Although metal cutting operations traditionally employ mechanical or manual processes, laser cutting can be a viable, effective, and cost-efficient option for metal fabrication. Laser equipment is distinct from other cutting machines in both design and application. For example, laser cutters do not make direct contact with material, rely on high-energy power sources, have tighter cutting tolerances, and are generally automated to maximize precision.
A laser device fires a concentrated stream of photons in a precise area of the workpiece in order to trim excess material and shape the workpiece into a specific design, for cutting titanium, aluminum and other metal-based materials.
Types of Lasers
Laser technology has several unique attributes that affect the quality of its cuts. The degree to which light curves around surfaces is known as diffraction, and most lasers have low diffraction rates to enable higher levels of light intensity over longer distances. In addition, features such as monochromaticity determine the laser beam’s wavelength frequency, while coherence measures the continuous state of the electromagnetic beam.
Laser Cutting Capabilities
Laser cutting involves removing material to shape a workpiece in a process that generally reduces the amount of post-fabrication finishing work. For example, when cutting thermally treated material, laser heat can cause hardening at the outer edges of the cut. Hardening can be useful for many applications because it increases product durability, but it also limits the amount of machining that can be done, making post-cut threading or deburring difficult.
Most laser cutting systems are automated under CNC parameters. These computer controls enable high levels of precision and increased cutting speed. Some CNC programs offer “flying optics” capabilities that allow a laser to shape material while the cutting head is in motion. The moveable laser can perform fast cutting operations while maintaining accuracy, and is highly effective on thin sheet metal. CNC programming can also regulate power output, enabling the laser to shift settings depending on the contours and thickness of the material being cut.
Laser Cutting Titanium
Thick titanium materials, such as plates or reinforced sheets, are typically cut with CO2 lasers because they have higher power capacity than other laser models. In general, the thicker the steel sheet, the more power required to cut it, and the optimum cutting rate is largely determined by the ratio of thickness to the strength of the laser’s beam. Unlike many mechanical cutting processes, laser cutting can produce hole sizes significantly smaller than the thickness of titanium, sometimes as low as a fifth of the workpiece’s size.
Laser Cutting Aluminum and Titanium
Using gases in conjunction with cutting operations is fairly common. Nitrogen and oxygen assisted laser cutting machines can shape aluminum and titanium at relatively high capacities and with quality edge finishes. However, higher electricity consumption and the cost of peripheral equipment, such as gas or air filters, can increase expenses for these systems.