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What Materials Can A Fiber Laser Cut?

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What Materials Can A Fiber Laser Cut?

As fiber laser cutting machines gain popularity, understanding their capabilities and advantages becomes essential for businesses looking to leverage this cutting-edge technology.

This comprehensive guide explores the materials fiber laser cutting machines can and cannot cut, the factors influencing cutting thickness, and the numerous benefits of using fiber laser cutting machines.

The Fundamentals of Fiber Laser Technology

Fiber lasers operate by amplifying light through fiber optic cable, producing a high-intensity beam capable of cutting through a range of materials with remarkable accuracy.

Unlike traditional CO2 lasers, fiber lasers offer several advantages (read more about fiber laser cutters vs CO2 laser cutters):

  • Higher Efficiency: Fiber lasers convert electrical energy into light more efficiently, reducing operating costs.
  • Greater Precision: The concentrated beam allows for intricate designs and detailed cuts.
  • Longer Lifespan: With fewer moving parts and a solid-state design, fiber lasers require less maintenance and have a longer operational life.
  • Sealed optics: Sensitive optical components such as lenses and protection windows are sealed from the outside world by the fit of the fibre optic cable plug into the corresponding socket on the laser head, dramatically reducing the risk of contamination.
  • Wavelength and power: Fibre optic wavelength around 1080nm is ideally suited to cutting a wide range of metals. A wide range of available power options ensures that there is a machine configuration to suit most capability and budget requirements.

However, due to the wavelength of light used, they are also unsuitable for cutting certain types of materials.

First, we’ll explore materials fiber lasers are most commonly used to cut, and then take a look at the materials to avoid (and why!).

What Materials Can Fiber Lasers Cut?

Fiber laser cutting machines are highly versatile, capable of cutting a wide range of materials but are generally considered to be suitable for metals only). Here’s a closer look at some of the most common materials processed using fiber laser cutter:

Types Of Metals Fiber Laser Can Cut

Stainless Steel

An image of stainless bolts cut with a fiber laser welder

Fiber laser cutters are ideal for cutting stainless steel due to their high precision and clean edges. Using nitrogen as an auxiliary gas prevents oxidation, enhancing the cut quality and reducing post-processing time. However, compressed air can also be used, potentially reducing operating costs very significantly.

This makes fiber lasers perfect for applications in the automotive, aerospace, and medical industries.

Carbon & Mild Steels

An image of fiber laser cut mild steel gears in a factory

Fiber lasers excel in cutting carbon steel and mild steel. For thinner sheets, nitrogen is preferred to ensure a high-quality finish, while oxygen is used for thicker plates to facilitate an exothermic reaction that aids in cutting.

This versatility makes fiber lasers suitable for construction, machinery, and shipbuilding industries.

Aluminum & Various Alloys

An image of an aluminium heat sink cut by a fiber laser cutter

Aluminum’s reflective nature can pose some challenges for laser cutting.

However, with careful selection of the fibre laser source which should include a back reflection absorption system, fiber lasers can efficiently cut aluminium. High cutting speeds and the use of assist gases like nitrogen and compressed air ensure smooth, burr-free edges, making this technology ideal for electronics and aerospace components.

Copper and Brass

An image of fiber laser cut copper tubing

Both copper and brass are highly reflective, but fiber lasers equipped with reflection absorbers can handle these materials effectively.

High-powered lasers create a stable cutting process, with nitrogen or oxygen being used for copper and nitrogen for brass. These materials are commonly used in electrical components and decorative items.

Titanium

An image of a titanium pen knife cut with a fiber laser machine

Known for its strength-to-weight ratio and corrosion resistance, titanium is widely used in aerospace, medical, and automotive industries.

Fiber lasers can typically cut titanium without causing burrs or burning, whilst maintaining the material’s integrity.

Nickel Alloys

A picture of nickel tubing precisely cut with a fibre laser cutting machine

Nickel alloys, prized for their strength and corrosion resistance, are challenging to cut with traditional methods such as CO2 laser cutters. Fiber lasers, however, can achieve precise, clean cuts, preserving the material’s properties.

