Fiber laser cutting is one of the latest developments in laser cutting technology, offering unprecedented speed and accuracy to the metal fabrication industry. But like most terms in the fabrication industry, fiber laser cutting sounds very complex. So what exactly is it?
A fiber laser cutting machine uses active optical fibers to create a laser beam and a transport fiber to transmit this to the machine’s cutting head. This super hot laser is condensed down to a narrow beam and is used to cut through metals of various thicknesses.
Fiber technology is used across a range of infrastructure and manufacturing applications for its enhanced strength and efficiency. There are several types of laser cutting machines in use today, and the fundamental difference between them is the way the laser is generated. Below, we’ll take you through a detailed guide of everything you need to know about fiber laser cutting.
What Is Fiber Laser Cutting?
Fiber laser cutting uses a type of solid-state laser to melt and pierce metals, achieving a precise and efficient cut. The laser medium for this technology is optical fibre, as opposed to gas or crystal, giving fiber laser cutting its name.
Knowing that a laser is concentrated light, it makes sense that optical fibre can intensify this beam – hence why fibre is the ‘active gain medium’ used to elevate the laser to a higher power state.
Fiber laser cutters can cut a range of materials and thicknesses depending on the capacity of the equipment. Most fiber laser machines can cut up cut stainless steel up to 10mm thick.
This sort of laser cutter is commonly used in manufacturing and infrastructure, as fiber laser cutting machines are significantly more expensive than CO2 laser cutters, which are within the budget of schools and hobbyists.
How Does A Fiber Laser Cutting Machine Work?
Fiber laser technology generates a focused, high-powered laser beam using stimulated radiation. A laser diode emits light, which is sent to the fiber optic cable to be amplified. When this powerful laser hits the material surface, the high-intensity light is absorbed and converted into heat, which melts the surface.
A high-speed airflow that is parallel with the laser beam is used to blow away any molten material, allowing the workpiece to be cut.
The fibre laser’s first point of contact with the material must be more intense than subsequent interactions because, rather than simply cutting through the material, this first contact must pierce it. This requires using a high-powered pulse beam that works to put a hole in the material that lasts for about roughly ten seconds for a twelve millimeter sheet of stainless steel. Simultaneously, a high-speed airflow will clear out the debris to show a clear picture of the output.
Typically, a fiber laser cutting machine uses computerised digital control technology, which allows the cutting data to be received from the computer-aided design workstation. These technologies aid in controlling either the surface of the material or the laser itself towards producing a specific pattern or design.
Fiber laser cutters also have dual interchangeable platforms that ease the loading and unloading of materials. This feature enables a speedy laser cutting process while maintaining accuracy and precision.
A fiber laser cutting machine is also easy to maintain. The parts require few replacements and tune-ups, which reduces the burden and expenses of maintenance. In addition, fiber lasers use nitrogen in their cutting process, allowing for faster, more precise, and less messy cutting.
What Is The Difference Between A CO2 Laser Cutter And A Fiber Laser Cutter?
CO2 laser cutters and fiber laser cutters primarily differ in the mechanisms they use to generate and concentrate the laser. They also operate at different wavelengths and are suitable for different materials. This creates practical differences in efficiency and suitability for specific tasks.
Mechanisms & Mediums
CO2 and fiber laser cutters use different mechanisms to cut materials. CO2 lasers use gases such as carbon dioxide, nitrogen and helium, and sometimes xenon or hydrogen. The machine mixes and excites these gases to produce a laser.
Fiber lasers use elements such as erbium, ytterbium, neodymium or dysprosium. Mixing these elements together results in a crystalline solid as a fiber, and this is guided into the machine’s cutting head through a transport fiber.
Fiber laser cutters and CO2 laser cutters also work using different wavelengths. The laser produced by a fiber laser machine has a shorter wavelength than CO2 machines. This gives the fiber laser greater absorption power, which increases overall cutting speed and cutting quality.
Material & Thickness Suitability
Another major difference between the two laser cutters is the material they work with. Fiber laser cutting is perfectly suited to sheet metal cutting which is vital to a lot of businesses. CO2 laser machines work more effectively for thick plate cutting.
Efficiency & Output
Since the fiber laser machine can produce a cutting laser faster and more efficiently and cut through thicker materials, it has financial benefits for high-volume producers. CO2 lasers also need around ten minutes of warm-up time before they can operate well, which reduces efficiency and output.
What Materials Can A Fiber Laser Cut?
A fiber laser cutting machine is extremely useful in cutting sheet metal including carbon steel, stainless steel, copper, brass, aluminum and titanium. Fiber lasers excel in cutting reflective materials which CO2 lasers struggle with.
It’s natural to think that because fiber lasers use some visible light that reflective materials such as brass, aluminium, and copper would pose a problem; but this is not the case. Fiber lasers are now much more advanced and can seamlessly cut through materials which once posed a challenge for metal fabricators.
Sheet metal is one the biggest applications across the manufacturing, construction, and infrastructure industries. However, laser cutting is also becoming increasingly popular in the creative world, including metal art and sculpture. With the aid of a fiber laser cutter, metalworking is made much easier.
