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What Is Laser Cutting Technology?

Laser cutting uses a high-powered beam to cut material based on computer-controlled parameters. As the laser guides its beam along the material, everything in its direct path is vaporized, burned or melted. One of the benefits of laser cutting technology is the cut product rarely needs any finishing work as this process ensures a high-quality surface finish.

Laser cutting technology comes in two formats: gantry and galvanometer systems. Gantry systems position the laser perpendicular to the material and the machine physically directs the beam over its surface. Since gantry is the slower of the two systems, manufacturers commonly use it for producing prototypes. In contrast, galvanometer systems use mirrored angles to reposition the laser beam and can cut as fast as 100 feet per minute. Fabricators commonly use galvanometer systems for full-on production work.

Basic Mechanics of Laser Cutting Technology

The laser machine uses stimulation and amplification techniques to convert electrical energy into a high-density beam of light. Stimulation occurs as the electrons are excited by an external source, usually a flash lamp or electrical arc. The amplification occurs within the optical resonator in a cavity that is set between two mirrors. One mirror is reflective while the other mirror is partially transmissive, allowing the beam's energy to return back into the lasing medium where it stimulates more emissions. If a photon is not aligned with the resonator, the mirrors do not redirect it. This ensures that only the properly oriented photons are amplified, thus creating a coherent beam.

Properties of Laser Light

Laser light technology has a number of unique and quantified properties. Its optical properties include coherence, monochromaticity, diffraction and radiance. Coherence refers to the relationship between magnetic and electronic components of the electromagnetic wave. The laser is considered "coherent" when the magnetic and electronic components are aligned. Monochromaticity is determined by measuring the width of the spectral line. The higher the level of monochromaticity, the lower the range of frequencies the laser can emit. Diffraction is the process by which the light bends around sharp-edged surfaces. Laser beams are minimally diffracted, meaning they lose very little of their intensity over a distance. Laser beam radiance is the amount of power per unit area emitted at a given solid angle. Radiance cannot be increased by optical manipulation because it is influenced by the design of the laser cavity.