Laser cutting is a useful technology widely used by industries, manufacturers, and service providers. The art of laser cutting, etching, and engraving has greatly evolved since its first use in the 1970s.
However, the cost of laser cutters was almost impossible to reach for most common professionals initially. Fortunately, CO2 laser cutting machine prices have dropped so much that even home DIYers and small businesses can afford them. So, how does CO2 laser cutting work? Well, this article will provide all the details on that topic.
Laser engraving is a technique to engrave and cut various designs on different materials using a powerful laser beam. The beam gradually heats the material to the point that its topmost layer starts to vaporize, forming a groove or engraving. The groove deepens and completely separates from the sheet for laser cutting.
History of the CO2 Laser Engraver:
Laser technology has come a long way from what we know today. In other words, laser engravers weren’t always small portable devices, safe for humans, and affordable. The first laser engraver was designed by Arthur Schawlow and Charles Townes in 1954. They named it microwave amplification by stimulated emission radiation or maser, in other words. However, it used ammonia gas and microwave radiation that produced massive amounts of radiation, potentially harmful to humans. So, the pair further worked on their project to develop the first infrared laser engraver that paved the way for this multi-billion-dollar industry.
Laser technology was thus born, but it wasn’t easily accessible to everyone. Initially, the laser engravers were as massive as a computer in those days, I.e., they took up a whole room. Moreover, it wasn’t safe to work with these machines without wearing a radiation suit as the laser emitted huge amounts of ionized particles. Another reason why the industry didn’t bloom in those days is that the engraving machines were very costly.
In this regard, 1963 is marked as the real year of success for laser engraving technology when Kumar Patel introduced the world’s first CO2 laser machine on the market. He worked tirelessly for a whole two years to research and develop this cost-effective device for the masses. The major benefit of the CO2 laser was that it.
In this regard, 1963 is marked as the real year of success for laser engraving technology when Kumar Patel introduced the world’s first CO2 laser machine on the market. He worked tirelessly for a whole two years to research and develop this cost-effective device for the masses. The major benefit of the CO2 laser was that it was cheaper, smaller, and had a higher frequency than the ruby laser. The only drawback to the CO2 laser engraver is that it doesn’t work on metals and some non-metals. Other than that, the list of materials for laser engraving includes leather, plastic, wood, anodized aluminum, paper, and even food.
Researchers then got to work to improve Patel’s technology to make it more accurate, portable, and versatile. In 1967, Boeing researchers introduced an improved version of the CO2 laser with a better focus and higher power. Thus, modern laser engravers were introduced to the market in 1975. Moreover, researchers have also been working to develop a commercial laser engraver for aerospace and other industries. So, they came up with modern fiber lasers that can cut through almost any material in just a few minutes.
Advantages of CO2 Laser Cutter:
The CO2 laser is perhaps the best thing that could ever happen to the engraving industry. They offer accuracy, versatility, power, and features that match the demands of modern manufacturers and small business workshops. Here are a few advantages of the CO2 laser cutter:
The biggest reason why most people prefer a CO2 laser marking machine over any other is its low cost. Generally, commercial lasers cost at least a few thousand dollars, whereas you can get a CO2 laser cutter for just a fraction of this price. Moreover, the CO2 laser comes equipped with all the features you need to operate your workshop, so there is no need to spend anything extra on customization.
CO2 lasers are perhaps the most accurate devices in the world. The machine is well-known for engraving and cutting complex designs on a wide range of materials. The CO2 laser has a general contour deviation of 0.1 – 0.5 mm, and a hole center deviation of 0.1 and 0.4mm. So, it won’t be wrong to expect pinpoint accuracy from all CO2 devices, even when laser engraving anodized aluminum and other hard materials.
The laser engravers are usually controlled by computer software like Grbl or Lightburn. The software provides a set of instructions like laser power, speed, and depth of engraving and controls the path of the laser according to the design. Moreover, the design requires little to no contact by the workers, so there is very little room for errors. Lastly, you don’t need much experience to operate a CO2 laser engraver if you are well-informed about computer software and graphic design.
CO2 laser engravers don’t utilize radiation, chemicals, or UV light to melt the materials. Instead, they rely on carbon dioxide gas and water that melt almost any material placed under it. Overall, the CO2 laser is more eco-friendly than fiber or diode lasers. Furthermore, even the small amount of radiation produced by the laser cutting process is contained within the laser chamber through an acrylic protection sheet. So, CO2 laser engraving is safe for both workers and the environment if you strictly follow the laser protection guidelines.
