Laser technology, flame cutting, and waterjets have worked wonders for the sheet metal industry. Learn more about each technique from Kaempf & Harris:CO₂ Laser Cutting: According to Bystronic, a global manufacturer in Illinois, “a CO₂ laser uses a gas mixture to create the laser beam. The necessary high voltage in the resonator is created with the help of wear-free semiconductor excitation modules” that are small, efficient, and reliable.
Industrial Laser Solutions claims that “CO₂ laser cutting...is faster in a straight line and...has much faster piercing times at the start of the cut. There’s also the advantage of a smoother surface finish...when cutting thicker materials.”
Fiber Optic Laser Cutting: According to The World Beast, fiber optic lasers provide “remarkable precision at a great speed. It can be used for reflective materials like titanium, copper, brass, aluminum and galvanized steel.”
How does it work? “A fiber optic laser beam produces energy which gets absorbed into the surface of material. This energy gets converted into heat that melts the material and cuts it into parts.”
Flame Cutting: This technique is also called Oxy Acetylene Cutting, Oxy Fuel Gas Cutting, Oxygen Burning, and Steel Burning. The process was patented in 1901 by Thomas Fletcher.
One of the first commercial applications was “an unauthorized bank entry”, or a “safe cracking,” according to ESAB, a global leader in welding and cutting equipment and consumables.
How does it work? The process requires a source of intense heat (also known as preheat) and pure oxygen. This combination can be used for cutting and severing different materials with the requirement that the oxide formed must have a lower melting point than the base material.
For example, aluminum is hard to flame cut because it has melting point of 1,200 to 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit, but the element’s oxide is about 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Stainless steel's additives, chromium and nickel, make it hard to flame cut without assistance.
Plasma Cutting: This process allows fabricators to cut through electrically conductive materials using an accelerated jet of hot electrically ionized gas (also known as plasma). Typical materials cut with a plasma torch include steel, stainless steel, aluminum, brass, and copper.
Due to the high speed and precision cuts combined with low cost, plasma cutting is mainly used for large-scale industrial CNC applications.
How does it work? The process creates an electrical channel of plasma from the plasma cutter through the workpiece in order to form a completed electric circuit back to the plasma cutter via a grounding clamp.
Through compressed gas, which is blown through a focused nozzle at high speed toward the workpiece, an electrical arc is formed within the gas, between an electrode near, or into the gas nozzle and workpiece. The arc ionizes some of the gas, creating an electrically conductive channel of plasma.
As electricity from the cutter torch travels down this plasma, it delivers sufficient heat to melt the workpiece. At the same time, much of the high velocity plasma and compressed gas blow the hot molten metal away, cutting through the metal.
Waterjet cutting: Fab shops that offer waterjet instead of fiber optic laser cutting usually work with thick material or have patterns with large tolerances. Heat from a laser can interfere with a cut, and waterjets can work with steel and reflective metals as well as ceramic and stone.
How does it work? This process uses water and a high-pressure pump to cut into material. The water cuts with a force as high as 60,000 PSI, which is why it's used with thicker materials where a laser would either not be feasible or would cut with poor quality.
If you’re interested in learning more about sheet metal technology, download our Overview Of The Newest Sheet Metal Technologies by clicking below: