Briefly, fiber laser light is created by banks of diodes. The light is channeled and amplified through fiber optic cable similar to that used for data transfer. The amplified light, on exiting the fiber cable, is collimated or straightened and then focused by a lens onto the material to be cut.
Creation of the light is 200% more efficient than via a traditional CO2 laser, and delivery is far simpler, with no expensive optical mirrors. The focusing lens, unlike on a conventional CO2 laser machine, is sealed in the cutting head and thus not a consumable item.
Bystronic first launched its fiber laser in the UK in 2010 as a 2 kW machine, which was swiftly followed by a 3 kW and then a 4 kW machine. Interestingly, the 3 kW model remains most popular, with 60% of UK machines delivered being of this power.
If one examines the price-to-performance ratio of the different models, the main cutting speed benefit of the higher-power 4 kW laser is in mid-range materials from 6 to 8 mm thick. There are also small benefits in thickness capacity when cutting non-ferrous materials, typically an increase of one gauge of material. This helps only customers who cut a lot of material in the 6 to 8 mm range or who wish to cover all eventualities, as it is their only laser cutting machine.
The benefits of a true fiber laser source include:
Plasma Cutting is a thermal-based fabrication process that uses an accelerated jet of super-heated plasma to cut through electrically conductive materials (including steel, aluminum, brass and copper).
The plasma jet is generated by creating an electric arc through a gas (compressed air, nitrogen, argon or oxygen, depending on the workpiece material), which is then forced into a narrow and focused nozzle. When enough energy is delivered to the gas, the gas molecules will ionize and turn into plasma. Modern plasma cutters can generate a plasma jet up to 20,000°C and travels towards the workpiece at up to three times the speed of sound.
When the plasma hits the workpiece’s surface, the arc is transferred to the grounded and conductive workpiece. The material absorbs the energy of the arc and plasma and quickly heats up. The gas is also directed around the cutting area to shield the cut. A modern CNC plasma cutter can accurately melt and vaporize a tiny targeted area and penetrate the material (up to 64mm for the ESPRIT Viper 4000), blow away any molten material, and quickly produce the desired cut on the workpiece.
Plasma cutters may use a number of methods to start the arc. Conventional plasma cutters use the High Frequency start method, which is not suitable for a CNC system due to the electrical noise interference create by the process, so most modern CNC plasma cutters (such as the Viper 4000 which has a Hypertherm Plasma System) uses the Blowback start method instead. This type of plasma cutters has a moveable spring-loaded electrode that is blown back by air pressure at the start of a cut cycle to ionize the gas and create a pilot arc. The pilot arc is then forced out of the nozzle and transferred to the workpiece to create the main arc for cutting.
The electrode and nozzle are considered consumables due to the wear during the plasma cutting process, and require regular maintenance and replacement.
The use of laser technology in manufacturing is not a new idea. Manufacturers have been using Gas Laser and later CO2 Laser to cut all sorts of materials for decades now, technology advancement in recent years allows more powerful and efficient Fiber Laser machines to emerge and take over the industrial market.
Fiber Laser Machine nowadays can reach 30kW or above in terms of power and deliver similar performance as their CO2 counterparts. Fiber Lasers also provide several benefits over CO2 Lasers:
• Equipment Cost: Fiber Laser as a solid-state laser technology uses less parts and is getting cheaper as its popularity grows within the industry. A typical Fiber Laser machine would cost less than a CO2 Laser machine of the same class. It also has a longer life span, meaning manufacturers can get more mileage out of the investment.
• Maintenance: Fiber Laser (solid state resonator type laser) is a simpler system that does not require mirrors and many other components, and have a fully sealed fiber optic beam path. This means a typical Fiber Laser machine is less likely to be contaminated, and would require less maintenance and calibration work, thus reducing its maintenance down time.
• Cutting performance and speed: Fiber Laser and CO2 Laser have different wavelengths. Fiber Lasers can produce a more focused laser with higher intensity, with the newest Fiber Laser machines reaching 30kW or above and cut up to 5 times faster than a conventional CO2 laser.
• Operating Costs: Fiber lasers are much more energy efficient. Its lower running costs (as low as half of a CO2 laser) combined with less maintenance and faster cutting speed make it a more economical choice for all industrial application.
Fiber Laser has become the go-to option for industrial metal cutting application. Omnidex Laser utilizes state of the art Fiber Laser technology to deliver the optimal cutting performance. Contact us to learn more about our laser cutting capabilities.
Which metal cutting process is best for my application?
Laser Cutting and Plasma Cutting each has their own advantages. Laser Cutting offers higher precision and quality while Plasma Cutting is a more cost-effective solution.
CNC Oxy Fuel Cutting
Fiber Laser Cutting Machine
CNC Fiber Laser Cutting Machine cutting stainless tube
If it is precision and accuracy you are going after, CNC Laser Cutting is the way to go. Plasma Cutting cuts with wider incision and creates slight (4 to 5 degrees) bevels in the cut face. It is also prone to dross and thermal deformation.
Material type and thickness is also another consideration. Laser Cutting can work on most metals as well as plastic, wood and other non-metallic materials, while Plasma Cutting is limited to steel and alloys. However, Plasma Cutting can cut through thicker material (up to 40mm of mild steel for our Laser machine, and up to 64mm of mild steel for our Plasma machine).
If you still have questions on the metal cutting processes we provide, feel free to contact us. Our engineers are more than happy to help you evaluate your project and come up with the best solution for your application.