The Use of Laser Cutting in Sheet Metal Prototyping

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LASER CUT

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Do you have a sheet metal prototype that you need find aloduction system for? Is laser cutting the process you need to produce your prototype? The use of laser cutting in sheet metal prototyping can be fast, cost-efficient, and create well-made, quality prototypes for your projects. Following is a little bit of laser cutting history, an explanation of the types of laser cutting, and the advantages of using laser cutting in sheet metal prototyping.

Laser Cutting

Laser Cutting History

Laser cutting was first used more than 50 years ago, around 1965, to drill holes in diamond dies. The use of laser cutting in other areas began around the 70s. Laser cutting was especially effective in the aerospace industry because of its ability to produce clean cut edges. Unfortunately, in the early years of laser cutting use, manufacturers weren’t  able to utilize laser cutting as it is today, due to the lack of computer technology and guidance currently available4.

Laser Cutting History

A laser cutter uses a high-powered laser to cut various materials. The laser either burns or melts the material, which is then blown by gas or vaporized away, leaving a clean-cut edge. Laser cutters are resourceful tools for cutting various types of materials. Laser cutters can be used to cut stone, plastic, wood, metal, and glass.

The use of laser cutting in sheet metal prototyping allows faster turnaround, production of intricate designs, shapes and precise measurements that weren’t possible 40-50, or even 10-20 years ago. Today’s laser cutting technology can take a design from a CAD database and convert it to a sheet metal program with almost no human clarification, and limited human error3.

Laser Cutter Types

The three main types of laser cutters are CO2, Fiber, and Crystal Lasers. The CO2 laser, whose high rate of accuracy and ease of control make it very popular, is the one used most often. Electricity fuels the CO2 gas beam to cut the material. CO2 lasers are best for materials that include plastic, wood, textiles, and glass4.

Glass fibers in the fiber laser are more concentrated and precise than a CO2 laser. The beam of a fiber laser is more powerful even when using the same amount of electricity to power it. Fiber lasers also require less maintenance and perform longer than most other laser cutters. Fiber lasers are the best choice for laser cutter use in sheet metal prototyping due to the precision and power of the beam.

Laser Cutter Types

The third type of laser, the crystal laser, uses crystals in place of glass and pump diodes to create an intense beam like a fiber laser. However, while performing like a fiber laser, crystal lasers do not perform as long as fiber lasers. Crystal lasers tend to last for around 10,000 hours compared to 25,000 for fiber lasers4.

Advantages of the Use of Laser Cutting in Sheet Metal Prototyping

There are many advantages to using laser cutters for sheet metal. Laser cutters create more intricate designs and finished edges. You can produce as many or as few parts as needed more quickly than with other cutting methods. The use of laser cutting in sheet metal prototyping allows for responding quickly to adjustments, rapid prototyping, shortening lead times, and saving on costs for short runs.

With the concentrated beams of a laser cutter, more creativity is possible in product design. The small size of the laser allows for more creative and elaborate designs than are possible with other cutting methods. Laser cutting produces a more finished edge, eliminating the need for buffing off rough edges and burrs4.

Sheet Metal Prototyping

Laser cutters need less maintenance, as there are no blades that need sharpening or replaced. Lasers can operate for longer periods with ample power and material without maintenance. The fact that laser cutters don’t require retooling or adjustment also allows for quicker changes in the number of pieces being produced. This is one of the main reasons laser cutters are a good option for sheet metal prototyping1.

Currently, CO2 lasers are used for most cutting. However, the newer technology of fiber lasers is becoming more popular with fabricators. Although CO2 lasers will continue to be used, fiber lasers will probably become the standard in the near future. As lasers become smaller and more energy proficient, manufacturers will be able to create more product at a faster pace. Because the use of laser cutting in sheet metal prototyping is so effective, its use should continue to grow well into the future.

 

Sources

  1. All-new stamping company- http://www.allnewstamping.com/laser-metal-cutting.htm
  2. 3ERP- https://www.3erp.com/use-laser-cutting-sheet-metal-prototyping/
  3. Classic Sheet Metal, Inc- http://www.classic-sheet-metal.com/cnc_laser_cutting.html
  4. Naimor- http://info.naimormetalfabrication.com/blog/laser-cutting-the-present-and-future-of-sheet-metal-fabrication

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