Cutting with Fiber Lasers

Cutting with Fiber Lasers

December 12, 2013 4:36:39 PM

Fiber laser cutting technology made a big splash back in 2010 when this editor first wrote about the technology.

Fiber lasers themselves are not new; they’ve been used in welding applications since the 1980s. The technology is relatively new for metal cutting, although Europeans began to use the long technology long before its North American introduction.

Fiber laser cutting has it advantages, but you have to have the right application for the technology - namely, if you cut thin sheet metal with thicknesses up to 4 mm (0.6 in.) then fiber laser cutting may be an option for you. It can offer energy savings of up to 30 per cent in wall plug efficiency compared to CO2 type lasers.

Fiber lasers are high powered solid state lasers that offer a shorter wavelength (close to the visible spectrum light) compared to CO2 lasers (fiber laser wavelength is 1.07 µm and CO2 laser wavelength is 10.6 µm in the infrared part of the spectrum). A characteristic of a shorter wavelength is that it’s more readily absorbed into metals, which means higher cutting efficiency. The fiber lasers are generated in a fiber and created or stimulated by pumping light emitting diodes through the fiber to produce the beam of light. Also, fiber lasers offer higher cutting accuracies. The beam of light gets delivered through the fiber, which is a constant length, so no matter how close or how far from the source that a fabricator is processing, the optical path length never changes. That means you don’t typically need adaptive optics found in CO2 lasers. Elimination of adaptive optics leads to another advantage with this technology: less maintenance as fabricators don’t have to fiddle with multi-mirror alignment.

 

Virtually every laser cutting machine supplier now offers a fiber laser cutting machine each with their unique configurations and proprietary features. At the recent FABTECH 2011 in Chicago, many suppliers including Amada, Bystronic, Mazak Optonics, Prima Power and Salvagnini showcased their newest fiber laser cutting machines.

Suppliers Shop Metalworking Technology has spoken with in recent months say there is much interest in the technology and many fabricators have already invested in the machines to improve productivity. Shop Metalworking Technology asked some fabricators their opinion about fiber laser cutting technology.

Sarvjit Matharu is general manager of 3D Laser & Fabrication Inc., Brampton, ON. A job shop that specializes in store fixtures, automotive components and construction industries. The 11,000 sq ft shop has two 2D laser cutting machines, a Mitsubishi and a TRUMPF. The plant cuts mild steel up to 25 mm (1 in.) thickness, as well as stainless and aluminum up to 12.7 mm (0.5 in.) thicknesses.

“We’ve read about this technology in magazines and some suppliers have sent us information about it. We’re interested in it, but it’s still new and we don’t want to spend the money on something we don’t know a lot about. It seems to be very promising, but we would like to see it in action.”

Jon Rilling, production manager at Laser-Fab, a shop based in Strathmore, AB, has also heard about fiber laser cutting and is curious to learn more. The company supplies parts primarily for the oil and gas industry. The company cuts mild steel, stainless and aluminum in thicknesses ranging from 16 ga to 0.75 in. (15 mm to 19.05 mm. The company operates a TRUMPF 2D laser cutting machine and recently purchased the TRUMPF 3040 6 kW to accommodate growing business.

“I’ve heard it’s extremely fast compared to the CO2 machines we run. I was at FABTECH last year and watched it run. The beam width is smaller than a CO2 and it does more accurate work. We cut lots of 12 ga (.0146 in./3 mm) and that seems to be on the cusp of what’s suitable for fiber laser cutting. We do 12 ga stainless, but only cut that about 20 to 30 per cent of the time. If percentages of our thinner materials increased and we needed to buy another laser we might look at it, but at this point, the new 3040 laser, which is 2 m by 3 m, is enough for the work we do.”

The majority of fabrication work that Laser Cut Manufacturing Ltd. In Saskatoon, SK, does is in oilfield equipment, but it also does Tier 2 sub supply type work for the mining and agriculture industries. Approximately 95 per cent of the materials the company cuts ranges in thicknesses from 3/16th in. to 0.75 in. mild steel (4.76 mm to 10.05 mm). The 10,000 sq ft shop uses three Amada 2D laser cutting machines, two 1.5 kW LCE-655 models and the F0315.

Kyle Todd, general manager, says he has heard and read about fiber laser cutting.

“I’ve had representatives come here with literature on the technology and have spoken with Luc Seesing who represents Salvagnini. I’ve read a lot of about fiber laser and from what I understand, you start to lose the advantage of speed when you go up beyond 10 ga thickness. It would be interesting to see what quality the fiber laser machine could produce in a production scenario; having not seen it live, I would like to see what kind of job it could do versus that suppliers say it can do. I’d like to know the machine’s real capabilities in a production environment.”

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