Laser technology has come a long way since Albert Einstein first established its theoretical foundations in 1917. Lasers are now common in industrial applications, and laser cutters, in particular, have become hugely popular.
But how exactly do laser cutters work? And what advantages do they have over old-fashioned machining?
What is a Laser?
“Laser” is actually an acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. In the simplest possible terms, a laser produces an extremely narrow, focused beam of light.
Most people know that light travels in waves, just like sound does. The light from the sun or a light bulb produces multiple colors of light, each with a different wavelength. Our eyes interpret this mix of wavelengths as the color white.
Lasers are different. The lightwaves they produce all have very similar wavelengths and which travel together in phase. That is, the peaks of the light waves they produce are all synchronized together.
Because a laser beam is made up of multiple waves that are all in phase with one another, they are very bright, narrow, and can be focused onto a small, precise area. They can also focus a lot of energy onto this small area.
How are they Used in Laser Cutters?
When you were a kid, did you ever use a magnifying glass to focus sunlight onto a leaf to start a fire? Well, an industrial laser cutter works along the same principle.
Within the cutting machine, a laser beam is produced and then reflected off of a mirror onto the focusing plate. The plate acts like the magnifying glass you played with as a kid, focusing the already powerful beam into a small, intense point.
That much power concentrated into a point can result in the rapid heating, melting and even vaporization of the material it is used on.
Laser cutters can be used on a variety of materials, which makes them an excellent all-purpose tool. High powered lasers are even capable of cutting diamonds. That said, they do behave differently depending on the material that they are cutting.
Lesser materials like plastic and rubber are often partially or completely vaporized. On sturdier materials like stainless steel or aluminum, the beam just melts through them, requiring the resulting molten metal to be blasted away.
Laser cutters are also often used in place of drills for delicate projects, cutting small intricate designs, and for engraving.
The Benefits of Using Laser Cutters
Laser cutters are capable of cutting more cleanly and precisely that conventional machining tools. Their precision allows them to punch slits as small as 0.1mm into a material, making them ideal for delicate work.
Users are also able to control the beam intensity, length, and heat output of a laser cutter, making them adaptable to a wide range of purposes. It’s for this reason that the technology finds use in everything from consumer electronics to the automotive and aerospace industries, to medicine.
To learn more about new industry technologies, be sure to look through our technical resources.