How Does a Laser Cutting Machine Work

May 26, 2021

Laser cutting machines have revolutionized the manufacturing industry. They can perfectly re-create designs made on a computer in a matter of minutes or even seconds. 

You may be surprised at how many applications a laser cutting machine can offer. 

But how do they achieve these amazing results? Let's take a look at what a laser cutting machine is, the different types of lasers that exist, and the results they can achieve.

What Is a Laser Cutting Machine?

A laser cutting machine is a type of CNC machine. CNC stands for Computer Numerical Controlled. This name comes from the fact that the CNC machine takes commands from drawings that have been digitized and transformed into a computer language that describes every angle and curve of that design. 

Once a drawing has been finished in a computer rendering program, all the designer has to do is send the design to the machine. It's much like sending an image file to a typical printer. 

Best of all, the laser cutting machine can re-create these designs in minutes and can produce as many parts as you need. 

How Do Laser Cutting Machines Work?

There are several different types of lasers used in CNC machines, which will be covered in the next section. But all laser cutting machines work in a similar way. 

It all starts with a laser source, which produces a powerful, consistent light that can be adjusted quickly and with great accuracy. 

The light is then focused and redirected until it reaches a fine point. If you have ever started a fire using sunlight and a magnifying glass, you will be familiar with the principle at work here. When the light is concentrated enough, it becomes intensely hot, allowing it to cut through the material of your choice. 

The laser is usually mounted on a gantry system. This allows the laser to moves anywhere on an XY axis. This means that it can reproduce designs with great accuracy, even if there are large numbers of curves and angles involved.

That said, not all lasers can produce the same level of detail; some lasers aren't strong enough to cut through metal

Types of Laser Cutting Machines

There are three main types of laser cutting machines: CO2, neodymium, and fiber. Each has its own strengths and weakness. 

CO2 Lasers

CO2 lasers are the most common type of laser cutting machine because they are the most affordable to purchase, but they are widely being replaced with the newer and faster technology of fiber laser cutting systems.  

At the heart of a CO2 laser is a long, vacuum-sealed tube that is full of gas, mostly carbon dioxide (CO2), with some nitrogen mixed in. When this tube is electrified, it excites the gas molecules and creates strong light. 

This light exits one end of the tube and bounces of a series of mirrors. The mirrors redirect the light through a focusing lens. The focusing lens concentrates the light to the point where it is very hot. The laser can then cut through a range of materials through thermal separation. 

CO2 lasers are primarily used for sheet metal fabricating, and their main benefit over fiber lasers is that they generally offer a better edge quality on the cuts, especially on metal thicker than a .25". 

Fiber Lasers

Fiber lasers work in a similar principle to fiber optic lights. Light enters a glass tube that is coated with a different type of glass, one that has different reflective properties. This causes the light to "bounce" down the tube, amplifying the strength of the light as it goes along. 

The special properties of this light allow it to be much more easily absorbed by reflective materials, like metal.

The nature of fiber optics also allows the laser to be reduced to a much finer diameter. This means that a high level of detail can be achieved with these laser cutting machines. 

This makes small low wattage fiber lasers ideal for engraving projects. They can transfer a computer image onto metal in a matter of seconds!

More powerful fiber lasers are used for actually cutting the metal, and now there are fiber lasers that can cut through up to 2" of material. For example, our 8KW fiber laser can cut through 1.5" stainless and aluminum and 1" steel.  These machines are very large and expensive, but require minimal maintenance and have few moving parts that might need to be replaced or adjusted. 

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If this article has sparked your interest, please don't hesitate to contact us. We would be happy to quote any parts that you need laser cut.