Laser cutting works by melting, burning or vaporising the material, while an assist gas is employed to clear the cut zone of the molten material or the gas vapour. In the early days of laser cutting the setting of the laser to produce the desired effect was very much a manual process and very complex. The latest machines now come with many of the common parameters pre-programmed, allowing much easier setting. However operators still require many hours of training to run a laser safely, efficiently and economically.
In 1965, the first production laser cutting machine was used to drill holes in diamond dies. Since then the process has been adopted and adapted by virtually every industry group, and is now a significant process in every manufacturing economy. Laser cutting is excellent at processing many different materials. Unlike physical machining laser profiling is not affected by the hardness of a material, meaning materials such as high carbon steels can be cut as easily as standard mild steel.
Advantages of laser cutting over mechanical cutting include easier work holding and reduced contamination of workpiece (since there is no cutting edge which can become contaminated by the material or contaminate the material). Precision may be better, since the laser beam does not wear during the process. There is also a reduced chance of warping the material that is being cut, as laser systems have a small heat-affected zone. Some materials are also very difficult or impossible to cut by more traditional means
The cutting process is very complex, but basically involves pre-piercing the material outside the area of desired cut, moving the laser beam into the cutting area to apply heat, and finally use an assist gas to remove the heated material and produce the cut.
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