Laser processing methods have become indispensable in various industries, revolutionizing manufacturing, research, and medical fields. Laser technology has evolved significantly since its inception, offering diverse capabilities such as cutting, welding, engraving, and ablation. Understanding the fundamentals of laser processing is crucial for maximizing productivity, minimizing waste, and ensuring product quality.

This guide will examine common laser processing methods, their applications, advantages, and limitations. 

Laser Cutting

Laser cutting is a non-contact fabrication method that produces high-quality, dimensionally accurate designs by burning through and cutting materials like sheet metal with a tiny, focused laser beam. 

This manufacturing process employs a laser to cut designs into materials. The laser beam is strong enough to cause materials to burn, melt, or evaporate, giving the material the desired shape.

Laser cutting
Laser cutting

In the laser cutting process, the material is cut by applying thermal heat through a nozzle that directs the laser beam towards the material. The laser head heats the material surface when pointed at it, causing the target area to melt or evaporate. The cutting action is made possible by this combination of heat and pressure.

How Laser Cutting Works

The process of laser machining cutting begins with your concept. After it’s developed, you can send the data to the laser using CorelDRAW or any other 2D program to prepare the graphic. The laser cutter creates a powerful laser beam directed at the material. Depending on the laser’s power and the material’s characteristics, the beam melts, vaporizes, or burns through it.

The laser’s movements are typically controlled by a motion control system or a programming system known as G-code. The laser machining process can precisely cut through the material because the G-code tells it where to move and how much power to use. For instance, a G-code file could instruct the laser to cut thousands of tiny holes while traveling across a piece of wood in a straight line. 

Laser cutting metal
Laser cutting metal

There won’t be any burns or scorch marks on the precise, clean cut produced by the procedure. There is no need to rework the material because the finished product is removed from the machine once the cutting is finished and the material has cooled. 

Materials that Can be Cut

Here are some of the common materials that can be cut using laser cutting technology:

Metals

Here are some common metals that can be cut:

  • Steel: Laser cutting is commonly used for cutting steel sheets in various thicknesses for applications ranging from automotive parts to structural components.
  • Aluminum: Aluminum alloys can be efficiently cut using lasers, making them suitable for aerospace, automotive, and architectural applications.
  • Stainless Steel: Laser cutting is particularly effective for stainless steel due to its high reflectivity and thermal conductivity. It is used in kitchenware, medical devices, and automotive components.

Plastics

Here are some common plastics that can be cut:

  • Acrylic (PMMA): Laser cutting produces clean edges on acrylic sheets, making it ideal for signage, display cases, and architectural models.
  • Polycarbonate: Laser cutting is suitable for polycarbonate sheets in applications requiring impact resistance and optical clarity, such as safety shields and machine guards.
  • Polyethylene (PE) and Polypropylene (PP): Laser cutting cuts plastic sheets in packaging, automotive components, and consumer products.

Wood and Wood-based Materials

Here are some common wood materials that can be cut:

  • Plywood: Laser cutting is widely used to fabricate plywood components for furniture, cabinetry, and architectural models.
  • MDF (Medium-Density Fiberboard) and HDF (High-Density Fiberboard): Laser cutting provides precise cuts on MDF and HDF panels for applications like signage, decorative elements, and rapid prototyping.
  • Solid Wood: Laser cutting can be used for intricate designs in solid wood materials, although care must be taken to prevent charring or burning of the wood surface.

Industries that Use Laser Cutting

Several industries employ laser-cutting technology for various purposes. Here are some industries that use this precision technology:

Automotive and Transport

This industry can obtain precision products at reasonable prices and short lead times with laser cutting. It ranges from stainless steel parts and panels made of mild steel with a zinc coating to tool components used in agriculture, marine, railway, aerospace, and heavy engineering transport. Even though laser cutting is used to create the majority of car chassis, more can still be done.

Electronics and Security

Laser cutting is beneficial for electronics because of the precise nature of the parts and materials needed for electronics, including security cameras and the systems that go with them. Speed, accuracy, and quick turnaround times are essential in the security and electronics industry, where tens of thousands of door handle seals and hundreds of computer mounting brackets are needed. 

Medical Equipment Industry

Medical diagnostic devices, like MRI and X-ray machines, are intricate devices that combine several manufacturing technologies. Several parts of these machines, including their sheet metal housings, can be made by laser cutting.

Laser Welding

The laser welding technique employs a coherent beam of light that is focused over a narrow space, thus resulting in a high-precision welding process. It has several benefits compared to regular welding techniques, like low distortion levels, high welding speeds, and more control over the heat given. Laser welding is used in many industries, such as automotive, aviation, electronics appliances, and medical devices.

LASER WELDING
Laser welding

Process of Laser Welding

The process starts with properly preparing the pieces, determining how they fit into each other, and cleaning them. Then, correctly set up at the welding stand, the laser welding equipment, including the optics and the parameters, is considered. The substance beam is then focused into the joint setup by lenses or mirrors, heating the material up to its melting point. The heat source begins to melt the material on the joint, and as the beam moves, a molten pool is created, solidifying to make the welded seams. 

