How does laser cutting work and how does nitrogen fit in?

July 8, 2022

Tech know-how: How does laser cutting work?

laser cutting machine rendering
In the early 1960s, laser cutting technology advanced to the point that the world at large and manufacturing in particular took note. More specifically, they put it to work - everywhere. Laser cutting has the advantages of speed, precision, efficiency, economy, and adaptability. Despite the advances in technology, there hasn’t been much of a challenge to laser cutting to date. It gives a higher quality cut compared to other processes. These include punch cutting, plasma cutting, abrasive water jet cutting, ultrasonic cutting, oxyfuel cutting, sawing, and milling. So how does laser cutting work? Let’s dive right in.

Types of laser cutting

Laser cutting machines are widely used in manufacturing for metal fabrication. This includes the automotive and aviation industries, as well as metallurgical, defense, marine and construction applications. Laser cutting accounts for the largest segment of the metal cutting market according to recent market studies. In fact, you’ll see the use of laser cutting machines in our own products: the canopy panels on Pneumatech gas generators are laser cut.

The main technologies used in laser cutting machines are fiber lasers, carbon lasers, and disk and diode lasers. In the past, Co2 lasers were dominant. Today, the other technologies like fiber and disk lasers are more popular. These types of laser cutters have several advantages: higher speed, lower power consumption, less maintenance requirements, and eliminating the need for complex laser gases.

How does laser cutting work?

The major difference between Co2 lasers and fiber laser cutters lies in the way the beam is generated and guided. However, the cutting head operation is the same. The laser beam is focused on a specific area of the metal surface, which melts as a result of the rapid increase in temperature. 

At the same time, the area is blasted with an assist gas supplied through a gas connection. The quality of the laser cut is affected by many factors, including the assist gas. This gas must be used at the right flow rate, pressure, purity and quantity. 

Nitrogen, oxygen, air and mixed nitrogen/oxygen are the most common assist gases used in the laser cutting of metal. The choice of gas depends on the purpose. However, nitrogen is by far the most popular for laser cutting metal when a high-quality cutting edge is required. Oxygen is highly reactive, which means the cutting edge created with it is not as fine as that of nitrogen. However, as it boosts the power of the laser beam, it is preferred for cutting through thicker metal, like very thick mild steel. Similarly, air does not create a fine cutting edge. On the other hand, it is less costly and is preferred for laser cutting metal that will undergo further processing. It is also used on thinner materials.

Now that we have addressed "how does laser cutting work," can we answer your other laser cutting and nitrogen questions? If you are looking to start your laser cutting enterprise or to step up you existing operations, explore Pneumatech’s range of nitrogen generators. Or get in touch with us today! 

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