Pros and cons of laser cutting
Cutting is one of the most basic and widely used processes in the metal fabrication industry. Over time as technology has advanced, laser cutting has become the go-to technology to carry out cutting tasks because it has a number of advantages over other methods. However, it does have a few disadvantages too. In this article, we’ll be discussing both the pros and the cons of laser cutting so you can get a balanced understanding of the process if you need fabrication in Sheffield.
The pros of laser cutting
Engineers often prefer to use laser cutting due to the long list of pros it offers. Let’s look at some of the most important ones below:
Laser cutting doesn’t need tools to be exchanged for each separate cut. The same setting can cut multiple different shapes within the same material thickness, saving a lot of time and energy as well as allowing you to be flexible. Also, the intricate cuts don’t cause any issues.
Accuracy and precision are two of the main advantages of laser cutting in comparison to other thermal cutting processes. An accuracy of +/-0.1mm gives you the chance to achieve a high level of precision without requiring any after treatment. In a lot of cases, working to such a high standard means no extra tolerances are necessary.
+/-0.05mm means parts can be cut accurately that need to be pretty much exact copies of each other.
Laser cutting is much faster than traditional methods of mechanical cutting, especially when it comes to completing more complicated cuts and projects. In comparison to other thermal cutting methods such as plasma or flame cutting, laser is the front runner in terms of speed, but only up to a certain thickness, which is about 10mm. Although, the exact advantage point will come down to the power of the laser cutter.
The process requires little manpower because modern laser cutting machinery is designed to be easily automated. Experienced machine operators like our expert team of local metal fabricators still play a key role in the overall quality.
However, the speed of the cutter and little demand for manual labour ensure lower costs in comparison to other cutting methods. Some machines even have feeding systems alongside follow-up conveyors. Naturally, these setups mean a higher priced laser cutting machine.
With the correct setup, laser cutters will only leave a small burr and most of the time it doesn’t need removing. However, this will depend on the material, its thickness, and a few other factors. Another benefit is having a small heat affected zone. This means that as the microstructure along the HAZ changes, a smaller HAZ area leads to more predictable and dependable parts.
During the laser cutting process, only the beam touches the material. So, there is no friction from the machinery that could damage the tools, which will save you a lot of time and money on replacing tools further down the line.
This is one of the most important pros of laser cutting, its versatility can be demonstrated in two key ways. Firstly, laser cutting can be used for a wide range of different materials. Examples include various metals, MDF, acrylic, wood, paper, etc. One machine can be programmed to carry out different jobs, but the ability of cutting some of the materials will come down to the power of your machine.
A lot of laser cutters aren’t just used for cutting. They can also be used for laser marking which has many applications when creating everyday products. Finally, the technology is appropriate for use in a variety of profiles. Tube laser cutting for example, can carry out the process on anything from box sections to open channels.
The cons of laser cutting
Despite it being used to make parts for almost every industry, laser cutting does have some drawbacks that need to be considered.
High level of expertise needed
As previously mentioned, a specialist operator is needed to ensure the most is made of the laser cutter’s potential. The right configuration will guarantee the cutting quality is always up to the high standard that is expected from this modern technology.
Metal thickness limitations
When looking at laser cutting in relation to other thermal cutting methods, it’s not the best option for cutting very thick plates. The largest thickness that will be suitable depends on the machinery available and the skills on hand. As a rough guide, metal is often laser cut up to 15 or 20mm.
Laser cutting machines are extremely expensive to purchase, they can be double the cost of waterjet or plasma cutters. Even though the running costs and high efficiency do make up for it in the long run, the initial investment in laser cutting machinery is very big.
Emission of fumes
As we’ve seen, one of the benefits of laser cutting is its versatility in being able to cut different materials. However, the thermal cutting method often leads to emitted gases and dangerous fumes being dispersed. This is especially relevant when cutting plastic. Therefore, a high quality but normally expensive ventilation system will be needed in order to have a safe working environment.
Metal Fabrication in Sheffield
Despite a few minor downsides, it’s clear to see that laser cutting has more pros and is highly beneficial to the metal fabrication industry. If you’re looking for metal fabrication in Sheffield, contact the team at FEM today.