During a welding process, parameters like laser power, speed of welding, and beam focus are exceptionally carefully checked and controlled to achieve the required welding characteristics. Laser welding combines the benefits of precision, adaptability, and sophistication with the downsides of high operating costs and, more often than not, the requirement of an expert operator. By contrast, it can weld complex geometries with precision and, therefore, has the potential to reduce distortion and accelerate the welding process significantly.

Types of Laser Welding

Here are common of the laser welding process:

Keyhole Mode Laser Welding

Keyhole mode laser welding implies directing the beam to bore out a deep and constricted bridge called the keyhole. Through the application of heat by melting the bottom of the keyhole, it is possible to have greater depths of penetration of the melting materials and create strong welds. This kind of welding is commonplace for thicker material and high-speed welding applications.

Pulsed Laser Welding

Pulsed laser welding does not use continuous energy but only delivers laser energy by pulses to the workpiece. Concurrently, this allows for working with predetermined heat input and dampens the thermal distortion risk to a large extent. Pulsed laser welding is ideal for welding thin materials and delicate parts because it can generate reactions at the point of contact with very high speeds without any damage.

Continuous Wave (CW) Laser Welding

Sustained wave laser welding is a common way of accessing the workpiece as the laser beam is delivered continuously. It gives the workpiece a prolonged heating for the welding process. That is a standard practice when highstand welding of heavier materials and more is needed to have deep penetration, which is the case.

Advantages of Laser Engraving

Below are some of the advantages of laser engraving:

Precision and Control

Laser welding is the best choice for welding when exact precision and control over the surrounding environments are not possible with other welds.

High Speed and Efficiency

Laser welding supports fast and high-efficiency welding due to the process’s ability to attain high welding speeds and increased productivity compared to conventional welding methods.

Laser Welding
Laser welding

Minimal Heat Affected Zone (HAZ)

Laser welding creates minor heating of the workpiece. As a result, the heat-affected zone is narrower than with conventional welding methods, which leads to the reduction of the area deformation in the source material. This type of equipment is beneficial, eliminating problems such as welding thin materials and heat-resistant parts.

Versatility

Laser welding that caters to metals, plastics, ceramics, and composites can be achieved without adding more consumables or filler materials.

Laser Engraving

Laser engraving is an accurate and multi-purpose process where a laser beam, precisely focused on, usually creates designs or engraves patterns in some materials. This additive manufacturing process cuts through the material on the surfaces of a workpiece to produce lasting high-definition engravings. The way in which Laser carving is used permeates diverse sectors, for example, there are manufacturing, signs, jewelry, electronics, and personalized present production.

Laser engraving
Laser engraving

Basics of Laser Engraving

The procedure involves the spotlight from the laser source towards the material’s surface. The removal of a material happens through ablation or vaporization, and this leaves the engraved mark. Primarily, the design is produced with the help of computer software. The computer projects this art on a machine capable of engraving. 

Laser engraving offers super precision, and designs involving intricate details, fine lines, and product individualization can easily be created. It can be used for signage, product personalization, and industrial marking. It is very well regarded for its accuracy, flexibility to fit different scenarios, and ability to provide consistent results among users with minimal manual effort.

Materials for Laser Engraving

Here are some of the common materials that can be laser engraved:

  • Metals: Life laser technology is flexible; it can be used on different metals ranging from stainless steel, aluminum, brass, copper, and titanium. It is common to do such operations on metal parts, tools, jewelry, or promotional items.
  • Plastics: Plastics similar to acrylic (PMMA), ABS, polycarbonate, and polypropylene carry out good results for laser engraving. Engraving laser on plastics is used for signage, labels, nameplates, and other decorative items, and it is popular among many consumers.
  • Wood: Laser engraving is one of the most widely used methods for branding logos, text, and designs on any wood surface. For example, these may include hardwood (hards) plywood, MDF, veneers, and more. It has been found widespread in woodworking, arts and craft outlets, furniture making, and personalized gift-making jobs.

Laser Drilling

Laser drilling, which uses a concentrated laser beam to produce openings or perforations in different materials, is very efficient and exceptional. Similarly, to laser drilling, mechanical drilling needs mechanical drilling equipment and if it is made with small diameter holes it generates heat-affected zones, and the complex geometries are not possible if it is not.

Drilling with Lasers

This procedure uses lasers to focus the light beam exactly where the material is to be removed, which leads to the immediate heating and re-vaporization of the material at the interaction point. When the laser ray moves as the laser beam does, a hole of exact Shape and size is made. Contrary to traditional drilling methods, which are generally limited to the sizes of holes that can be made, laser drilling helps produce holes with diameters as small as 1 micron. 

Laser drilling
Laser drilling

The material selection is virtually unaffected by the laser drilling, and the drilling speed has also increased significantly compared to the traditional methods. This place is widely used in sectors including aerospace, electronics, and medical devices production and brings manufacturers of accurate and high-quality holes to the requirement.

Applications of Laser Drilling

Below are some of the applications for laser drilling:

Aerospace Industry

Laser drilling is commonly used in aerospace to drill cooling holes in turbine blades, engine components, and aerospace structures. These holes improve airflow, reduce operating temperatures, and enhance the performance of aircraft engines and gas turbines.

