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A Guide to Laser Cutting Technology, Part 2

(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

The wattage of the laser should be carefully considered. Many of the commercially available lasers have the best laser beam quality with full power. For lasers of that type, if you end up using only 10% or less of the laser power from your laser source, you can expect significantly diminished laser beam quality. For example, a converter making kiss cuts on easy-to-cut materials and using a 300-watt laser may be using only a small portion of available laser power and would be better served by a lower wattage laser. A converter making many throughcuts at high speeds on materials with difficult to cut release papers would need that 300-watt laser.

The smaller the maximum working area, the smaller the spot size of the laser will be. Smaller spot size means better cuts because the energy is concentrated and you need less laser power to achieve the same depth of cut. Transferring less heat to the material being cut is always desirable. One of the differences you will find in lower-priced systems is that they sometimes use less expensive air cooling systems with lower power lasers, as opposed to more costly water cooled lasers found on high-end systems.

The edge quality that a particular laser cutting system delivers will vary with the spot size of the laser. In systems with smaller working fields (e.g., 200 x 200 mm) this is not as much of an issue, and you can expect both high-end and lower-priced systems with this field size to have a 210-micron laser spot size. If the working field is larger, however (e.g., 300 x 300 mm or greater) you’ll have to be satisfied with a 280-micron spot size on lower-priced systems. As an example, generic label converters might be well served by a system with such larger spot sizes, but those involved in RFID applications might need greater precision in cutting edge quality that only a smaller spot size provides.


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