Using a Laser for Cutting Sheet Metal Using a Laser for Cutting Sheet Metal
Laser cutting sheet metal is quite commonplace these days. It does require very expensive, specialized equipment, and the knowledge to use them. Usually the lasers will be assisted by a CAD-computer assisted design-program. When using lasers for cutting sheet metal you need to be aware of certain things. It’s very powerful and cuts an extremely fine line.
Typically, the laser will be between 1500 watts and 2600 watts. As the beam of the laser will generally be only 0.0008 inch, the line it makes is very fine. With the sheet metal on the table, the cuts to be made are automatic, determined by the design in the CAD program. The cutting can even be done on sheet metal after it’s been formed into different parts due to the accuracy of the program, and it can be extremely complex, more so than would be possible by hand.
Lasers are actually most effective on sheet metal or stainless steel as they don’t reflect the light or absorb the heat in quite the same degree as some other metals.
The holes created by laser cutting of sheet metal are very slightly tapered, so the hole at the front is fractionally larger than the hole at the back. Where you’re working with very exact tolerances this can be important. There’s very little burring when using laser cutting, and if 3D lasers are used there’s virtually no burring. All of this means a much cleaner, smoother and faster operation than shearing or blanking the sheet metal for cutting.
If you’re making the same cut in several pieces of sheet metal, nesting them one on top of the other means the operation can be performed on all of them at the same time with a laser. This saves both time and money in the operation, and ensures absolutely the same cut on each one.
As sheet metal generally isn’t heat treatable, the heat generated by the laser won’t harden it at the edges. This will happen, however, where the laser is used on metals that are heat treatable.
Laser cutting in sheet metal is not only more precise than other methods, it can also allow for much smaller holes, which can be as small as 20 percent of the thickness of the stock. That compares to holes that are 1.2 times the thickness of the stock in other methods of piercing the sheet metal. Slot corners can also have a minimum radius that’s as low as 0.030 inches, which gives much greater exactitude.
The fact that the laser cutting is operated by a computer program cuts out the possibility of human error, which can be vital where true exactness is of prime importance. Of course, the program does need to be utilized properly, with the dimensions of the cuts checked several times. However, the advantage of CAD is that you can quite easily check what the sheet metal will be like after it’s undergone the laser cutting.