Since 2009, the number of patents, articles and research papers covering high-performance shape-memory alloys has tripled. Precision laser cutting is one of the few fabrication technologies positioned to keep pace with innovations across the biomedical, robotics, aerospace and automotive industries. As engineers and inventors imagine new uses for smart materials, demand for precision laser cutting services is increasing.
Advantages of Precision Laser Cutting
Compatibility with Advanced Materials
Since the first self-expanding Nitinol cardiovascular stent was released in 1983, laser cutting services have transformed the medical industry.
Shape-memory alloys (SMAs) like Nitinol have led to the development of ultra-flexible surgical catheters. These devices make it easier for surgeons to navigate complex entry paths and challenging bend angles during advanced therapeutic procedures.
Today, biomedical experts are even developing synthetic SMA-driven muscle fibers that facilitate natural body movements. In the robotics field, innovators are creating self-actuated components using laser-fabricated SMAs.
Reduced Heat-Affected Areas
Conventional cutting systems sometimes produce unwanted structural and chemical changes due to excessive heat and friction. In some metals, high temperatures can cause hardness and brittleness. Lasers overcome this barrier by generating tightly focused beams that enable frictionless machining.
With wet and dry cutting options, lasers can safely handle all types of materials, including plastics and micro parts with low ignition temperatures.
In general, laser-cut components have a minimal heat-affected zone (HAZ). Controlling thermal influences is especially important in the automotive and aerospace industries where material integrity and stress resistance are critical.
Narrow Cutting Widths
In addition to minimizing the HAZ, precision laser cutting create very narrow kerfs. This term describes the width of the cutting path. Narrow kerfs improve dimensional accuracy and allow components to be tightly nested. This helps fabrication companies minimize waste and maximize the use of high-value materials.
Additionally, lasers produce naturally smooth, burr-free edges. Because separate finishing processes generally aren’t required, there’s no need to estimate potential dimensional changes. Lasers achieve reliable results with tolerances as small as 5 microns. No other system is as consistent, accurate or fast.
Complex 3-D Geometries
Thanks to computer numerical control (CNC) technology, lasers can follow complex cutting paths in thin-walled tubing and heavy plates. The results are precise and infinitely repeatable. Multi-axis cutting systems allow lasers to create intricate 3-D shapes with variable depths.
When combined with other technologies, such as laser etching and heat shaping, the possibilities for precision laser cutting are nearly limitless. In many industries, finished products go through several fabrication processes.
Precision laser cutting services that combine heat treatments, annealing and welding produce finished products with enhanced durability and shape-memory characteristics. These fabrication systems can also mark components with unique product identifiers.