This makes them ideal for applications in the energy, automotive, and aerospace sectors.

Materials Unsuitable for Fiber Laser Cutting

While fiber lasers are highly versatile, some materials are unsuitable due to their chemical composition or physical properties (such as reflective materials).

We have heard of unusual applications where fibre laser cutting machines have produced good results in unexpected situations, such as cutting corrugated cardboard with very little burning or ash on the cut faces.

However, HPC Laser generally recommends that fibre laser cutting machines are considered only for cutting metals.

Glass

Glass cannot absorb the wavelength of fiber lasers, making it unsuitable for cutting. Alternative methods such as water jet or mechanical options are recommended.

PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride)

Cutting PVC with any kind of laser releases toxic chlorine gas, posing health risks and damaging the machinery. Mechanical cutting methods such as CNC routing are safer alternatives.

Polycarbonate

Polycarbonate tends to burn and discolour when exposed to laser cutting, making it impractical for fiber laser processing.

Polystyrene Foam

Polystyrene is highly flammable, releases toxic chemicals when burnt and is therefore unsuitable for both CO2 and fibre laser laser cutting.

Fiberglass & Coated Carbon Fiber

Both of these materials are unsuitable for cutting either with a CO2 or fibre laser. Fiberglass combines glass and resin, which can burn and emit toxic fumes (although dedicated fume filters can minimise it).

Coated carbon fiber also releases harmful fumes when cut with a laser. Both are also heat resistant which is usually a good indicator that a material is not well suited to laser cutting. Mechanical methods such as CNC routing are recommended.

Maximizing Efficiency: Factors Influencing Cutting Thickness

A picture of carefully cut metals produced by a fiber laser cutter

The maximum thickness a fiber laser can cut depends on several factors, including laser power, material properties, assist gas type and cutting conditions. Here’s a breakdown of key considerations:

  • Laser Power: Higher-wattage lasers can cut thicker materials. For example, a 30kW laser can typically cut  carbon and stainless steels up to 60mm thick.
  • Material Relectivity: More reflective materials like aluminium and brass require more power to cut compared to carbon and stainless steels.
  • Cutting Speed and Gas Pressure: The speed at which the laser moves and the pressure of assist gases influence the quality and thickness of the cut. Faster speeds and higher gas pressures can improve cut quality.
  • Focal Distance and Beam Quality: Proper focusing of the laser beam ensures optimal energy delivery to the material, allowing for cleaner cuts at greater thicknesses.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can Fiber Lasers Cut Glass?

No, fiber lasers are not suitable for cutting glass. Water jet or CO2 lasers are better alternatives. However, fiber and CO2 lasers can engrave glass in controlled environments.

Why Choose The HPC Range Of Fiber Laser Machines?

The HPC Laser range of fiber laser machines incorporate the latest technology, innovative features and safety measure to ensure superior performance and reliability:

  • Cutting-Edge Technology: All of our fiber laser cutting machines are equipped with advanced features such as automatic focusing, real-time monitoring, and high-speed cutting capabilities.
  • Exceptional Customer Support: We provide comprehensive lifetime support, from initial consultation to post-purchase service, ensuring that our customers get the most out of their fiber laser machines.
  • Proven Success Stories: Our satisfied customers include leading companies and educational sectors across various industries, who have benefited from the precision and efficiency of our fiber laser cutting machines. Here’s why you should choose HPC Laser.
  • Customization Options: We offer flexible machine customisation options to meet specific cutting needs, ensuring that our machines are tailored to your needs.

Summing It All Up

Fiber laser cutting technology offers unmatched precision, efficiency, and versatility, making it an indispensable tool in modern manufacturing.

Whether you’re cutting metals, plastics, or organic materials, fiber lasers provide high-quality results across a wide range of applications.

Ready to explore the benefits of fiber laser cutting for your business?

Contact us today for, advice, quotes, or to schedule a demonstration at our UK showroom. Our team of experts are here to help you find the perfect fiber laser solution.

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