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Industries throughout the world have begun evolving their workspaces to include robotic automation. Often, in large-scale manufacturing environments, these robots perform repetitive or dangerous tasks with little to no error. In any manufacturing environment, it is essential to find a high accuracy, speed efficient way to shape or cut materials and products. In turn, this will save money, keep the manufacturing process steady, and eliminate any hazards workers would be subject to if they were to operate the cutting equipment themselves.

There are various technologies available for automated cutting. Each with its own benefits based on the material used in cutting, and the rate at which cutting should be achieved. Here are a few of the most common cutting technologies:

  • Laser Cutting: mostly used to cut organic material, plastics, & metals.
  • Ultrasonic Blades: best suited for soft plastics, rubbers, & foams.
  • Punch and Die: most effective with plastics & metals.
  • Router: quite practical with hard plastics & metals.

This post will go into detail on laser cutting, and touch on the remaining cutting technologies in a later post.

Laser Cutting

As the name suggests, laser cutting is the process of piercing a selected material with a high-intensity laser. Using this focussed beam of light, the device heats up the material surface to a point where it melts or vaporizes. Therefore, it has the ability to carve, engrave, and separate most materials based on the intensity of the light, and the time spent under the laser. The majority of laser cutting systems have the ability to follow a specific path or geometry indicated by the user or operating system. This allows for complete automation of the cutting.

Different types of lasers are better suited for cutting certain materials. High-powered lasers are generally used for industrial applications where large scale or large quantities of metal or plastics need to be cut. Whereas low-powered lasers are more effective on thinner or weaker materials like wood and plastics. Presently, there are three main types of laser cutters:

CO2 Lasers

First developed in the 1960s, a CO2 laser runs an electrical current through a gas-filled tube (composed most commonly with CO2, Nitrogen, Helium, and Hydrogen) to generate light rays in the infrared spectrum. These light rays average from 50 to 100 Watts in power, however, industrial machines can typically generate multiple kilowatts. The CO2 laser is the most common type used due to it being efficient and inexpensive.

This type of laser is most commonly used while working with metal, wood, and various plastics. It also has the ability to work with food products, fabric, and other organic substances like leather and rubber. It is important to mention that this type of laser should not be used on materials that are reflective; as it can damage the laser via back reflections.

YAG/YVO Lasers

Also known as Crystal lasers, the YAG (Yttrium-Aluminum-Garnet) or YVO (Yttrium-Ortho-Vanadate) laser cutter is one of the more unique automated separation tools. Using a carefully constructed crystal medium, this laser allows for an extremely high cutting power, which allows it to cut through thicker and stronger materials. This is due to smaller wavelengths of light being generated by the crystals, and therefore creates a higher intensity beam than that of a CO2 laser. Due to their high-intensity cutting abilities, crystal lasers are typically more expensive and have shorter lifespans than other laser cutters.

These lasers are versatile with regard to their material cutting abilities. They can be used with both metals and non-metals, and are useful for a large range of applications, including medical, military, and manufacturing processes.

Fiber Lasers

This class of laser generates its cutting abilities by amplifying light rays using specially designed glass fibers. A massive amount of light can be transported through these fibers; combined with an extremely small focal point, the result is a light laser intensity much stronger than that of a CO2 laser. Typically, fiber lasers consume the same amount of energy as a CO2 laser but are more expensive due to their more effective cutting capability. This laser also requires less maintenance and therefore is a longer-lasting alternative to crystal lasers.

Fiber lasers are best suited for metals and strong plastics. Fiber lasers can also be used with glass and can cut reflective materials without fear of back reflections.

Safety

Due to the nature of laser cutters melting and vaporizing the working material it is crucial to ensure proper ventilation is established so no toxic fumes escape the laser’s workspace, and no human tissue comes in contact with the laser point. High energy laser beams can also cause severe eye damage and must be contained behind light shielding. Laser cutters are typically enclosed systems that will not operate unless the safety precautions are met.

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That concludes the content for our current post. Stay connected with DIY Robotics and read the next post in the following weeks “What to know about robotic cutting installations – part 2” where we will touch on the remaining topics. If you have any questions regarding the above material or would like insight on one of the other blog topics, please feel free to contact us.

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