How Thick Can A Fiber Laser Cut?
Fiber laser cutting machines have different cutting capabilities depending on their power, but almost all fiber laser machines can cut a sheet of metal that is up to 13mm thick. Higher powered fiber laser machines with 10kW of power can cut mild steel up to 2mm and stainless steel and aluminium up to 30mm.
Advantages And Disadvantages Of Fiber Laser Cutting
With a better understanding of what fiber laser cutting is and how it works, we can identify some key benefits and drawbacks of fiber laser cutting machines. Being aware of the pros and cons of this technology will give you a much better point of reference when deciding whether one will benefit your workshop or metal fabrication project.
Advantages Of Fiber Laser Cutting
With so many advantages, it’s easy to see why professional metal fabricators in Australia are adding fiber laser cutters to their workshops.
Some of the key advantages of fiber laser cutters include:
- The most recent and technologically advanced form of laser cutting
- Has the ability to adjust from one industry need to another smoothly
- Can be used on a versatile range of metals
- Can adapt to different wavelengths, ranges and even speeds
- Works at a faster speed than CO2 lasers, increasing overall efficiency
- Increased efficiency with reduced set-up and down times
- High power output and beam quality, which creates a cleaner cutting edge
- Lower power consumption keeps running costs low
- The machine does not pose a heat risk despite its power
Fibre laser cutting offers unrivalled performance in metal fabrication, and its precision and accuracy result in optimal output figures. When compared to other types of laser cutting available, fiber lasers achieved high quality results at a faster rate and at a lower rate of materials consumption.
Disadvantages Of Fiber Laser Cutting
As advanced as fiber laser cutters have become, they still aren’t perfect and come with their own set of disadvantages. Using this list of disadvantages as a reference point can help you determine whether a fiber laser cutter is right for your workshop.
- Fiber laser cutting machines and their components are more expensive to purchase
- Lower-powered fiber laser machines show reduced cutting quality when processing thicker metals compared to CO2 lasers
- Fiber cutting machines do not leave as smooth a finish as CO2 lasers
As you’d imagine, because of its complicated operation and its variety of uses, fiber laser cutting machines are very expensive. But despite this and the few additional disadvantages, it is still apparent that there are greater advantages given by fiber laser cutting. With the development of technology, it’s likely all the disadvantages of fiber laser cutting will slowly get addressed and improved.
What Are The Applications Of Fiber Laser Cutting Machines?
A fiber laser cutting machine is incredibly useful in the manufacturing and infrastructure industries. Here are the top six applications of fiber laser cutting machines:
The Automotive Industry – A fiber laser cutting machine processes many parts of a car, including doors, brakes and exhaust pipes.
The Kitchenware Industry – Many of the appliances found in kitchens are made of thin pieces of stainless steel which have been processed by a fiber laser cutter.
Home Appliance Manufacturing – Fiber laser cutters are being incorporated more in this industry to improve the quality of appliances and optimise their appearance.
Fitness Machine Manufacturing – Even the equipment at your local gym has been processed in part by a fiber laser cutter.
Lighting Manufacturing – Most mainstream outdoor lamps have pipes which have been shaped with the help of this machinery.
Decor & Metal Art Manufacturing – Fiber laser cutters can be used with computer numerical control to create graphic designs and patterns in sheets of metal. This means custom pieces for decoration and metal signs can be crafted.
Just by looking around your home, the applications of fiber laser cutting machines instantly stand out. The persistent demand for these fiber laser machines is the reason why fiber laser cutting technology has advanced so quickly.
Many more essential things like transportation machinery and medical equipment could not be created efficiently and at scale without fiber laser cutting.
What Type Of Laser Is Best For Cutting Through Metal?
The best type of laser for cutting through metal is the fiber laser cutter. These produce better results for metals such as stainless steel compared to CO2 lasers. Because the beam is absorbed, fiber laser cutters can also cut reflective metals like copper, brass, and aluminium far more effectively.
Why Are Lasers Used For Cutting Materials?
Lasers are preferred for cutting many materials due to their efficiency at scale. Laser cutting uses less energy and time to cut hard metals like aluminium and steel compared to traditional metal shearing. WIthout wear parts, a laser cutter requires far less maintenance and will remain precise for intricate designs.
This article is published in good faith and for general informational purposes only. Kanyana Engineering does not make any warranties about the ongoing completeness and reliability of this information. Always seek specific advice on your metal fabrication project to ensure all variables are taken into consideration.
Graham Dawe is the Managing Director and Works Manager of Kanyana Engineering. With decades of experience in the metal fabrication industry, he is dedicated to keeping Kanyana at the forefront of the sector’s technological growth. Looking beyond the process itself to holistic, integrated CAD, CAM and MRP solutions, Graham believes Australian manufacturing has an enduring place on the global stage. In Kanyana Engineering’s state-of-the-art workshop in Mandurah, WA, Graham delivers an exceptional standard of work for commercial, industrial and government clients alike.