Laser Processing: What It Does

Increasingly, many design and fabrication processes currently being done by a variety of mechanical cutting and fabrication tools is being increasingly supplanted by the use of lasers to perform these tasks. Any operation involving the cutting of patterns in a variety of materials can be performed by a range of industrial lasers capable of firing a sustained coherent beam at high power.

How does laser cutting work? Quite simply, the laser applies a focused beam of light and heat upon a target. The beam is focused through an emitter tube filled with a gas medium such as carbon dioxide (or other gas mixtures depending upon the particular material to be processed). A series of mirrors further reflects the beam into a “laser head” that has mounted within its frame a final focusing lens that narrows the beam into a very fine, tight shaft of light, concentrating the beam’s power onto the substrate itself and burning material away to render the design. How long this process takes depends upon beam power and the thickness and composition of material. Industrial lasers of 100w or greater power can carve patterns and cut through the widest variety of materials from acrylic to wood to steel to plastics to rubber. Greater power levels afford shorter cutting times.

The secret to the laser’s utility is in the CAD program that controls the cutting action. Modern laser units can be connected to just about any desktop or laptop PC running Windows, Mac OX, Linux or Raspberry Pi operating systems and handle the laser the same as it would with any printer. Design files in formats as diverse as .jpg, .tiff, .gif or any vector or raster CAD pattern can be processed, and the driver application does the rest.

This guarantees complete accuracy in cutting. Measures down to the micrometer level are feasible, and automatic control eliminates any errors that could be caused by any human operator attempting a manual cutting. Also, the same pattern can be easily mass produced, with the exact same degree of precision in cutting or engraving through the entire production run. The introduction of laser technology is already revolutionizing a number of industrial and craftwork processes and will expand further into nearly every category of material fabrication, cutting, and engraving anyone cares to name.