Laser cutters create holes and patterns through laser cutting services such as laser micromachining, laser drilling, laser etching and laser engraving, some of which allow 3D shaping. Industries that utilize laser cutters to assist in the fabrication of parts include medical, automotive, manufacturing, transportation, aerospace and electronics. Due to the variety of laser cutter services, there is a long list of applications made available through laser cutting; microwashers, optical apertures, microfluidic channels, cell phone parts, precision miniature gears, catheters and flex circuits are just a few.
The most common type of industrial laser used by laser cutters is a CO2 laser, which is one of the highest powered lasers, which also features continuous wave. Two other examples are Nd lasers, which have low-repetition speed but are high energy lasers, and Nd-YAG lasers, which are very high energy lasers. The lasers are controlled during the cutting process by a combination of CNC and CAD computer systems. There are different methods employed by laser cutters to cut materials. Vaporization, ablation, melt and blow, thermal stress cracking and cold cutting are a few of the techniques. Laser cutters use assist gases such as nitrogen or carbon dioxide to prepare newly cut surfaces for painting or corrosion resistance, two treatments among many that can be applied to laser cut products.
Three different machine configurations usually assist laser cutters: moving material, with a stationary cutting laser head under which the material moves; hybrid, in which a table moves on the x-axis and the laser head moves along the y-axis; and a flying optic machine, which has a stationary table head and a moving table that moves over the work-piece along both horizontal directions. Materials that laser cutters commonly cut through include polymers, ceramics, stainless steel, titanium, brass, epoxy materials, thin metal foils and more. Laser cutters do have a few disadvantages, most of which involve the typical drawbacks of hot cutting. The material being cut gets very hot, so in narrow areas thermal expansion, burring and warping may be a problem.
Laser cutters have an advantage over their direct-contact process competitors because laser cutting is non-contact and does not distort or stress materials in process. Machines used by laser cutters are low-maintenance, but they provide high accuracy and consistency through lasers that are able to drill sub micron holes and focus to spot sizes as small as 10-20 microns. Laser cutters are capable of creating tighter accuracies on a smaller scale than any other provider of metal cutting.