Glossary: laser cutting

Laser cutting consists in removing a portion of material from an object according to a pre-defined cutting path.

This is one of the most common industrial applications of lasers: 80% of lasers used in industrial environments perform it.

Laser cutting also includes processing such as laser drilling and laser kiss cutting.

The laser cutting process consists of concentrating the energy of the laser beam through a focusing lens until it becomes a very small point on the material’s surface.

Concentrating energy in such a way greatly increases its temperature and causes the removal of the material, hence the cut.

Based on the material being used and its chemical and physical characteristics, the interaction between the laser and the material will stimulate one of the following processes:

  • sublimation: the laser heats the material up to cause immediate sublimation. This process is used, for example, to cut different polymers.
  • melt shearing: the laser heats the material until it melts; the molten material is expelled by a gas jet. This process is used, for example, to cut metals and some polymeric materials
  • chemical degradation: the laser heats the material until its molecules are reduced to their essential components. This process is used, for example, to cut wood-based materials such as paper.

The advantages of laser cutting compared to other cutting methods

Laser cutting has numerous advantages both in terms of cut quality and in terms of very characteristics of the process. Here are the main ones:

  • very thin cut dimensions with very tight tolerances
  • clean cut edges without imperfections, and no need for further finishing
  • very restricted heat affected zone, does not damage the surrounding material
  • high cutting speed
  • due to lack of mechanical interaction, there is no need to fix down the piece being processed
  • there is no risk of tool wear and breakage as no physical means is used, the laser beam is made of light
  • process is easily automated
  • high possibility of customizing the cut and high flexibility
  • cleaning, reduction of waste
  • possibility to follow complex cutting geometries
  • no chips are made apart from dust, vapors or fumes that can easily be aspirated away

To learn more, read our articles on the main advantages of laser cutting.

Laser cutting industrial sectors

Laser cutting is used in many industrial sectors.

Here are some of them:

  • Automotive: cutting of plastic parts of cars, cutting of leather
  • Signage: design and production of innovative packaging
  • Display: cutting of LGP Backlight panels
  • Packaging: creation of innovative packaging
  • Food: laser cuts on food for consumption
  • Digital converting: paper converting
  • Decoration: creation of objects cut with laser
  • Fashion: creating special effects on semi-finished fabrics and finished products
Materials that can be processed with laser cutting

Laser cutting can be applied to most materials, commonly used in manufacturing.

A distinction can be made between metals and non-metals.

Fiber laser is mainly used for laser cutting of metals. This type of laser works at a wavelength that is compatible with the characteristics of metals. For this reason, fiber laser cutting has become the standard for metal laser cutting.

On the other hand, laser cutting of non-metals is in the undisputed realm of the CO2 laser. This type of laser has a wavelength of 10.6 micrometers which is perfectly absorbed by non-metallic materials. This characteristic gives the CO2 laser its extreme flexibility.

Here is a list of non-metallic materials that can be cut with a CO2 laser:

  • plastic film
  • PMMA
  • polyethylene
  • leather
  • natural fiber fabrics
  • synthetic fiber fabrics
  • wood and derivatives
  • mdf
  • chipboard
  • plywood
  • paper and cardboard
  • fruits and vegetables
  • meats and cheeses
  • vegetables
  • alumina
  • stone
  • glass

Examples of laser cutting

A laser cut slab of wood. Laser cutting paths can be very intricate
An object made of laser cut PMMA
Laser cutting is very useful in the packaging sector

Laser sources suitable for laser cutting

For laser cutting, semi-sealed laser sources are generally the first choice. To obtain high quality cuts the laser system must have certain parameters.

An important parameter is the ability of the system to focus the laser on the work surface.

This parameter is determined by the performance of the scanning head. El.En.’s laser scanning heads make it possible to set focus parameters in such a way that high quality cuts are always guaranteed.

Speed ​​and power of the source are two other parameters that influence the quality of the cut. For each application, the best combination can be found to obtain high quality results.

The speed of execution of the cut is directly proportional to the power of the laser. For high cutting speeds, a laser source with greater power is the better choice. The power can later be modulated when lower work speeds are required.

Laser sources can work in pairs with a scanning head or a cutting head.

The El.En. laser sources most suitable for laser cutting applications are part of the Self-Refilling Series.

This series was developed by El.En. with the following features:

  • never ending power: possibility to recharge the laser-producing medium on its own
  • different power options: available from 300 to 1200 W
  • same form factor for all powers
  • high energy efficiency
  • compact design

Get more information

As explained in this article, the feasibility of a laser cutting application depends on several parameters such as the scanning head’s focus capacity, the cutting speed and the power of the source all.

Each industrial process has its individual parameters that need to be defined. El.En.’s team of experts for over 35 years has been manufacturing industrial laser systems used all over the world. If you have an application in mind that could work with a laser solution, contact us and we will help you find the best solution for your process.