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
Smaller spot sizes not only affect edge quality of the cuts, but they also will have bearing on cutting speed. It is very important to verify that a system can maintain the desired edge quality and cut-to-print accuracy at its maximum cutting speed. Some of the more poorly designed laser cutting systems cannot maintain cut-to-print accuracy over time. The lower cost laser cutting systems may use sensors for registration, or in more demanding applications, use sophisticated camera technology to deliver the very tight tolerances in cut-to-print registration that are typical of high-end systems. If these camera systems are fully integrated with the laser scan heads, they are able to apply the offset values to keep cuts to a precise registration. Here again, it is not only the quality of the camera but also the underlying software engineering that influences the tolerances achievable at varying speeds.
Features that provide user friendliness and ease of operation can be found in better quality laser cutting machines at all price points. Smart stop systems, job simulation software, automatic image splitting and optimization for web speed, variable job stop criteria, and one-step job setups of all operating parameters make these systems straightforward to operate, even for lightly skilled workers. Because the software is handling most operations behind the scenes—registration, web control, laser powering, laminating, slitting—and because there is full communication between different system modules, the operator’s work is relatively simple.
Obsolete technology does not have these features for ease-of-operation. Some out-of-date designs do not even give operators the capability to change job settings while the laser cutting machine is operating. Laser cutters that force operators to stop cutting operations entirely and reload a job from scratch saddle users with unnecessary drags on production. Today’s higher end systems bypass these limitations altogether by giving operators numerous ways to amend job parameters without shutting down production.
Did you enjoy this article? Click here to subscribe to the magazine.