Medical Device Manufacturing

Laser drilling, often used in the medical device industry to create exact holes in surgical instruments, implants, catheters, and microfluidic devices, is also taken advantage of in this case. Such a porous architecture increases the mobility of liquids, ensures prompt drug delivery, and makes minimalistic medical interventions feasible.

Electronics and Microelectronics

Laser drilling is critical in electronics manufacturing for drilling micro vias, through-holes, and blind vias in printed circuit boards (PCBs) and semiconductor substrates. These holes enable the interconnection of electronic components and facilitate the miniaturization of electronic devices.

Automotive and Mechanical Engineering

Laser drilling for the automotive manufacturing industry performs several operations, from injector nozzle drilling to the fabrication of fuel filters and several components of exhaust lines. The procedure also covers the drilling of precise holes in engine components. Therefore, it is also used in the mechanical manufacture of drilling for accuracy in gear precision and bearing tolerance.

Key Characteristics of Laser Drilling

Below are some of the key characteristics of laser drilling:

  • High Precision: Laser drilling offers outstanding in terms of precision and accuracy, which is needed to produce holes with a diameter ranging from micro – to milli – meters according to the work to be done. This precision is essential in applications that require very little deviation and demand more exact specifications.
  • Minimal Heat-Affected Zone (HAZ): Laser drilling generates small thermal input noticeably lower than in any other thermal processing. This impacts the creation of narrow heat-affected zones, and thus, the risk of thermal damage or distortion is reduced. Thanks to this characteristic, we are capable of conquering thinness and short working cycles. 
  • Non-contact Process: Laser drilling is a non-contact procedure, making introducing the tool into and over the working area unnecessary. It has no relation to the tool rotation. It results in lesser tool wear and no blasting of contaminants while allowing complex job drilling in areas that do not get enough attention.
  • High Speed: Laser drilling is a rapid tool with high speed that can produce high drilling speeds and increase productivity in the market compared to conventional drilling methods. The technique is very suitable for large-scale manufacturing and fast prototype implementation.

Laser Marking

Laser marking, which is a procedure based on the use of a focused laser beam, is a widely practiced and accurate marking technology that places permanent markings on the surface of materials. The contrast between traditional marking technologies, such as printing, engraving, or stamping, and the contactless process without consuming inks or paint colors is huge. This advancement finds applications across multiple industries in item identification, supply chain tracing, branding, serialization, and decorative usage.

Permanent and non-contact marking

The laser etching permanently deepens and changes the material’s properties in an elastic area through local heat treatment and ablation. The markings have a large course of resistance against wear and tear, corrosion, and fading. They can stay installed long and are visible and accessible to trace.

Laser marking is a non-contact technology, i.e., there is no touch on the marking tool (the laser beam itself ) and workpiece. Thus, this spares the delicacy of such materials and the unevenness and irregularity of surfaces, avoiding distortion.

Materials That can be Laser Marked

  • Metals: Stainless steel, aluminum, brass, copper, titanium, gold, silver, and alloys.
  • Plastics: These include acrylic, polycarbonate, ABS, PVC, PET, polypropylene, and polyethylene.
  • Glass: Italian-made borosilicate glass, soda-lime glass, tempered glass, and optical glass.
  • Ceramics: Glazed tiles, Maybe porcelain, alumina, zirconia, and silicon carbide.
  • Wood: Hardwood, pine, plywood, MDF (medium-density fiberboard), and veneers.

Traceability and product identification

In modern manufacturing, traceability and product identification have become essential for quality assurance, supply chain management, and regulation compliance. It is a vital contribution to these objectives. Laser marking is one of the most crucial technologies that provide a means for printing serial numbers, bar codes, QR codes, and other data matrix codes directly onto products or packaging. 

This particular code carries the product’s unique identifier, which helps track and authenticate it during its whole lifecycle. Thus, it helps with inventory tracking, warranty tracking, and easy recall of a defective product whenever required. As such, laser marking incorporates marks for branding, date codes, lot numbers, and regulatory symbols that assist in meeting market demands, increasing the visibility of a product, and thus being more marketable.

Adopting laser marking technology will allow manufacturers to boost their products’ traceability, identification, and logos by being efficient, reliable, and compliant with regulatory requirements. This multi-purpose and less disruptive method of marking enables industries to maximize their market needs by customizing production processes, ensuring product safety, and speeding up production. Moreover, the technique can improve any beginner artist or craftsperson.

Conclusion

Laser processing techniques are irreplaceable manufacturing prerequisites that provide superior precision, versatility, and repeatability in material processing. From cutting and welding to engraving and drilling, performing specific tasks such as creating desired shapes and sizes enables manufacturers to gain the accuracy and reliability needed to realize those outcomes. By grasping the fundamentals and applications of these laser processing methods, companies can leverage them to automate processes while improving quality and unraveling new opportunities to be innovative. Lasers are essential tools in modern manufacturing that shape the industry’s future with accuracy and versatility. Do you need any of the laser processing methods? Then Zintilon is here to help. Get a quote today to get started!

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