How Lasers Work

Laser is an acronym for “light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation.” Lasers produce concentrated beams of light by energizing atoms, which triggers photon replication. A series of mirrors amplify and project the light. Because the photons are identical, the beam is very intense and consistent. The color and qualities of the laser depend on the wavelengths of the photons.

Lasers are found in all types of consumer products, including DVD players, barcode scanners and printers. If the light is strong enough, lasers can power industrial cutting systems. Lasers rival the power of plasma cutters, yet they are extremely accurate. Depending on the setup, the material will either melt, vaporize or be ejected from the cutting path. This produces burr-free edges. These systems are ideal for precise laser cutting through ultra-thin and heat sensitive materials as well as thick plates.

Understanding the Laser Cutting Process

Laser-powered cutting units use computer technology to convert 3-D renderings into perfectly formed prototypes and finished products. First, engineers create designs using CAD technology. Computer numerical control (CNC) routers direct the cutting heads to turn this digital information into a physical product.

Multi-axis controls allow the laser to create any combination of complex geometric shapes on flat or curved surfaces. Lasers produce an extremely narrow kerf, or cutting width. This increases dimensional accuracy and reduces the heat-affected zone. Because optical cutting systems are so accurate, there’s generally no need for secondary refinishing or retouching. However, related laser systems can perform a variety of manufacturing processes, including welding, annealing, drilling and etching.

Applications for Laser Fabrication

When engineers first developed a system that could cut through strong materials using the power of light, they probably didn’t realize all of the benefits. Laser fabrication is preferred for all applications where dimensional accuracy is critical. By minimizing the heat-affected zone, it produces components with greater molecular integrity. Also, because it’s a non-contact cutting system, there’s less risk of cross-contamination.

Shortly after this technology was introduced, lasers were crafting aerospace parts. These days, they fabricate metal components and prepare manmade materials for the automotive sector. In the health care industry, lasers churn out self-expanding cardiovascular stents and surgical tools that save millions of lives annually. This manufacturing method is a natural choice for medical devices since it excels when creating complex shapes in surgical tubing and shape-memory alloys.