change the beam focus and intensity to accommodate materials with different thicknesses.
3) Controller System
Figure 6: Smart digital controller
A laser control system is required in order to operate the laser cutting machine. It’s typically a pc-based control unit running an OS such as Windows with a control card and software installed. It’s typically wired to the laser through an external IO board so it can send out instructions.
4) Cooling System/ Water Chiller
The unit provides a continuous flow of coolant to cool the fiber laser source and other components.
5) Frame & Structural Components
The overall structure of the fiber laser cutting machines is divided into the x-axis, y-axis, and z-axis components to account for the various movements required.
You will easily spot the machine bed that holds all the laser components. The beam is another prominent part. It holds the cutting head that moves sideways and up or down (z-axis). It does this by utilizing servo driving specialized for the fast and accurate movements required by the laser cutting head.
Figure 7: Servo motors from Schneider Electric Used in GYC Laser Cutters
6) Auxiliary Parts
They support the core components by performing auxiliary functions such as fume extraction, filtering, and power supply. The components may include filters, air cleaners, discharging machines, dust extractors, air compressors, water chiller, and gas cylinders.
How Does a Laser Cutter Work Step by Step?
Fiber laser machines have a simple working principle. The laser light is generated in the gain medium which consists of the diode pumps.
For the second step, the laser light is transferred through the optical fiber and this creates the laser beam.
It’s then focused using the special focusing lens housed in the cutting head. Through the action of focusing, the lens narrows down a wide beam of light to a single small spot. It’s similar to focusing the sun’s rays using a magnifying lens.
The focused beam tends to have a high level of intensity, which can be adjusted by varying the focusing lens.
When the laser beam is irradiated to the material surface, its molecules absorb photons of energy and quickly heat up. This may result in melting or vaporization.
During the cutting process, pressurized gas may be employed to blow the molten metal from the cut made by the laser.
To speed up the cutting process of mild or carbon steel, the laser cutter requires an assist gas, mostly oxygen.
Can a Fiber Laser Cut Metal?
Figure 8: Laser cutting on metal parts
Yes, fiber lasers can cut through various types of metals, including reflective metals that are challenging to cut with CO2 lasers. You can use fiber lasers to cut through:
- Stainless steel
- Carbon Steel/ Mild steel
How Thick Can a Laser Cutter Cut?
With laser machines, you can make deeper cuts by conducting several passes over the workpiece.
If you just want to cut the material with one pass, you will need to get a laser machine with enough power for the material type and thickness. You can obtain laser cutting machines for metals rated from 500 watts to 40 kW.
The following table gives an estimate of the cutting depth that can be achieved based on the laser power. The measures were made under clear le conditions are for reference only:
|Laser Power||Stainless steel||Carbon steel||Aluminum plates||Brass||Copper|
*Thickness in mm
Additional factors that will influence the cutting depth, include the assist gas used, environment, type of metal, and quality of the laser machine.
Figure 9: Measurement of laser cut metal with caliper
Is Laser Cutting Dangerous?
By itself, laser cutting is not dangerous. The only point of concern is the generation of fumes due to vaporization. That is why it must be conducted in a controlled environment that is properly vented through the installation of an exhaust and filtration system.
When working with more flammable materials, it’s also important to take caution to reduce the likelihood of burning.
What Factors Affect the Accuracy or Precision of Laser Cutting?
Figure 10: Laser cutting machine in action
You can achieve a high accuracy rate of up to ± 0.025mm by using laser cutting machines. For high levels of accuracy, you will need to precisely control a variety of factors such as the cutting speed. That’s because, at high speeds, the laser may not sufficiently cut through the material, leading to inconsistencies with the cut thickness.
If you use a low-powered laser, it may not fully cut through the material. Similarly, if the power is excessive, it may cause burns or heat marks.
The quality of the servo motors used for the high-speed movement of the laser cutting head can also influence the precision. You’ll also need to choose the right structural components and ensure that they are properly configured.
What are the Advantages of Laser Metal Cutting?
Laser cutting technology boasts of various advantages over conventional methods, including:
● Non-contact: The cutting head never comes into contact with the processed material, therefore its integrity is maintained.
● Short lead times: If you use a laser machine that can complete the cut with one pass, laser cutting tends to be a very fast process.
● No need for post-processing: The cuts are clean and smooth.
● No effect to surrounding material: Laser cutting machines concentrate their high-powered beans on a small area. They don’t apply any pressure that can deform the rest of the material.
● Programmable – You can use CAD/CAM software to specify the patterns for cuts if you have a CNC laser cutter.
● Low maintenance – You’ll not need to replace the cutting head frequently as it never comes into contact with the material, unlike conventional machining.
