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
Laser cutting systems with full integration of all systems components are the only machines available today that work seamlessly with variable images produced on digital printing equipment. Such laser cutters allow one to create laser jobs with multiple pictures that have different geometries and different step-ups. This is only possible due to the ongoing communication between the PLC and the camera system of the laser cutter. It’s a good illustration of why laser cutters that do not feature a high level of systems integration are now obsolete machines; they simply can’t keep up with the demands of working with variable data and variable images for which digital printing is so ideally suited.
Integrating cameras with machine controllers allows today’s high quality systems to automatically compensate for variations in prints, such as those created by shrinking as inks dry. Because top-end laser cutting systems feature full communication between the camera system, the laser software, and the machine controller, they can automatically determine the step up of each job.
Today’s systems with a great deal of systems integration also have the ability to vary the job stop criteria by part count rewound, by rewinder diameter, or by the rewinder roll length as shown in Figure 10. Once again, this is only possible because the software components that control inputs, outputs, and laser cutting communicate with each other to work in concert.
Full systems integration in high-end laser cutters also facilitates the fastest setup of repeat jobs. This is because all the machine parameters needed for a specific job—web speed, dancer arm pressure, camera system settings, etc.—are saved in one file. So at the very start of a repeat job, you can achieve required cut-to-print accuracy without having to fuss with separately reloading parameters for different system components.
You can identify laser cutting systems that offer full systems integration by their smart-stop systems, which are lacking in lower-quality laser cutters. These smart-stop systems monitor all possible fault conditions, such as web breaks and off-positioning of the dancer arm, or full rewinder rolls. When there is a fault condition anywhere in the system, the machine pauses and an error message is displayed on the operator screen. Such smart error messaging facilitates maximum throughput.
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