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A Guide to Laser Cutting Technology, Part 2

(April 2009) posted on Tue Apr 21, 2009

Laser cutters have evolved from prototyping tools to highly-productive finishing systems. Read on to learn about developments in lasers, control software, and other facets of the technology that make laser cutting systems a viable option for any shop currently using conventional, tool-based cutting machines.


By Markus Klemm

click an image below to view slideshow

A third option, which also undermines quality, would be to use small scan heads positioned a distance apart for a smaller spot size, but again creating a need for stitching because there is a much smaller overlap in the cutting area, as in Figure 9. Another constraint is that there are always areas beyond the reach of the other laser scan head, which means that you must contend with the difficulties of stitching two objects together that have been cut by different scan heads. This always means some compromise in quality, because different scan heads will have different temperatures resulting in different drifts during operation. Realistically, there are very few laser cutting applications that are forgiving enough for the quality issues that such stitching engenders.

Applications with stringent cut-to-print registration requirements aren’t the only ones challenged by stitching the cut images from each of the two scan heads. For example, if there is an offset of the two cut parts of more than ± 0.1 mm, this can create a knick during waste removal due to misalignment during stitching.

The higher cost of double scan-head systems is not justified, especially if one compares these systems to single scan head laser cutters that are designed for cutting at higher speeds. And double scan-head systems often cannot use the 200- to 210-micron spot size lasers that single scan systems do, so they create excess heat that can cause problems including burnthroughs and adhesive sticking to release papers.

Systems integration, user-friendliness, and productivity
The quality improvements that are possible when high resolution camera systems communicate with scan-head control software to determine required X/Y offsets is only one example of the benefits of systems integration in top-quality laser cutting machines. The extent of systems integration in a laser cutting machine can largely determine how easy the machine is to operate and has great bearing on the productivity levels the machine will support. For example, older systems required users to obtain a separate camera system and required operators to master the camera control software in addition to the cutting system controls. In contrast, today’s most sophisticated laser cutting systems come with cameras fully integrated with the laser software. Operators do not have to learn how to set up a separate camera system—this is now done directly from the laser control software in as few as three simple steps.


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