● Uses less energy – Laser machines also have the advantage of using less energy than conventional cutting techniques.
● Accuracy and repeatability – As the process is computer-controlled, you can use a laser machine where you need to repeat the same cut to create similar structural components.
What are the Disadvantages of Laser Metal Cutting?
There are certain disadvantages associated with laser cutting on an industrial scale:
- Laser cutting is not suitable for materials that may produce toxic vapors or fumes;
- Cutting through very thick metals may prove challenging;
- You need to properly vent the working area by using exhaust fans and filtering equipment.
Previously, there was a loss of efficiency when switching over to different materials with varying thicknesses. The problem was solved by the introduction of autofocusing which senses the required focus distance and raises and lowers the cutting head to achieve the correct intensity.
Is Laser Metal Cutting Expensive?
Figure 11: Is laser cutting expensive?
You’ll find that laser cutting is not expensive when compared to plasma or waterjet cutting. First off, it’s cheaper than waterjet cutting. But it may be a little bit more expensive than plasma cutting. Unlike plasma cutting, however, laser cutting will be accurate, quicker, and safer.
Now the cost of the laser source is getting less, because we can get high-quality laser sources from China manufacturers, instead of laser sources from the USA and Europe. for example, Raycus, Max, is the leading laser source manufacturer in China.
High power laser is good for thicker steel cutting and high efficiency. So the most popular laser power for metal cutting is 3kw 6kw 12kw 20kw.
Is Laser Metal Cutting Cheaper than Water Jet?
Yes, laser cutting is cheaper than water jet cutting. That’s because waterjet cutting often requires a lot of time spent cleaning up the abrasives contained in the water. They also require special disposal because they may be toxic.
The cost of water jet cutting is estimated at about $20 to $40 per hour without considering the capital or initial investment. Laser cutting may cost up to $20 per hour or less.
What Should I Look for When Buying a Metal Laser Cutter?
You should generally focus on the following five factors when shopping for a laser for your factory:
1) Quality of the Core Components
Ensure that the supplier is offering core components from the world’s leading manufacturers. For instance, the laser source may be of good quality if it comes from companies such as IPG Photonics, RAYCUS, Maxphotonics, or nLIGHT.
Raytools also produces some of the best laser cutting heads.
It’s also important to take a look at the quality of the structural components including the machine bed and x-beam. They should be made from high-quality steel or aerospace aluminum.
2) Material and Thickness
The types of metals to be processed and thicknesses will influence the required laser power. You should select a laser cutting machine with adequate power to avoid many repeat cuts.
3) Cutting Speed
Fast-cut laser machines can achieve speeds of up to 80 meters per minute. You should aim to achieve a balance between high speeds and accuracy. If you have a high volume of parts to the process, short lead times are important as they impact the bottom line.
4) Working Area/Machine Size
Make sure that the machine you select can accommodate the size of your tubes and sheets. It should fit within the allotted space in your workshop while leaving enough room for other auxiliary components and operations such as loading and unloading.
5) Workpieces: Tubes or Sheets?
Sheet metal and tube laser cutting machines tend to have different configurations. Select the appropriate laser based on the materials to be processed.
How Much Does a Metal Laser Cutting Machine Cost?
Figure 12: PRO CUT with IPG laser
You’ll spend less money today than if you bought a laser cutting machine a few years back as the technology has considerably become cheaper. The emergence of new manufacturers has increased competition and driven prices down.
There are other factors that will determine the final price you pay for laser cutting machines, including laser power, machine components, supplier, and configuration.
If you source the machine from a supplier in China, you can expect to pay about $20,000 to $145,000 for fiber laser machines ranging from1000w to 6kw.
How much is a CNC laser cutting machine?
According to the price ranges on Alibaba, a CNC laser cutting machine powered at 6Kw may go for about $80,000 to $100,000. CNC metal cutting machines rated at 12 kW to 15 kW may range from $150,000 to $200,000. Depends on the working area and laser power.
Where Can I Buy a CNC Metal Laser Cutting Machine?
You can use popular online marketplaces or contact the manufacturer through their website. The first step is to ask for a quote. If you’re interested in GYC Laser machines, just tell us about your material requirements or desired use.
We provide normal and fast-cut tube and sheet laser CNC laser cutting machines. You can choose from different models based on your power requirements. Some popular options include:
● PRO CUT Fiber Laser Cutting Machine: 3 kw – 12 kw, with an enclosed body
● FAST CUT Sheet Metal Laser Cutting Machine: 1Kw – 3 Kw, for fast sheet metal cuttings
Find full details on the products page.
All our products utilize core components from the best laser manufacturers. The machines are modern and easily programmable to cut different designs. All the structural components are made at our workshop where we also perform the final assembly and testing.
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