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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.

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By Markus Klemm

The main upshot of systems integration in laser cutting machines is faster throughput. Though throughput varies from one plant to another, and one job to another, a reasonable expectation is that throughput with today’s better quality laser cutters will be significantly faster than what is possible with non-integrated technology.

Estimating production time also is now automated by the software in high-end laser cutting systems. This software creates and stores a database of laser settings for various types of cuts (e.g., kisscuts, creases, etc.) on the particular substrate being cut. Using this data, the same software capability that optimizes a job for web speed will calculate this optimum web speed and the production rate that is possible. This job simulation is done by the software before the job is run and gives users the ability to make very accurate cost projections for new job runs.

Selection criteria
Knowing your real quality requirements is the first step in zeroing in on whether your operation is better served by low-cost or higher quality laser cutting systems. However, there is a baseline of quality that you always should strive for, such as avoiding burn-through marks and ensuring that there is a crisp narrow cut precisely following the artwork geometry. A laser cutting machine must have a high quality laser source with a small spot size to achieve these results. In label applications, this also allows for much better control of the heat transmitted to the release paper on the back of labels.

Inferior laser sources with larger spot sizes often make it difficult to remove the cut labels because melted adhesives cause the labels and release paper to stick together. If a laser cutting system presents burn-throughs, it usually reflects poor software engineering to control the laser power and an inferior laser source with a large spot size. The soft marking capabilities of today’s better quality laser cutters should be considered as a non-negotiable feature, whether a system is high-priced or low-priced. There are systems at all price levels that can and cannot achieve this level of quality.


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