Disadvantages of CO2 Laser Cutter:
Although CO2 laser cutting and engraving are better than most modern technologies, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t have a few disadvantages. Fortunately, the list of advantages exceeds the disadvantages in the long run. Still, here are a few mentions to help you understand why CO2 laser cutting systems are best for you:
A typical CO2 laser engraver can melt almost any non-metallic material placed under it. However, there are certain plastics that reflect the laser beam without absorbing the heat. Moreover, CO2 lasers aren’t effective on metals like steel, copper, silver, and brass. So, if you plan to work on metals, then you need a commercial fiber laser engraver for the job. Otherwise, you are good with a CO2 laser as it is fast, accurate, effective, and affordable.
The small, portable size of a CO2 laser packs complex engineering components in it. These components are carefully engineered to function as planned. So, a slight accidental misalignment can cause a lot of damage to your assembly. For example, an uncalibrated CO2 laser doesn’t precisely follow the path as instructed by the software. In that case, you must correct the laser alignment by a professional or a lab which can be very costly.
Higher Operation Cost:
Although CO2 lasers consume lower electricity than fiber lasers, they are still far more expensive than manual engraving devices. Still, you can manage to save a few bucks by carefully planning when to use the laser and not leaving it on standby when not in use.
Cutting Material and Application of CO2 Laser Cutting Machine:
The list of materials suitable for CO2 laser depends on your machine. For instance, a 90W laser can even engrave metals, whereas a 40W machine can only mark metals and engrave soft materials. Lastly, a CO2 CNC device can cut metal sheets of up to 1mm thickness with proper setting adjustments. In any case, here is a list of materials suitable for a CO2 laser cutting machine:
- Epoxy resin
- Mild steel
- Heated Gold
Tips for Starting a Laser Cutting Business:
- Always choose the best laser equipment that you can afford to increase your productivity.
- Hire at least one helper for the business; an extra hand makes the job easier.
- Insurance is critical as there is a great risk of a machine and human error.
- Talk to other businesses for guidance and ask for recommendations and references.
- Establish a good reputation in the market and maintain it throughout the lifespan of your business.
- Study the pros and cons of laser technology and its limitations.
- Though significantly low, there is still competition in the market. So, make sure to always provide top-quality work in every project.
- Marketing and reaching out to customers are ongoing expenses. So, be financially ready for it.
- Custom artwork and individual projects are only a small portion of your profit. Always aim for bulk orders from manufacturers and corporations.
How Does Laser Cutting Work?
As mentioned above, the CO2 laser machine is a cost-effective device that precisely cuts various materials according to the designs. Laser cutting is a multistep process that requires knowledge of the material, design, and computer software.
First, the worker must draw a digital design using a professional tool like Adobe Illustrator, AutoCAD, CorelDraw, and ezCAD. Moreover, you don’t need to be an expert designer all the time as you can always download free laser engraving files from the internet.
The next step is to choose a suitable material for your design. A single CO2 laser engraver can melt almost any non-metal in just a couple of minutes. Moreover, you must also resize the design according to the material or cut the material sheet to match the design’s dimensions.
Once all these conditions are satisfied, the next step is to place the material in the laser chamber. Open the design software, import the design, adjust the laser settings, and start engraving/cutting.
When you press the print button, the software converts the design into a bitmap to extract the laser path. The laser will then start acting on the material till the topmost layer of the material starts to melt. The molten portion forms a groove or engraving. When the laser continues to act past this stage, the design separates from the sheet, thus known as a laser cut.
Frequently Asked Questions:
How big of a cutting area is for a 40w CO2 laser?
The cutting area of any CO2 depends on multiple factors. For instance, you must choose a material that fits in the laser chamber or offers unlimited length dimensions. Similarly, the laser will operate as long as it doesn’t overheat. Therefore, you can use as much cutting as the machine allows depending on your investment.
How does a laser engraver work?
A laser engraver uses a powerful laser beam to melt or vaporize the topmost layer of the material. This molten portion starts with a laser mark. When you continue to heat the surface, grooves start forming; these grooves are known as laser engravings.
How much does a laser cutter cost?
The cost of a laser cutter depends on various factors like the type of laser, application, brand, work area, features, and laser power. Usually, you can get a CO2 laser engraver for $500 to $1000, whereas a fiber laser cutter can cost anywhere between $5000 to $20000 or even more.
Laser engraving has greatly evolved since the first maser device in 1954. Researchers worked day and night to develop a portable, versatile, and affordable laser cutting machine for the masses. In this regard, modern CO2 laser cutting machines were introduced in the late 1970s that quickly conquered the whole market. Nowadays, you can find different CO2 laser models in the market, suitable for various purposes.