Laser beams were properly created in 1960 when the physicist Theodore Maiman used a synthetic ruby crystal to make the first working prototype capable of producing a straight laser beam. But it was not until 1963 when the electrical engineer Kumar Patel invented the gas laser cutting technology using CO2, making the laser cutting process cheaper and more efficient.
Patel’s efforts allowed the mining industry to give lasers a practical application in 1965: Cutting and drilling in diamond mines. Later on, in 1967, thanks to Peter Houldcroft, who developed the first gas-assisted laser cutting nozzle, it was possible to cut a 1-mm-thick steel sheet.
Today, CO2 laser cutters are a common tool used to cut and engrave materials like cardboard, plywood, MDF or acrylic, to name a few. Let’s take a closer look at the technology!
Laser cutting and engraving are both subtractive manufacturing methods; the process starts with a solid object and the laser beam removes material to form a final image. There’s a distinction, however, between laser cutting and laser engraving.
Laser cutting is a high precision process in which a laser beam hits the surface of a material and heats it up until it melts or vaporizes completely to leave a clean cut.
Laser engraving is a very similar process to laser cutting, but the laser beam’s intensity is decreased in order to leave only a mark on the material’s surface rather than cut it all the way through.
CO2 lasers are the most common these days, among both makers and professionals, so we will explain how this specific type of laser works. The word “laser” is an acronym for “light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation”. This means the laser is an intense light amplified through mirrors and lenses to produce enough power to cut any material. It’s an easy process to understand if we analyze it in the following way:
There are other technologies like CNC milling that can achieve similar results to a laser cutter/engraver, but here we list what we consider the advantages of laser cutting over other techniques.
And because not everything can be good, here are what we considered disadvantages:
Laser cutting (and engraving) is a fascinating technology, having more than proven its utility. Best of all, it’s accessible to everyone these days, either through commercial services or desktop machines.
However, as can be seen, the process isn’t yet perfect, with some issues needing to be solved before it can be considered superior to other similar technologies like CNC routers. More powerful and precise machines are developed every year with better cutting capacities, so we expect many ofthese disadvantages will be mitigated in the future.
Feature image source: ddprinting.net
License: The text of "Laser Cutting – Advantages and Disadvantages" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.