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.
By Markus Klemm
The benefits of laser technology
Laser cutters offer numerous advantages over tool-based diecutting systems. Most of these advantages derive from the tool-free nature of laser cutters (Figure 2). Because there are no dies, there are no costs for diemaking or production delays for the time to make them. This is the major reason why laser cutters provide a rapid prototyping niche for those that use them. Laser cutting systems are called digital die cutters because they can take any vector-based digital image and import it into their operating software to set up and produce a job. Today’s best-in-class laser cutting systems can complete setup from these imported digital images in just a few minutes and begin cutting immediately. This capability is especially advantageous when laser cutters are used in combination with digital printers, which allows one to move from artwork to finished product in just a few hours, or even less for very short runs.
Diecutting has intrinsic limitations from the physical contact between the cutting edge of the dies and the material being cut. A laser cutting system makes no mechanical contact and can therefore cut many materials that are very difficult or impossible for diecutting systems to handle. For example, cutting adhesives is far easier with laser cutting systems because of the tendency of adhesives to literally gum up the works in mechanical cutting systems. Similarly, the ability of laser cutting systems to reliably handle thin substrates is a big advantage. In thin substrate applications, cut-to-print registration is not constrained by the physical limitations of weighty dies interacting with flimsy substrates. Another example is in the better handling of abrasive materials, which literally wear dies down and make mechanical cutting prohibitively expensive because dies have to be continuously replaced.
The relative ease with which laser cutting systems create special features is also a considerable advantage. Perforations, score lines, kiss cuts, consecutive numbering, creasing, personalizing, and other special features are all routinely handled by laser cutting systems. This is especially the case with today’s laser system that use superior software engineering to precisely control the movement of laser beams making the cuts. In fact, the only relevant physical limitation in laser cutting systems is the width of the laser beam.
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