While graphics can be designed on a computer and printed on most materials you can think of, many people don’t understand how graphics can also be printed on metal using hi tech lasers. In this short article we’re going to look at how this happens and how it will benefit the end user.
A laser can be used to cut very specific and detailed shapes and designs into metal. The laser provides a level of accuracy that traditional machining tools simply cannot match. The laser works by using carbon dioxide within the chamber to amplify the light many times. This light is then directed out a small aperture and focused into a very specific point by the laser lens. The typical laser beam is about 1/5 of a millimeter wide and is focused to between 1,000 and 2,000 watts of energy. This amount of energy is enough to melt most materials, including metal.
The laser beam becomes less focused and less accurate as it penetrates a material. For this reason, most laser cutting is good to about 20 millimeters of depth. A laser cutting machine may be combined with a larger CAM (computer-aided manufacturing) or CAD (computer-aided design) system which allows the machine to use a design file on a work piece. These types of computer aided machines are yet another step away from handcrafting and using people in the manufacturing process. Instead, these machines allow people to be more involved in the creative design of the pieces.
Stainless steel and carbon alloy are the preferred materials for laser cutting and design. This is because materials like copper and aluminum tend to reflect the laser light beam. They also conduct the thermal energy and make it difficult to focus the beam as precisely. Stainless steel and carbon alloy, on the other hand, reflect light and heat poorly, making it possible to concentrate the light and heat of the laser beam.
Lasers can cut designs and features as small as one millimeter. There are specialized lasers which can make even smaller cuts. These are used in making micromachinery, where very tiny, precise cuts are required. Machines were first used to make laser cuts in 1967. This was a spin-off from a military research project. This project focused on using laser beams for certain military operations and equipment.
The laser cutting machines are considered class 4 lasers which mean the people operating the machines are never exposed directly to any of the lasers. All the laser cutting is completed within the machine.
The steps for using a laser cutter are fairly simple. First, a design file must be created. An image must be selected and the uploaded into the computer tied into the laser cutter. The material must be selected and placed in the cutter. The laser lens should be inspected to ensure it is clean and free of dust or any other particles. The machine is turned on, and while it is warming up, the image file is prepared. The line width and cutting speed are selected. It is important to remember to select the cutting line and width based on the material being cut. Wider lines will require more cutting time which can result in a jagged cut. The speed will vary, too, depending upon laser cutting or just laser etching.