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A Guide to Laser Cutting Technology, Part 1

(April 2009) posted on Tue Apr 21, 2009

Laser cutters have evolved from prototyping tools to highly-productive finishing systems. Read on to learn about developments in lasers, control software, and other facets of the technology that make laser cutting systems a viable option for any shop currently using conventional, tool-based cutting machines.

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By Markus Klemm

Laser cutting, often referred to as digital diecutting, uses high-powered lasers to vaporize materials in the laser beam’s path. The powering on and off of the laser beam, and the way in which the beam path is directed towards the substrate, controls how specific cuts are made to correspond with the artwork. The fact that the edges of cut-away parts are vaporized eliminates the hand labor or complicated extraction methods otherwise needed for small-part scrap removal.

These basic facts about laser cutting are as true today as they were when laser cutting systems were first put to practical industrial use in the 1980s. However, recent advances in laser cutting technology, especially those relating to the sophisticated software that underlies laser cutting controls, have created dramatic improvements in the type of outputs that can be expected from the machines. Today’s lower-cost laser cutting systems made from less expensive components have far superior capabilities to the expensive systems that were offered only a few years ago. At the top end, state-of-the-art laser cutting systems are able to consistently cut far more intricate designs in a wider range of substrates and with tighter tolerances than ever before (Figure 1).

The challenge to those making investments in laser cutting technology is to source machines that are well-matched to application requirements. One can still find laser cutting systems in the marketplace that force compromises in quality or production output that should not be brooked in light of recent engineering advances in the technology. While those with more simple and straightforward application requirements may be better served by lower cost laser cutters, those who deal with intricate parts and variable graphics can turn to a new generation of highly capable machines that are fast, accurate, and easier to use than ever.

Here we will discuss how to match today’s laser cutting technology to application requirements and offer insights into various features and capabilities of modern laser cutters. Of course, the first step to sourcing the right laser cutting technology is to determine if laser cutting capabilities are a good addition to your finishing department. Let’s look at what laser cutting technology has to offer.


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