What is Laser Cutting?
Laser cutting technology comes in two formats: gantry and galvanometer systems. Gantry systems position the laser perpendicular to the material and the machine physically directs the beam over its surface. Since gantry is the slower of the two systems, manufacturers commonly use it for producing prototypes. In contrast, galvanometer systems use mirrored angles to reposition the laser beam and can cut as fast as 100 feet per minute. Fabricators commonly use galvanometer systems for full-on production work.
The laser machine uses stimulation and amplification techniques to convert electrical energy into a high-density beam of light. Stimulation occurs as the electrons are excited by an external source, usually a flash lamp or electrical arc. The amplification occurs within the optical resonator in a cavity that is set between two mirrors. One mirror is reflective while the other mirror is partially transmissive, allowing the beam’s energy to return back into the lasing medium where it stimulates more emissions. If a photon is not aligned with the resonator, the mirrors do not redirect it. This ensures that only the properly oriented photons are amplified, thus creating a coherent beam.
Laser light technology has a number of unique and quantified properties. Its optical properties include coherence, monochromaticity, diffraction and radiance. Coherence refers to the relationship between magnetic and electronic components of the electromagnetic wave. The laser is considered “coherent” when the magnetic and electronic components are aligned. Monochromaticity is determined by measuring the width of the spectral line. The higher the level of monochromaticity, the lower the range of frequencies the laser can emit. Diffraction is the process by which the light bends around sharp-edged surfaces. Laser beams are minimally diffracted, meaning they lose very little of their intensity over a distance. Laser beam radiance is the amount of power per unit area emitted at a given solid angle. Radiance cannot be increased by optical manipulation because it is influenced by the design of the laser cavity.
The setup process is relatively simple and efficient.Newer high-end equipment is able to automatically correct any imported drawing exchange format (DXF) or .dwg (“drawing”) files to achieve desired results. Newer laser cutting systems can even simulate a job, giving operators an idea of how long the process will take while storing configurations, which can be recalled at a later time for even quicker changeover times.