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The role of laser cutting in sheet metal fabrication

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For those of us who took woodshop, you might be very familiar with the simultaneously uneasy and exhilarating feeling that ran through you as you painstaking scored your wood or metal pieces and the similarly painstakingly guided the blade saw along the outline you’d drawn. Every centimeter was an exercise in patience and temerity, in diligence and detail. One wrong move, and what was to be a functional object, could become the latest addition to the woodpile. It was all in your hands and in the wrist.

Some materials were more grueling to work with than others, due in large part to the lack of leeway they would give – either taking the blade very quickly (so no room for mistakes or hesitation) or requiring extra reserves of constrained force to make the cut. For anyone who has or wishes to work with sheet metal, you know or will discover the demonstrative advantages of utilizing lasers to produce clean cuts, down to the millimeter, without the fear and uncertainty that using a hand-guided blade produces.

In a recent blog on instructables.com, the author gives an overview of a project involving a CO2 laser system. Each component to be cut is positioned on a platform controlled by computer, moving the piece according to the design. The laser remains stationary and cuts each piece through a focusing lens. Gas, perhaps oxygen, is piped into the side of a chamber below the focusing lens, and this gas exits the head nozzle creating a combination of gas and laser that vaporizes the steel for precise cutting.

If the various components of the laser are online, you must also have several other supplementary systems in place to properly utilize the CO2 laser. These components are, in the example given on instructables.com:

Electrical
Two 110VAC 20 amp lines (used to operate ancillary equipment), a 220VAC 20 amp line (for the laser power supply), a 220VAC 20 amp line (for the chiller), and another 110VAC 15 amp line (for room lighting).

Ventilation
Useful for removing fumes and reducing smoke which can contaminate the optics inside the beam delivery system.

Gas Lines
Either oxygen or nitrogen can be used by the laser cutting system, depending on the cutting application.

Support Arm
It is important to have proper distance from the nearest wall or surface, therefore a support arm is recommended.

Whether you’re a nascent hobbyist or a rabid enthusiast, CO2 lasers can enable you to create much more complex and precise sheet metal components and projects than utilizing a manual saw or other device for making your cuts. Industries from electronics, to medical devices, to aerospace and defense manufacturers utilize the same laser to produce large-scale and sophistical products that are either consumer grade, as well as, for industrial use. The versatility of the C02 laser supports a range of applications and can be adapted to a range of materials, from wood, to ceramics, to plastics, to composites, in addition to metals, as the nifty article on instructable.com demonstrates. Coherent offers useful advice on laser cutting technology and tools, via their FAQs, which you can find here (http://www.coherent.com/products/?1971/Laser-Cutting-FAQs).

The author of this article has gathered sources from http://thetechscoop.net/2013/09/18/laser-cutting-basics/ to write this article. Feel free to connect with him over at Google+.

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