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BlogMachining and Fabrication

What is Laser Cutting?

Laser cutting is a manufacturing technology classified as a sheet metal cutting process since it is often used to cut industrial sheet metals. Learn about the benefits of using laser cutting over other types of subtractive manufacturing processes.

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By Serena Ngoh
 4 min read
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Laser cutting is a process that aims a high-power laser through optics to cut materials for industrial manufacturing applications. This type of manufacturing is classified as a sheet metal cutting process since it is often used to cut industrial sheet metal. Laser cutting is also commonly used for quality welding and to cut other materials such as composites, rubber, glass, wood, and aluminum. 3D laser cutting uses CNC machines, and the three main types of lasers include carbon dioxide (CO2), neodymium (Nd), or neodymium-doped yttrium aluminum garnet (Nd:YAG) lasers.

The most common lasers are CO2 because they have high energy efficiency and a high power output ratio. These are best suited for cutting, boring, and engraving. Nd lasers have high energy, but low repetition efficiency, while Nd:YAG lasers have a high power output for cutting thicker materials but are more expensive to operate. Both Nd and Nd:YAG lasers are used for boring and welding. Nd:YAG lasers can also be used for engraving.

How It Works

To cut materials, laser focusing optics direct electrical energy into a high-density light beam, and CNC code is used to control the movement of either the workpiece or the laser beam. The excess material produced by laser cutting is then melted, vaporized, burned, or blown away by jets of nitrogen or oxygen.

Compared to plasma cuttinglaser cutting is more precise and less energy-consuming to operate. However, laser cutting has an upper limit on the thickness of the material it can cut. CO2 lasers are best for processing metals, while Fiber lasers can handle thicker materials. For metals thicker than 4 inches, or materials that can easily melt like plastics and foams, waterjet cutting may be the best manufacturing process.

Applications of Laser Cutting

Laser cutting offers a cost-effective way to fabricate 3 main types of custom parts: enclosures, chassis, and brackets. Fabricated enclosures may include device panels, boxes, and cases for applications like rackmounts, “U” and “L” shaped parts, and consoles and consolets. Chassis can be fabricated in the form of handheld or industrial-sized electromechanical controls. Brackets that are used in lightweight or corrosion-resistant applications are often laser cut, and platforms likeXometrycan fully build in fasteners and hardware. Because of its ability to cut in 2D profiles using common stock, laser cut blanks can be extremely economical while still having short lead times.

Is Laser Cutting Right for Your Project?

Generally, 3D laser cutting is often chosen as a manufacturing option since it produces highly durable parts with its ability to cut through a variety of strong sheet metals. These metals include Aluminum 5052, Aluminum 6061-T6, Copper 101, Copper C110, Copper 260 (Brass), Stainless Steel 301, Stainless Steel 304, Stainless Steel 316/316L, and Steel 1018. Each of these bears high levels of strength, conductivity, weight, and corrosion-resistance and most can have finishing options applied like standard, bead blast, anodize type II and III, powder film, chem film, painting, and other custom finishes.

Laser cutting is often chosen over traditional CNC machining (mechanical cutting) processes for its ability to produce custom parts faster with commodity flat panel materials, which makes it highly scalable. The lower setup costs and 2D nesting of cutting paths mean parts can be produced in quantities ranging from one prototype to up to 10,000 production parts, with a rapid turnaround of as few as 5 business days.

Laser cutting is prized for its clean cuts, which also results in a decreased contamination of the workpiece and at a higher accuracy to CAD. Though these cuts are not as clean as a waterjet and come with a small chance of operator error, laser cutting produces parts that are precise because of a lower likelihood to warp. The same laser operation can also add marking or engraving of the part by decreasing laser power.

Laser Cutting with Xometry

Manufacturing platforms like Xometry offer custom laser cutting services on demand, allowing you to get high-quality parts in as few as 5 business days. The site provides instant quoting for your sheet metal fabrication needs, allowing you to specify your materials, details, and the size of the project in a few clicks. Whether it is a flat profile cut or a complex welded enclosure, Xometry can provide a price and lead time instantly.

Xometry’s Manufacturing Partner Network offers nearly limitless capacity, allowing you to source both low-volume prototypes and high-volume production runs. Xometry Partners offer a wide variety of shop capabilities and options including Fiber and CO2 lasers, Mild Steel, Stainless Steel, Aluminum, Copper, Brass, and engineered alloys. Sheet metal parts can be cut at dimensions up to 53″ by 121″ (including pass-thru).

Xometry combines the latest cutting, bending, and punching technologies with an intelligent instant quoting platform, bringing you high-quality, cost-effective solutions for laser cutting and for 12 other processes. Try it now.

Serena-Ngoh-headshot
Serena Ngoh
I write about Xometry and all things manufacturing. You might also see me hosting webinars, designing infographics, producing videos, and working directly with customers to tell their manufacturing success stories. Reach out if you'd like to share yours!

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